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Leadership: A COVID-19 Perspective


Coronavirus | Source: unsplash.com

For the past few months, COVID-19 has ravaged across the world, attacking the health of millions of people and damaging the economies of countless nations. Most would agree in saying that this coronavirus is one of the worst, if not the worst crisis since World War II. However, the extent of damage that has been done to each country differs based on the country’s government response to the crisis and how they have acted upon it. Because of this reliance on world leaders, the number of cases in a single country varies from less than ten confirmed cases to upwards of four million confirmed cases. But just how different have countries’ responses been for the gamut of confirmed cases to be so different for each country? Before we explore those responses, we must make sure we know the history of the virus.



COVID-19: A Beginning


The 2019 coronavirus was discovered on December 31, 2019, in the city of Wuhan, the capital of central China’s Hubei Province. A cluster of pneumonia cases had been noticed and was soon identified as the novel coronavirus. Less than a month later, the first case of COVID outside of China was identified and confirmed in Thailand. As time passed, we learned that the virus spread at an alarming rate with varying levels of severity in its victims, and due to the rampant inactivity of governments, the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus as a pandemic, rousing world leaders into action.


Presently, the United States of America holds the highest number of confirmed COVID cases, passing 4 million confirmed cases. But how did America get to such a state? Before looking at America’s response, let’s take a look at some responses that are respected because of their successes in containing the virus and their efficiency.



Role Model Countries


Today, the country of Taiwan is widely recognized as having the best response to the pandemic crisis, as although they are very close in distance to mainland China, they were able to keep their total number of confirmed cases below 500 and the total number of deaths at 7, a very impressive number. But how did they accomplish this?


Well, in contrast to the responses of many other countries, Taiwan chose not to shut down its economy by issuing lockdowns and keeping everyone away from each other, but instead quickly closed the country’s borders to halt international travel and banned the export of surgical masks to ensure that the country would have enough to sustain their citizens. The government then used contact tracing and mobile SIM-tracking to verify that those in quarantine were abiding by the rules. Businesses were kept open thanks to aggressive precautionary measures such as taking temperatures and providing hand sanitizers to patrons before they could enter the building. Although the use of SIMtracking has led to some legitimate concerns for privacy, no one can deny that Taiwan’s tactical response to the crisis ranks among the best in the world.


Another country that has been praised for its effective measures taken against the pandemic is the country of South Korea. South Korea has managed to keep its total number of confirmed cases below 14,000 and its death toll below 300, which is still an impressive number relative to other countries and to its own population. Impressively, they have also slowed the spread of the virus within the country to less than 50 per day.


Similarly to Taiwan, the Korean government accomplished this containment of COVID by attacking the virus aggressively. In the early days of the pandemic, South Korea began developing COVID-19 tests and scaling up its production to thousands per day, being able to provide bountiful amounts of tests for its citizens. And instead of banning exports of medical supplies like Taiwan, South Korea produced enough supplies to be able to export tests and medical supplies abroad to countries in need before its toll passed one hundred. South Korea continued to remain vigilant through the months, exercising extensive testing and contact tracing, as well as isolation, and now stands as a model for other countries to follow.



Going South


An example of a country’s actions that failed to effectively gain control over and contain COVID was Italy’s response. The Italian government’s first procedure fighting against COVID-19 was banning all flights to China and declaring a national emergency after seeing Italy’s first confirmed coronavirus cases on January 31, 2020. About a month later, a man in Lombardy, a region in Northern Italy, tested positive for the novel coronavirus after previously leaving the hospital without a test. He is believed to have spread the virus to many people before he began developing severe symptoms. A few days later, several small towns that were hit by the outbreak were placed under quarantine, and carnival celebrations, as well as some soccer matches, were cancelled. At the time, there were only 150 confirmed. A few weeks later, during the first week of March, the number of confirmed cases in Italy had surpassed 3,000, which led the Italian government to close down schools and universities. Within just four days, the number of confirmed cases increased by more than double, surpassing 7,000 cases.


At this point, much of Northern Italy was placed under lockdown. One day later, the whole of Italy was placed under lockdown, as the number of confirmed cases had reached 9,000. However, restaurants and bars were not closed until two days later, till on March 11, when the number of confirmed cases had reached 12,000. Eleven days later, the number of cases increased by almost five times, hitting just shy of 60,000 cases. At this point, all factories were closed down and all nonessential production was halted, however, it was too late to stop the flow of the virus as the number of confirmed cases had now surpassed 240,000.


Now, this number is not very big in comparison to the countries that are leading in coronavirus cases, so why is Italy considered to have failed in the fight against COVID-19?


Well, that’s because Italy was among the first to take hits from the outbreak in Europe. The Italian government did a poor job of containing the spread of the virus, allowing it to travel through Northern Italy and eventually affecting the whole of the country. The mistake that the Italian officials made was not attacking the virus aggressively from the start. When the virus first reached Italy, the government could have chosen to limit contact between citizens and make sure that those who were confirmed to have the novel coronavirus or had been in contact with a patient were self-isolating, as to prevent the spread. And when Northern Italy got to the point where a lockdown was issued, the government could have prevented citizens in Northern Italy from travelling to Southern Italy. Allowing citizens to do so allowed for the virus to spread through those travellers, affecting the Southern regions. Under other circumstances, for example, if there was a virus that was not as contagious as COVID-19, then Italy’s strategy of acting only on areas already affected may have worked out. However, due to the inconsistent and exponential increase rate of cases, the only way to properly prevent the virus was to completely block off the virus from those not yet affected and take measures to ensure that citizens were doing their part in reducing the spread. In the present day, the spread of the virus in Italy has drastically slowed down. Nonetheless, we can learn several lessons from Italy’s response and the outcome that that response brought.


Today, one country that seems to be having a difficult time with the novel coronavirus is the United States of America. But what kind of procedures did America take to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, or what lack of procedures allowed for COVID-19 to spread rampant and affect so many U.S. citizens?



The Land of Opportunity


The United States of America, which goes by several nicknames such as Uncle Sam or the Land of Opportunity, has had it rough in the fight against COVID-19. Over the past few months, the number of confirmed cases has increased so rapidly that the total number has well surpassed 3 million, and is on its way to 4.5 million, currently being over 4 million. This puts the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. miles ahead of any other country, with Brazil being the closest, nearing 2.5 million. The Land of Opportunity is increasingly losing opportunities because of the coronavirus. So let’s look at America’s response to the virus outbreak, what they did well and what they could have done better.



Jobs Well Done


There are three positive points that I want to mention about America’s response to the coronavirus. The first commendable action was that the American government spent billions of dollars on new contracts to bring in more ventilators. This was to ensure that there would be enough supply for the possible demand. The President also utilized a 70-year-old law “to prod auto manufacturer General Motors to switch to ventilator production and streamline supply-chain issues for other manufacturers.” This meant that America had plenty of ventilators, ensuring that no one in the U.S died for lack of ventilators.


The next adequate thing they did was provide sufficient hospital capacity. On March 18, the governor of New York issued a severe warning, saying that within 45 days, worst-case scenario, they would need 110,000 hospital beds, but the state only had 53,000 available. In response, President Trump dispatched the hospital ship Comfort to New York to increase capacity, and the state converted the Javitz Convention Center into a 2,000-bed medical center. In the end, on April 12, New York hit a peak of 18,825 patients, safely below the estimated worst-case scenario and leaving many beds to spare. Since this peak, the numbers have declined.


The last thing that the American government did an admirable job of and is still working well on is proactively developing vaccines and treatments for COVID-19. Clinical trials on humans for multiple coronavirus vaccines have already begun, with more than 100 possible vaccines in various stages of development around the world according to the World Health Organization. The U.S. is doing its part in vaccine development, with many groups of researchers working to find possible vaccines. However, it will still be a while until said vaccines will be ready for public use, the estimated and hoped-for date being sometime in early 2021.


Until then, the best way for governments to fight against the coronavirus is to continue to limit its spread and keep the vulnerable safe, whether it be through rigorous testing, aggressive lockdown procedures, or, although it may lead to concerns from American citizens valuing their privacy over their safety, contact tracing or SIM-tracking. However, for the United States of America to be in such a bad state right now, with over 4 million confirmed cases, there must have been several shortcomings as well on the government’s end.



Poor Performance


There are three negative points in America’s response that I want to mention. These costly failures include a lack of PPE production and supply, not enough testing, and inefficiency in economic aid.


Personal Protective Equipment, abbreviated as PPE, is vital in reducing the spread of germs and keeping people safe. PPE includes equipment such as face masks, gloves, and gowns. Having proper PPE is vital to keeping those working on the front lines (such as doctors, nurses, and pharmacists) safe from the virus.


The problem in the U.S. was that there was not enough PPE in circulation for healthcare workers to use. For months, frontline workers were forced to work without proper protective clothing or were forced to reuse used supplies. Healthcare workers were forced to use household items such as scarves and coffee filters to protect themselves.



In Chicago, Illinois, a pizza parlour started producing masks using the pizza oven to alter the shape of acrylic face shields and attaching them to foam strips in an effort to help the city’s frontline workers. Although the domestic production of protective gear has increased in recent weeks, the network for distributing equipment may still be unstable and might not be able to get to healthcare workers quickly enough.


Testing for the coronavirus is another area that the U.S. has fallen behind in. 2 months ago, President Donald Trump declared that “America leads the world on testing” and that “we have met the moment, and we have prevailed.” Although Trump has boasted that the U.S. surpassed South Korea in testing, the harsh reality is that South Korea ramped up their testing early on, in February and March. Even though the U.S. has caught up, the virus has already claimed over 4 million victims and even with the increase of testing rate per week and the opening of some drive-thru testing stations, America has only managed to test around 16% of its population, leaving much room for improvement for the American government.


Finally, inefficiency in economic aid. Perhaps the largest impact that COVID-19 has had on countries, apart from the spread of the virus itself and the threat to the health of citizens, is that it destabilizes economies. Because of the virus’ contagious nature, governments are forced to issue lockdowns, and non-essential businesses are forced to temporarily close down. This causes many people to lose their jobs, as smaller businesses lay off their workers to keep from going bankrupt. Due to these financial crises, many people in countries all over the world have needed to apply for Employment Insurance, abbreviated as EI. In an attempt to soften the blow for American citizens, the U.S. government authorized the expenditures of hundreds of billions of dollars, in the form of low-interest loans to businesses that can be forgiven as long as they don’t lay off workers, direct cash payments to Americans, and more support for the unemployed. Authorizing these expenditures was shown to be the easy part.


Getting the cash to the intended destinations has proven to be more difficult, as there was much confusion and many delays from both the private banks authorized to make these loans and the applicant businesses. There were also questions about why large corporations, restaurant chains, and wealthy universities received funds, as they would not receive as much of a blow as smaller businesses. Overall, the government’s economic aid to U.S. citizens to soften the blow of the crisis leaves much room for improvement, being disorganized and inefficient.



From Now On


These aspects of the American government’s response, both the good and the bad, still have long ways to go. COVID-19 has been roaming rampant across the world for over half of a year now, and will likely not be fully subdued until some time next year, in 2021. The best way to combat the virus before a cure is discovered and refined to perfection is to exercise proper safety measures. Properly social distancing and wearing masks whenever you go outside your home has proven to be effective, as it has flattened the curve greatly in British Columbia, Canada. Following these protocols assiduously keeps us and those around us safe from the virus.


As we continue to live through the damage the novel coronavirus is causing, we should stay resilient and do our part in protecting ourselves, our loved ones, and all of our fellow citizens.


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