April 29, 2020

Global Responses to Coronavirus

As of Tuesday evening, there were over three million confirmed cases of coronavirus worldwide. Johns Hopkins University

On Monday, “New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern [said] that the island nation has defeated — for the present — the coronavirus as her government announced the lifting of some restrictions imposed to halt the spread of COVID-19.” NPR

Both sides praise New Zealand, Taiwan, and several other countries for their handling of the pandemic:

“The coronavirus pandemic may be the largest test of political leadership the world has ever witnessed. Every leader on the planet is facing the same potential threat. Every leader is reacting differently, in his or her own style. And every leader will be judged by the results… Jacinda Ardern, the 39-year-old prime minister of New Zealand, is forging a path of her own. Her leadership style is one of empathy in a crisis that tempts people to fend for themselves. Her messages are clear, consistent, and somehow simultaneously sobering and soothing

“One poll by the market-research firm Colmar Brunton in early April found that 88 percent of New Zealanders trusted the government to make the right decisions about addressing COVID-19, and 84 percent approved of the government’s response to the pandemic, in each case higher than what the company found in the world’s seven largest advanced economies, including the United States. New Zealand citizens had come to support the government’s policies even though many were feeling economic pain, at least in the short term, as a result of them.”
Uri Friedman, The Atlantic

“What has been New Zealand’s secret? Like Britain and America, New Zealand has been in lockdown for the past five weeks. People have been ordered to stay at home. Bars, restaurants and non-essential shops have been closed. Mass gatherings were banned. Beaches and playgrounds have been taped off…

“But New Zealand did undertake one further measure which has not been attempted in Britain: it closed its borders. New Zealand citizens have been allowed to return home; so too have Australian citizens who are normally resident in New Zealand. Other than that, entry to the country is restricted to critical healthcare workers and a small number who have been allowed to travel for humanitarian reasons.”
Ross Clark, Spectator USA

Taiwan has [also] been a model for handling the outbreak. Its transparent and competent approach has left the island nation of 24 million with 429 confirmed cases and only six deaths. On Monday the country announced zero new cases, and officials believe the local epidemic could be over by June…

“Hubei province, home to Wuhan, didn’t take serious action to contain the virus until Jan. 22, when China had at least 440 confirmed cases and nine deaths. By contrast the small democracy activated its epidemic response force on Jan. 20, a day before confirming its first case. While [WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus] was lavishing praise on a secretive China, the smaller nation had started drills and implemented quarantines. On April 1 Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen announced the country would donate 10 million masks abroad.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

In Taiwan, “the whole country voluntarily partnered with the government to create a protean network of databases in which information flows both from the bottom up and from the top down. To make new online and offline tools for fighting the virus, ‘hacktivists,’ developers and citizens have been collaborating with the government on vTaiwan, a sort of online democracy town hall and brainstorming site. One tool, for example, prevented a run on face masks by mapping where the stocks were and allocating them wherever they were most needed. By involving people in the solutions, rather than just dictating policies to them, the process is transparent and inspires trust, even civic pride…  

Other countries should at least consider the Taiwanese approach, if only because the alternatives are worse… Classical liberals like me must accept that we cannot reject a technological quantum leap on the grounds that it might deprive us of liberty. That’s because during a pandemic, the alternative is interminable lockdowns, which rob us of even more freedom.”
Andreas Kluth, Bloomberg

Looking more broadly at other countries in Asia, “[One thing] Asian countries do to control the spread that seems almost unthinkable in the United States: centralized isolation of people who test positive for Covid-19 and their close contacts… The implementation of these systems varies… But from China to Hong Kong to Taiwan to Korea, the broad outline is the same: You don’t tell sick people to go home where they can infect their families and roommates; you send them someplace set aside for the purpose. Since some of the people isolated end up being asymptomatic, it’s inconvenient to be forced outside of the home. But for the many people who do get sick, just not sick enough to require intensive care in a hospital setting, it’s convenient to have a safe and well-monitored place to recuperate…

“Strict centralized isolation measures would likely ultimately be cheaper and less invasive than ping-ponging in and out of lockdown. It’s what the most successful coronavirus-fighting countries are doing. And since the US has already turned almost every aspect of daily life upside down, it should think about trying a similar strategy, too.”
Matthew Yglesias, Vox

Dated But Relevant: “The plucky South Koreans have just shown the world how to hold an election and protect public health simultaneously… First, polling places were disinfected and windows opened. Voters were instructed to stand at least three feet apart, with lines carefully marked on the floor. All voters had their temperature taken, and those with temperatures above 37.5 degrees Celsius (99.5 degrees Fahrenheit) were taken from the regular line and directed to separate booths. Those who passed the temperature check sanitized their hands, put on plastic gloves and cast their ballots…

“People suffering from the coronavirus and those under quarantine voted under even stricter measures. Those being treated for the virus could mail their ballots, but they could also vote in person at special polling booths set up just for them. Poll workers wore protective clothing to ensure they would not be infected… Americans like to think our democracy is a shining example to the world. South Korea has just schooled us on how a real democracy conducts itself under pressure. It’s time to learn our lesson and just get the job done.”
Henry Olsen, Washington Post

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

“‘American exceptionalism’ is MIA as 5 other democracies — Taiwan, South Korea, New Zealand, Iceland and Germany — lead the way… The rate of coronavirus deaths in these five countries — three of which are led by women — is significantly less than that in the United States

“Taiwan, South Korea, Iceland and Germany began stockpiling test kits even before their first coronavirus deaths. The United States, meanwhile, fumbled the creation of a COVID-19 test in February and has been behind ever since. Other nations were innovative and aggressive on testing. Taiwan checked passengers disembarking from cruise ships and retested patients diagnosed with influenza or pneumonia to ensure no mistakes were made. South Korea launched drive-thru diagnostics on Feb. 26, weeks earlier than the United States… Americans can rightly ask why, in this crisis, the United States has been exceptional in the wrong way.”
Editorial Board, USA Today

From the Right

“After the SARS epidemic of 2003, Taiwan set up an interlocking set of agencies geared toward the early detection of pandemics and bioterrorism. If a threat is detected, containment plans and supply stockpiles are ready. That process starts at the bottom, not the top… In January, while other countries were trusting the WHO’s bland assurances, Taiwan was already turning away cruise ships and performing health checks at airports… The country’s public-health institutions were designed to be sensitive to even faint signs of trouble and to guard against optimistic biases…

“At a time when China and the World Health Organization were downplaying the coronavirus threat, it was easy for world leaders to believe that everything was under control… Samson Ellis, the Taipei bureau chief for Bloomberg News, believes that Taiwan’s isolation from WHO paradoxically helped the country by forcing it to rely on its own judgment on health issues.”
James B. Meigs, New York Post

Get troll-free political news.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.