At a time when the whole world is reeling under the pandemic of Covid 19, WHO recommends adoption of strategies that were used to good effect by Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea. Whether these can be replicated for all countries and regions or not?
Let us first elaborate on why these three countries were able to do far better in terms of low mortality rates. These three countries had some commonalities which shall be highlighted first.
- All three are small countries
- All three have high literacy rates
- All three have high usage of modern technology, such as smartphones, internet, card-based payment systems etc.
- All three have a culture of cooperation among people.
- All three have a population which trusts government and obeys whatever it says.
- All three have governments which are transparent in working.
- All three were victims of SARS epidemic of 2003, from which suitable lessons were learnt and preparations were done to meet any eventuality which might arise again.
Further, before we move into the tactical measures adopted by each of these countries, let us also put together common basic points on which they acted:
- Isolation and Quarantine- Closing borders, self-isolation and quarantine of suspected people for 14 days
- Social Distancing emphasized, limited and graded lockdowns
- Effective contact tracing
- Widespread testing of asymptomatic people and contacts
- Stiff penalties, fines, punishment for violators of guidelines
- Quick, decisive actions were taken which aimed at being ahead of disease in every stage. There was no complacency at all which is being witnessed in Europe and America.
The Taiwan Model
Learning from the SARS epidemic, Taiwan worked on establishing a national-wide health care system which was centrally controlled. During Covid 19 outbreak in the initial period in Wuhan, the Taiwanese authorities activated this command center and the National Health Insurance data was mapped with the Taiwanese people based in Wuhan and other parts of China. This advanced mapping using Big Data analytics helped in establishing screening controls right at the airports and also alerting the medics across the country about symptoms. So, advanced preparedness in controlling imported infection cases helped in controlling spread in community.
The Singapore Model
Singapore also learnt from the SARS epidemic and made all-round preparations during the peace time which were to prove useful in fight against Covid 19. It expanded and enhanced its medical infrastructure and its supply lines. Annual drills for such an eventuality are order of the day. Medical staff was properly trained in epidemiology.
The role of PHPCs is crucial in this respect. Once these were activated, the medical staff working there was provided protective gear and other equipment. The people with symptoms could visit these clinics and the doctors were able to segregate high risk patients from low risk one. Further, they referred the cases to nodal hospital and arranged for transfers.
While emphasizing social distancing and taking other precautions, it made elaborate efforts on contact tracing. Among other measures, use of mobile application, TraceTogether was done to trace people who had come in contact with Covid 19 patients which led to their isolation, advanced screening and testing.
The South Korean Model
South Korea also followed the same strategies but key aspect was the widespread testing of the people. This was made possible by some existing advantages. First, the bio-technology industry of South Korea is well developed. So, when the first genetic sequence of the virus was published by Chinese, the Koreans were able to develop their testing kits really fast. This ensured that there is no shortage of kits anytime and allowed government to go for widespread testing. Second, the fact that Koreas use plastic money for almost all things they buy and that there is good penetration of smartphone device in the population also help government devising effective contact tracing strategy. They used the mobile tracking using GPS along with credit card usage to know whether the patients had been and then using text messages, they notified all other people present in that area to be alert and go for self-isolation or screening. Third, to encourage people to come for screening, it notified certain testing labs in the affected areas and the testing was made free. Arrangements were done to keep identity of people private. Fourth, it never faced shortages of medical equipment or worker. Masks are anyway used commonly by people due to pollution and are readily available on medical stores. So, there is an already an established supply chain which can scale up production anytime required. Similarly, there was no shortage of PPEs or ventilators.