The West's Test with Coronavirus

With mere months left before 2020 ends, the fight against coronavirus and COVID-19 continues. Bars and restaurants have closed in Spain; curfews have been imposed in major cities in France; schools have been shut down in the Czech Republic; Germany is working like a beaver to prepare for the second wave; in Italy, the pressure on hospitals is increasing and surgery schedules in hospitals in England have been suspended due to concerns that they may not have the capacity to respond to the risk of a second wave.
While western Europe is still dealing with the impact of the first wave and the projections of a second wave, East Asian countries seem to have largely suppressed the pandemic. According to news reports, economic activities, arts, and sports activities are going ahead in China, Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and Thailand. Although measures continue to be taken in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, the number of patients and deaths remains stable. The first classical music festival was even held recently in Wuhan, where the coronavirus first appeared.
So how is it that eastern countries have seemingly solved the coronavirus crisis western countries are still trying to suppress? Especially when the crisis broke out in the east in the first place… While the citizens of these countries behave according to the state’s demands due to the central autocratic state structure present in the east, western countries are debating whether to wear a mask, open schools, declare quarantine or close borders. In the western culture of democracy where everything is questioned and discussed, the implementation of the decisions taken by the state and the execution of policies is a much slower process, which is an important factor in the rapid spread of the virus. Experts say the results would be much different if mass quarantining was declared a week earlier when the coronavirus started to spread in western countries. How much did democracy remedy corona? Well, that could be discussed on a country basis.
One of the reasons that made East Asian countries successful in their fight against coronavirus is their previous experiences on the matter. The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic that emerged in China in 2003, followed by the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012, taught countries in the east how to combat such viruses. They learned to deal with these viruses through methods such as closing borders immediately, requiring mass testing and quarantines for those entering the country, admitting positive cases to hospitals without delay and placing their companions into designated quarantine hotels, equipping visitors who had negative test results with tracking bracelets and strictly monitoring all entries. When the SARS epidemic hit, mask wearing in daily life was already the norm in East Asian countries.

A study that saw the participation of over 80 researchers and was published in the prestigious medical journal Lancet last week found that not only was “herd immunity” an ineffective solution in the fight against coronavirus but it also further increased the negative effects of the pandemic. While western countries mostly had high hopes that this approach would work against the coronavirus, East Asian countries, which were prepared for such crises, resorted to more radical methods.
Some experts think that China has not been sharing real data, referring to cases kept hidden in Wuhan in the early days of the pandemic. The biggest advantage of China, which has recorded a stable coronavirus case table since mid-August, is that it was able to benefit from its previous epidemic experiences and produce personal protective equipment (PPE) and materials such as masks and gloves rapidly and serially.
Since the 2000s, countries in East Asia have gained experience in dealing with infectious respiratory diseases, while western countries have been busy with illnesses such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. The fact that the treatment of such diseases spans a long period of time has led to different tables in the fight against the coronavirus. Having not have had much experience with large-scale epidemics, western countries could not act as quickly as those in the east in taking swift and comprehensive measures.
Finally, if we look at the economic picture, we can say that there is more positive movement in economic activity in the east, compared to the chaos in the west. According to the IMF’s estimates last week, the global economy is expected to shrink 4.4%, while the Chinese economy is expected to grow 1.9%. A growth of 2.7% and 7.2% is projected for Vietnam for 2020 and 2021, respectively. South Korean exports returned to growth as of September. Thailand, where tourism revenues are the backbone of the economy, has started to reopen its borders. Japan, meanwhile, is preparing to exempt business travellers from the 14-day quarantine period imposed on foreigners entering the country. How long will the fight against coronavirus last and what more will it teach us? Together we will watch and see.


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