How different countries are handling the coronavirus

Alexander Nazaryan
·National Correspondent

So far, the coronavirus has touched every continent but Antarctica. Below, a look at how some nations are responding to the outbreak, which has sickened over 100,000 people around the world, killing around 4,000.

More than half the countries in the world had reported at least one case of coronavirus by the end of last week, according to data on the spread of the disease compiled by Henry Keyser, a senior producer at Yahoo News. His latest compilation indicates that 98 nations out of 195 member states in the United Nations have at least one coronavirus case.

Unless otherwise indicated, statistics are derived from the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus map. Numbers are accurate as of Monday, March 9.

China

Cases: 80,735
Deaths: 3,120

Authoritarian governments can find it challenging to respond to disasters, as the Soviet Union’s handling of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 showed. Such regimes have little incentive to be open with either their own citizens or the rest of the world. In China’s case, that meant dismissing early signs of an epidemic.

At the same time, China has enacted measures that would not have passed muster in most democratic societies. Last month it effectively closed off Hubei province, where the outbreak originated and where nearly 60 million people live, while imposing quarantine-style measures on another 700 million.

Those measures appear to be paying off, with only 99 new cases reported on Saturday.

Note: Hong Kong, which is a special district of China, has had 115 cases and three deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins statistics.

South Korean army soldiers spray disinfectant as a precaution against a new coronavirus on a street in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, March 9, 2020. (Ahn Young-joon/AP)
South Korean army soldiers spray disinfectant as a precaution against the coronavirus on a street in Seoul on Monday. (Ahn Young-joon/AP)

Italy

Cases: 9,172
Deaths: 463

No country besides China has been as affected by the coronavirus as badly as Italy, where an aging population has been acutely affected by the disease. It appears to have originated in the northern city of Codogno, southeast of Milan.

In response to the outbreak, Italian authorities have placed much of northern Italy — that is, the provinces closest to Switzerland and France — under a lockdown that prohibits travel into and within the most heavily affected areas. “Even within the areas, moving around will occur only for essential work or health reasons,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said.

Italy’s national health system has found itself struggling to respond to the surge in coronavirus cases. “This is a whole new experience for our system in terms of dimension, intensity and effort,” a public health official said last week.

South Korea

Cases: 7,478
Deaths: 53

Until it was surpassed by Italy on Sunday, South Korea had the world’s second-worst coronavirus outbreak. That outbreak was complicated by the fact that China, where the epidemic is believed to have originated, is a close trading partner of South Korea, spending twice as much on South Korean goods ($149 billion) as does the United States ($69 billion).

Leaders in Seoul have faced intense criticism for their slow response to the outbreak. At first President Moon Jae-in tried to downplay the spread of the virus, which appears to have surfaced at a church in the city of Daegu.

But after a slow start, South Korea has had success in implementing an intensive testing regime that includes drive-through tests. So far, it has tested more than 140,000 people, 100 times more than the United States. Because such testing invariably includes many mild cases of coronavirus that may otherwise have gone undetected, South Korea is able to boast a low fatality rate of only 0.6 percent.

Iran

Cases: 7,161
Deaths: 237

A country already reeling from economic sanctions and political instability, Iran was hit particularly hard by the coronavirus, becoming one of the first nations after China to see a full-blown outbreak. Sticking to a predictable playbook, leaders in Tehran tried to blame the West, using anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that are unlikely to fool a young and savvy populace.

In one morbid turn, Iran’s deputy health minister confirmed that he himself had contracted the coronavirus. At the same time, much as China did during the early stages of the outbreak, Iran has tried to save face by attempting to downplay the severity of the crisis.

A New York Times report last week described an apparently serious proposal by public health authorities in Tehran to send “militia members door-to-door on a desperate mission to sanitize homes” and said that “security agents stationed in each hospital had forbidden staff members from disclosing any information about shortages, patients or fatalities related to the coronavirus.”

France

Cases: 1,209
Deaths: 19

With the second-largest coronavirus case load in Europe after Italy, France has, like its neighbor to the south, resorted to drastic measures, banning all gatherings of more than 1,000 people in an effort to keep the disease from spreading.

In true French fashion, protests will be exempted (as will some other functions).

Four members of the National Assembly have been sickened, underscoring the seriousness of the outbreak. France is especially susceptible to the coronavirus because, like Italy, it has an aging population, one-fifth of which is above the age of 65. The virus has been especially devastating to the elderly.

Singapore

Cases: 150
Deaths: 0

A small and wealthy city-state, Singapore cannot exactly serve as a model for sprawling, populous nations like the United States and China. Yet its response to the coronavirus has been widely admired.

“Singapore is leaving no stone unturned, testing every case of influenza-like illness and pneumonia,” gushed World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in mid-February.

Long before most other countries, Singapore completely forbade entry to travelers from China on Feb. 1. Citizens and residents of Singapore returning home from China have to self-quarantine for two weeks. According to the Nikkei Asian Review, a man who disobeyed that order was forced to cede his permanent residency status.

That kind of measure would be inconceivable in a democratic society but met with little resistance in Singapore, where a law-and-order regime has long been the norm. “Even measures which may be seen as severe in other countries have legitimacy in the eyes of stakeholders,” a Singaporean law professor told the Nikkei Asian Review.

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