How other coun­tries pre­pared for the threat of a sec­ond wave

The Ob­server, Great Bri­tain (United King­dom), 20 Septem­ber 2020, https://www.press­reader.com/ar­ti­cle/2815952429­60101

COVID-19 News - - News -

The first wave of coro­n­avirus swept through a world un­pre­pared. Au­thor­i­ties strug­gled to test for the dis­ease, and didn’t know how to slow the spread. Lock­downs brought the virus un­der tem­po­rary con­trol in some places, in­clud­ing the UK, buy­ing a win­dow for the re­vival of ed­u­ca­tion and the econ­omy, and time to pre­pare for fu­ture waves that epi­demi­ol­o­gists said were al­most in­evitable.

Each coun­try has used that time dif­fer­ently, but at the heart of ev­ery ef­fec­tive sys­tem is an ef­fi­cient test and trace sys­tem. Au­thor­i­ties need to be able to see where and how the dis­ease is spread­ing, if they are to have any hope of con­tain­ing it. What has the sec­ond wave of coro­n­avirus looked like around the world, and how have au­thor­i­ties han­dled it?

Min­i­mal sec­ond waves

China and New Zealand have both had small out­breaks of the dis­ease af­ter declar­ing it elim­i­nated. Strict travel bans mean their cit­i­zens now live in near to­tal iso­la­tion from the rest of the world, and rig­or­ous quar­an­tine rules have kept im­ported cases of the dis­ease from spark­ing new lo­cally trans­mit­ted out­breaks.

The few out­breaks of community trans­mis­sion have been a re­minder of how dif­fi­cult it is to stamp out Covid-19 en­tirely – nei­ther China nor New Zealand has been able to pin­point the orig­i­nal source of the in­fec­tions. How­ever, rapidly de­ployed test and trace sys­tems have en­abled them to bring the out­breaks un­der con­trol.

Strug­gling af­ter early success

Cen­tral and eastern Euro­pean coun­tries pro­duced one of the un­ex­pected success sto­ries at the start of the pan­demic. De­spite weaker health and wel­fare sys­tems, the Czech Repub­lic and Hun­gary were among coun­tries in the re­gion with in­fec­tions and deaths far lower than in western Europe. But cases are now ris­ing fast; early success means the pub­lic may be more re­sis­tant to anti-virus con­trols, and th­ese coun­tries have pop­ulist lead­ers who are par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to shifts in pub­lic opin­ion. The Czech prime min­is­ter, An­drej Babiš, ad­mit­ted the gov­ern­ment had re­laxed pub­lic health mea­sures, in­clud­ing mak­ing masks oblig­a­tory in­doors, due to “high so­ci­etal de­mand”.

Well pre­pared for a sec­ond wave

Ger­many and South Korea were among the fastest to get their test­ing and trac­ing sys­tems op­er­at­ing on a large scale. Ger­many tested ev­ery­one re­turn­ing from hol­i­days over the sum­mer, min­imis­ing im­ported in­fec­tions. And while cases are ris­ing again – and a se­nior vi­rol­o­gist warned last week that this “win­ter won’t be an easy one” – so far the in­crease has been slight.

South Korea was among the first coun­tries in the world to an­nounce it had for­mally en­tered a sec­ond wave of in­fec­tions, but it also ap­pears to have brought cases un­der con­trol. The daily rate of in­crease is now slow­ing.

Par­tial lock­downs to bat­tle a dif­fi­cult sec­ond wave

Both Spain and Aus­tralia claimed early success against the virus, al­though they took very dif­fer­ent ap­proaches. Can­berra de­cided to ef­fec­tively seal the coun­try off from the rest of the world, while Spain courted sum­mer visi­tors to sal­vage some of the vi­tal tourism sea­son.

Both have seen re­gional spikes, and have re­sponded with tar­geted lock­downs, which de­pend, how­ever, on a test and trace ca­pac­ity that lets au­thor­i­ties see where and how the virus is spread­ing.

The re­gion around the Span­ish cap­i­tal is bracing for a re­turn of con­trols, al­though the gov­ern­ment is try­ing to avoid call­ing them lock­downs. Re­stric­tions will ap­ply to ar­eas with more than 1,000 cases per 100,00 peo­ple. They will af­fect nearly a mil­lion peo­ple and will ef­fec­tively limit move­ment to work, med­i­cal and ed­u­ca­tional rea­sons.

Places spared a sec­ond wave (so far)

South Africa went into one of the world’s strictest lock­downs, then emerged braced for a peak that never came. Sci­en­tists are try­ing to un­der­stand how a coun­try where poverty makes so­cial dis­tanc­ing an im­pos­si­bil­ity for many es­caped the worst rav­ages of the virus.

One the­ory is that a rel­a­tively young pop­u­la­tion may have been re­silient. An­other is that peo­ple liv­ing in crowded con­di­tions, widely ex­posed to other dis­eases in­clud­ing the coro­n­aviruses that cause the com­mon cold, had stronger im­mune sys­tems.

Sev­eral places, in­clud­ing the Brazil­ian Ama­zon city of Manaus, have seen the dis­ease rip through a rel­a­tively un­pro­tected pop­u­la­tion, but have since seen cases ebb, even though in­fec­tion rates did not hit lev­els nor­mally needed to cre­ate herd im­mu­nity. They are hop­ing to be spared a sec­ond wave.

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