A successful response to Covid-19 turned out to depend on more than a country’s wealth, scientific prowess and history of public health successes. The U.S. enjoys all of these advantages but mounted one of the worst responses to the pandemic: 1 in every 990 Americans has died from Covid-19 since the pandemic began. Bad politics, quite simply, can trump good public health. Other developed countries that did well initially, such as Canada and some European nations, have faltered during the second or third surge of infections, because their governments and people grew tired of implementing effective strategies.
In many Asian countries, it has long been common for people to wear masks when feeling ill, so they adopted masks early and widely. Best at early action: Taiwan One reported Covid-19 death per 3,366,140 people The world’s first awareness of Covid-19 came from cases among travelers arriving in Taiwan from Wuhan, China. The country quickly halted flights from much of China, quarantined travelers from other areas, stopped cruise ships from docking, implemented widespread testing and quadrupled production of face masks within a month.
Taiwan also provided intensive support, including stipends, to patients with Covid-19 and people with whom they had come into contact, helping to increase adherence to public health recommendations. These early actions were pivotal in keeping Taiwan to under 800 cases all year, while avoiding lockdowns. The U.S. now has more cases and deaths every 5 minutes than Taiwan has had all year. Best at learning from recent epidemics: Liberia One reported Covid-19 death per 55,040 people
Liberia, hard hit by the Ebola epidemic in 2014, was one of the first countries to start screening for Covid-19 at airports and to adopt other control measures, such as rapid testing, complete contact tracing and quarantine. Many other countries in Africa, including Senegal and Uganda, also used their experiences from past disease outbreaks to implement swift, expert, comprehensive responses. Best at crushing the curve: New Zealand One reported Covid-19 death per 204,360 people Like Taiwan, New Zealand is an island, which makes it far easier to enforce travel bans.
Initial models showed that community spread of Covid-19 in New Zealand could potentially overwhelm the health care system. The country began implementing its pandemic influenza plan in February, including preparing hospitals and instituting border control policies. Because New Zealand lacked sufficient testing and contact tracing capacity, national leadership implemented a countrywide lockdown in late March with the goal of eliminating Covid-19 entirely.
By June, the pandemic was declared over in New Zealand, with the country reporting one of the lowest coronavirus-related mortality rates among all 37 OECD nations. Later cases were all from international travelers, who were kept in isolation for two weeks post-arrival, and not from community spread. Prime Minister Jacinda Arden has exemplified empathetic, clear communication, which greatly increased New Zealanders’ willingness to cooperate and was essential to the country’s success.