The proximity of the likes of Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Vietnam to China, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, meant initial forecasts of the virus’s impact were grim. Both public and economic health looked certain to be under serious threat. Yet in stark contrast to much of the Western world, these East Asian nations appear to have the situation under control.
Few to no new cases are being reported here from week to week, while figures continue to spike daily in Brazil, Russia, and elsewhere. But how have they done it, and what can the West learn from East Asia’s handling of the outbreak?
A fast and decisive response
The crucial element in East Asia’s early response – and one perhaps missing elsewhere – was speed. Taiwan, Vietnam, Singapore, Hong Kong, and South Korea all acted swiftly to ban or quarantine incoming visitors. Smart test and trace programs and widespread public mobilization have further contributed to success in limiting the advance of the disease. Taiwan in fact began monitoring the health of travelers on the very day China announced the discovery of the virus to the world.
Lessons learned from previous health crises
Hong Kong suffered the most deaths outside of mainland China During the SARS epidemic of 2002-2004, while Taiwan had the world’s highest mortality rate. Both nations in particular were driven by a desire to do better if and when another virus struck.
Despite a fumbled state response, Hong Kong’s residents began wearing masks almost universally and distributing sanitization supplies to areas in need. The Taiwanese government meanwhile was far better prepared than it had been almost two decades earlier, with public movement quickly curbed and hospital capacity under constant review.
Investors monitoring global markets with online brokers such as Tickmill may find encouragement in East Asia’s economic response. Taiwan, for example, resisted a full lockdown, meaning that economic activity, while still stunted, has not suffered to the degree it has elsewhere. Residents have stayed at home more than they otherwise would but are buying online while continuing to work. In Hong Kong meanwhile, life is returning to normal, with many public and private spaces back welcoming visitors. Success in containing the disease should provide a more stable foundation for economic recovery.
Takeaways for the West
There are important lessons for the West to take away should another disease spread in the future.
Countries will need to strengthen the medical supply capacity closer to home while working with producers to find ways to plan ahead, respond quickly, and save lives. East Asia’s response has also demonstrated the potential of digital strategy and how, in the context of a pandemic, it can monitor and protect society en masse.