Despite their proximity to the source, Taiwan’s 24 million residents have managed to avoid the kind of lockdowns Australians have faced.
By Friday morning, the island known for staring down Beijing had only recorded six coronavirus deaths and 427 confirmed cases.
Taiwan’s early success is the culmination of swift decision-making, centralised planning, and good technology.
As reports emerged in January of the seriousness of a new respiratory illness in mainland China – which sits only 130-kilometres away – Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen established a Central Epidemic Command Centre to oversee travel restrictions and quarantine protocols.
The government swiftly took over the production and distribution of medical-grade masks after monitoring commodity spikes to avoid panic buying.
Phone tracking was also used to ensure travellers in mandatory 14-day quarantine were sticking to their isolation conditions. If anyone strayed too far from home, they would receive a call or text to trace their location. In some cases, the police would also come knocking, with the power to fine residents up to NT $1million ($52, 350) for breaching the rules.
This abundance of caution came from previous experience. As President Tsai wrote in Time last month: “The painful lessons of the 2003 SARS outbreak, which left Taiwan scarred with the loss of dozens of lives, put our government and people on high alert early on.”
That said, the country hasn’t done as much testing as other Asian nations and there are some breaches in the defences – including a cluster of infected sailors who recently returned from a goodwill mission to the Pacific Island nation of Palau.
Almost three months after its first recorded case of COVID-19, Germany has emerged as a model of success in a continent largely devastated by the global pandemic.
By Friday afternoon AEST, the country had recorded 5575 deaths, compared to 21,856 in France, 25,549 in Italy and 22,157 in Spain.
So how exactly did a country of 83 million people do so well when the virus overwhelmed its neighbours?
Like many European nations, Germany imposed lockdowns in March, which helped contain the spread of the virus (although some of those restrictions have been dialled back, with some shops reopened and students gradually returning to classrooms).
Chancellor Angela Merkel, a scientist before she entered politics, has communicated the consequences of ignoring health advice with effective rigour.
But much of the country’s success comes down to large scale testing, says Monash University infectious disease expert Professor Allen Cheng.
“The more you test, the more you pick up mild cases. This provides you with an opportunity to follow up those cases to make sure the virus is not being passed on,” he says.
According to Worldometers’ coronavirus tracking system, Germany, which a population of 83 million, has so far conducted more than 2 million tests, or the equivalent of 24,738 tests per million people. By comparison, France, with a population of about 70 million, has conducted 463,662 tests or the equivalent of 7103 per million people.
In a nation already in recession – with an unemployment rate of 30 per cent – coronavirus presents an insidious choice for many South Africans lucky enough to have a job: adopt social distancing and risk hunger or keep working and risk infection. Many are choosing the latter.
But while authorities know they can’t necessarily dodge the impact of the virus, they have attempted to minimise the damage with aggressive testing, drawing on the experience of medical professionals and NGOs who helped fight another infectious disease that ravaged the nation: HIV.
As The Washington Post reported last week, more than 28,000 health-care workers have been doorknocking and testing around 2 million citizens. Residents’ travel histories have been recorded along with their temperatures, while pop-up clinics have been set up in townships to assess those who can’t afford a car or public transport.
According to the National Health Laboratory Service, South Africa was working towards testing 30,000 people every day by the end of this month, with the aim of geographically mapping how the virus spreads.
It’s an ambitious effort to protect its 57-million strong population – but one that observers hope might buy the country some time as it works out how to soften the economic impact.
“The pandemic requires an economic response that is equal to the scale of disruption it is causing,” South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa said last week. “Millions of South Africans in the informal economy and without employment are struggling to survive.”
South Korea’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 emerged on the same day as the United States reported one.
Shaped by its 2015 battle against another type of coronavirus – the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, otherwise known as MERS – South Korea rolled out quarantine and screening measures were put in place for Wuhan arrivals as early as January 3, and started early on an ambitious and accessible testing regime. By March 8, 189,273 South Koreans had been tested, compared to only 1,707 in the US. (America has since caught up, testing well over 3 million citizens by April 20.)
An outbreak in the huge congregation of the Shincheonji church pushed the number of cases over100 by February 20, promoting an escalation of the government’s detailed personal data tracking.
University of Western Australia expert George Milne, whose daughter Sophie works at a private school in South Korea, said the country also had another unique advantage: compliance.
“The government makes recommendations and people follow them,” Milne says. “People want to do the right thing for the population as a whole, and the government is very organised. Sophie gets a few text messages every day telling her if there’s any clusters near her, or reminding her to wear a face mask.”
As of Friday, 240 people had died in South Korea from COVID-19, and 10,702 cases had been recorded. The spread has slowed significantly since its peak in February 29 when 909 new cases were reported, many of them traced to an outbreak in the huge congregation of the Shincheonji Church.
New Zealand’s strategy was to go hard and go early. As the COVID-19 death toll soared in other parts of the world, Jacinda Ardern’s government implemented “level four” restrictions on March 25, shutting down schools, offices and all non-essential services.
Now, after four weeks of lockdown, the country boasts one of the lowest rates of confirmed cases per 100,000 people in the world and a transmission rate (which shows the number of times each person with the virus passes it on to another) of less than 0.48 per cent. The overseas average is about 2 to 2.5.
As Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declared on Monday: “We have done what very few countries have been able to do. We have stopped a wave of devastation.”
By Friday, New Zealand had recorded 16 coronavirus deaths out of 1451 cases of the virus. It had also conducted 101,277 tests – or the equivalent of 21,002 tests per million people. (By comparison, Australia had 75 deaths, 6667 cases and 18,300 tests per million people.)
Restrictions will ease slightly this week, when certain businesses will be allowed to return to trade, including those in the food, construction and forestry sectors. Schools will also reopen, although parents have been advised to keep their children at home if possible.
And like Australia, it is too soon to say if New Zealand has really beaten coronavirus.
“As Singapore has shown, even successful countries can have another wave if precautions are relaxed,” says Melbourne University Professor John Mathews, a former deputy chief medical officer to the Australian Government. “Even good strategies can fail due to bad luck.”
Farrah Tomazin is a senior journalist and investigative reporter for The Age, with interests in politics, social justice, and legal affairs.