Social distancing, frequent hand washing, and most importantly, lockdown, are the possible preventions to deal with the deadlier virus; the only debatable point that we all are stuck is to have or not have a lockdown.
Unfortunately, only a few of us delved deeper into how a lockdown can be imposed to contain the virus, tweaking the idea to suit our circumstances. A health specialist, Mishal Sameer Khan, wrote that the debate over the lockdown has actually paralyzed the country, adding that every country uses a different set of strategies to control their citizens’ movement and mixing.
It is believed that after three and a half months, this nuance in the debate will be beyond us. It is not always for every success story to include a home-grown solution, which obviously varies from country to country, based on the state’s strengths and weaknesses.
Think of Vietnam, how a country with few resources managed the virus well? Out of many aspects of their success, one of the most important aggressive ones is the early yet strict adoption of SOPs. And this was because the country had already experienced avian flu and SARS in the past.
Reportedly, the country took measures like travel restrictions, closing the border with China, increasing health checks (both at borders and other vulnerable places), early in 2020, months before others. Even their schools had closed by January and started contact-tracing operations throughout the country.
In many countries, successful efforts have also built around local solutions.
By February, they had sealed all the hotspots, including an area with 10,000 people north of Hanoi; make sure Vietnam never went for a general, national-level lockdown.
Communication was also very active, which started early — the government once said that it was ‘declaring war’ when the coronavirus was still exploding in China only.
One of Vietnam’s ‘biggest strengths’ lies in its single-party rule and authoritarian system that helped the country to observe lockdown effectively; even monitoring citizens was also feasible due to its large number of public security officers and neighborhood wardens.
The state also kept a strict watch on people’s movements and their social media accounts, as people used to report on each other.
One of the great examples is that police, and local officials were ordered to visit every household in the respective neighborhoods when a hospital reported a high number of cases.
Similarly, another exciting act of the law-enforcement agencies was censoring hundreds of thousands of posts about Covid-19 and taking action against ‘fake news’; even some people’ sanctioned’ as well.
As a result of having a history of Ebola, the country acted early. It declared a state of emergency even before having a single case of the virus, following the imposition of not more than three-day lockdowns and letting contact tracers to track possibly infected people. The contact-tracing teams were established during the Ebola outbreak.
The country has also been successful with its public message awareness programs, as it has been working since the Ebola outbreak, and in the years in between, they already know what works and what doesn’t.
Reportedly, the country initially tried broadcasting messages from military vehicles, but that didn’t prove fruitful. Having the experience of civil war, Vietnamese are already wary of state actors. As a result, the government was asked to modify the message to appeal to specific communities; that also helped the government win over the local-level leadership.
When it comes to poorer countries like Pakistan, nothing could be done due to the water shortage. Whereas in Vietnam, simple basins (with soap) were also provided at police checkpoints and inside remote villages and in urban areas – to promote and ensure hand washing. At many places, people were forced to wash hands before entering into buildings.
Taking about Africa and South Asia in terms of Covid-19 numbers, Africa is behind South Asia — but both have similar problems like fragile healthcare systems, high poverty levels, and little space that hinders social distancing, especially in the more deprived residential areas.
Even in the developed side of the West, a variety of strategies have been observed; like in Iceland, New Zealand has quashed the virus without a general lockdown. But banned gatherings, high schools, universities, night clubs, and hair salons; even masks were not encouraged. But more interestingly, Iceland developed a contact-tracing team composed of a criminologist, cops, and nurses; reportedly, the country’s testing is among the highest.
Add to that, Iceland’s response was led by the chief epidemiologist, the director of emergency management, and its director of health. Every afternoon, they used to conduct a joint briefing to discuss the virus.
Anyway, the crux of discussing the whole scenarios of different COVID-winners is to think and discuss local, home-grown strategies rather than debating the merits and demerits of a lockdown, even having the washbasins could be a start.