The Coronavirus is spreading all over the world, causing panic everywhere, as thousands of new infections and hundreds of deaths are announced every day.
Several cities, and even entire countries, are in a state of complete closure, with flights, international events and annual festivals canceled.
Europe has become the new focus of disease, while elsewhere, in Latin America, the United States and the Middle East, the incidence rate increases daily.
But it seems that some countries have managed to contain the sudden spread of the virus, which as of March 23, has killed about 15,000 people, and infected more than 340,000 others, worldwide.
Many Asian countries, despite their geographical proximity to China, where the disease began, are leading the way in curbing the incidence of Covid-19 virus.
“There are countries that have been able to take action to contain an outbreak, and I think we should learn from them,” epidemiologist Tolbert Nyenswah, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, told the BBC.
He added: “I am not just talking about China, as the number of cases has decreased after the application of very harsh measures, which other democratic countries may not find easy to implement”.
Nyenswah noted that Taiwan, neighboring China, with a population of about 23.6 million, had registered 195 cases of Coronavirus, and only two deaths as of March 23.
While Hong Kong, which has a population of 7.5 million and shares land borders with China, recorded 155 confirmed cases and four deaths in more than two months, but injuries increased again last week, and a series of additional measures were taken.
As for Japan, which has a population of about 120 million people, it has recorded 1100 cases, and South Korea has recorded about 9 thousand cases, but the rate of injury and death has decreased significantly in recent weeks.
According to Nyenswah, these countries managed to manage the spread of the virus, because they acted quickly and implemented innovative policies.
Here are the most effective measures:
1- Test, test, and test again
The WHO and experts consulted by the BBC agree that early diagnosis is a key factor in containing the epidemic.
“You cannot know the true effect of the virus, or take appropriate action if you do not know how many people are infected,” Nyenswah says.
Chris Johnson, professor of epidemiology at Temple University in America, agrees, and says that this is what made a real difference in containing the virus, as the countries that relied on the test witnessed a decrease in the number of new cases, while the countries where the test was not performed witnessed a sharp rise in the number of cases.
“South Korea is testing about 10,000 people a day, which means that within two days it has tested more people, more than the United States in more than a month,” told to BBC.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Gebresus says testing anyone who suffers from symptoms is a “key to stopping the spread” of the epidemic.
He said in a recent press conference: “We have a simple message to all countries: Test, Test, Test.
All countries must be able to test all suspected cases. They cannot fight this epidemic while they are blindfolded”.
He also cautioned against testing only people with severe symptoms, as the resulting data would not be reliable to generate statistics, and that practice encouraged those with milder symptoms to continue spreading the virus.
2- Isolating the patients
“South Korea and China have done an excellent job of tracking, testing and containing their citizens,” says Professor Chris Johnson.
The tests not only isolate patients, and prevent the virus from spreading, but also help in discovering new potential cases, which may be in the early stages and thus without symptoms, according to Professor Chris.
According to Chris Johnson, the Chinese authorities have been “very vigilant” in detecting possible new cases, which could be one of the reasons for the large drop in recorded cases.
“People with a high temperature are sent to fever clinics, and tested for influenza or Covid-19.
If their test results are positive for the virus, they will be isolated in so-called quarantine hotels, to avoid infecting their families”.
Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong have taken a different approach: isolating suspected cases at home, and imposing fines in excess of $ 3,000 on violators.
But in both cases, according to Nyenswah, the key to this strategy was to detect and track potential infections.
In Taiwan and Singapore, he says, strategies were in place to detect people who had been in contact with patients, from interviewing the injured to checking security cameras or transportation records.
“On March 12, Hong Kong had 445 suspected cases, but it performed 14,900 tests on all people who had been in contact with these patients, to detect a possible infection, and 19 of them tested positive”.
3- Get ready and act fast
Nyenswah, who previously worked to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa, says one of the key elements to contain the virus is to act quickly, before the infection spreads to the population.
“Countries like Taiwan and Singapore have shown that a swift procedure to detect and isolate new cases can be a decisive factor in containing the spread,” he says.
A recent report, published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, says Taiwan’s success is also partly due to the fact that the island had previously prepared for such a possibility and set up an epidemic control center in early 2003.
This center, which includes many research agencies and government agencies, was created after the SARS epidemic, and has since been conducting numerous exercises and studies.
Even before it was confirmed that the virus had passed from person to person, in mid-January, Taiwan had already begun checking all passengers from China’s Wuhan city, where the outbreak had begun.
Hong Kong began operating temperature detection stations at entry points into its territory since January 3, then imposed a 14-day quarantine for tourists coming to the country, while doctors were instructed to report any patient with a fever or Severe respiratory symptoms, and the last date of travel to Wuhan.
“Once again, the time factor was decisive,” says Nyenswah.
4- Social spacing
“Once the disease has already entered your country, the containment measures will not be valid,” Nyenswah says.
By then, the most effective way to protect the population is to quickly implement social spacing, as is clearly followed in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Hong Kong authorities have asked people to work from home, closed schools and canceled all social events, by late January.
Singapore decided to keep schools open, but conducted tests and monitored students and faculty on a daily basis.
5- Promote personal hygiene measures
The World Health Organization says that regular hand washing and personal hygiene are essential to avoid infection.
“Many Asian countries learned from the SARS experience in 2003.
These countries know that hygiene will protect people from disease and prevent them from infecting others,” Nyenswah says.
In countries like Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, there are stations with antibacterial substances on the streets, and regular use of face masks is widespread.
Although face masks may not always be effective in protecting the wearer from infection, they reduce the risk of transmission, through coughing and sneezing.