The countries best dealing with COVID-19 appear to be those who had first- hand, fatal experience experience with the SARS outbreak 17 years ago. What Hong Kong (which lost 299 citizens to SARS), Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore learned was simple: take quick and decisive action — and do what the government says.
By contrast, the unfolding disasters in Italy and the US have been case studies in bad management. The US, in particular, is burdened with the twin difficulties of one of the world’s most unequal health systems and arguably the world’s most incompetent administration.
The key element in preventing the rapid spread of the virus (other than locking everyone in their homes) is widespread testing. In this regard, Australia is an absolute disaster. Like the US, we have a critical shortage of test kits. Unless you’ve been overseas recently or have knowingly been in contact with a carrier, it’s actually extremely difficult to get tested.
Contrast this with South Korea, which quickly setup drive-through testing and tested 248,000 people in a matter of weeks. They are able to test around 15,000 per day. The test is free, it takes 10 minutes at most, and the results are usually texted to you the next day.
The rapid testing kit is not currently Australia but companies are reportedly attempting to import than and a spokeswoman for the Federal health department told the Guardian the idea had “merit”.
This widespread testing has also reduced the relative scale of the lockdown. While South Korea has a somewhat similar population to Italy, only 29,000 people are in self-quarantine.
World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who has been ahead of the curve throughout the pandemic, has called for all suspected cases of COVID-19 to be tested. “You cannot fight a fire blindfolded,” he said. “Test, test, test. Test every suspected case.”
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A second element in preventing the spread is constant symptom checking. In China, which is moving quickly towards relative normalcy after its six week lockdown, citizens are still subject to extensive temperature testing. Temperatures are regularly checked outside homes and subways and shopping centres.
Experts suggest that an early symptom of COVID-19 is a high temperate. In the absence of official test kits, regular temperature checking is essential.
Both measures are virtually non-existent in Australia.
The primary goal of health authorities in Australia (who, led by the Morrison government, appear to be completely failing in communication and response) isn’t financial stimulus. The goal is to stop the spread of the virus. For that, we need critical testing infrastructure and we need quick isolation.
Other countries have shown it’s possible, now we must follow their lead.