After enforcing a strict, nationwide lockdown policy paired with immediate, swift construction of temporary hospitals, life in China has changed drastically in the past few months due to the outbreak of COVID-19. However, normalcy is on the horizon for many Chinese citizens, who are now returning to school and work.
In order to facilitate a smooth and safe transition back from quarantine, the Chinese government has implemented certain safety measures with the help of technology to prevent a potential second wave of infections. Across the country, Chinese people are now using the “Health Code” system. If the code turns green, one is free to move about and enter public spaces. If the code appears amber or red, one has to self-quarantine. Currently, the system has been implemented through popular apps created by tech companies Alipay and Tencent. Using voluntary information on symptoms and contact history with other infected persons, the “Health Code” will either turn green, amber or red. At checkpoints around the city, the system is now enabling workers to return to offices and schools to reopen by ensuring that those in public spaces are healthy.
As people return to work via the “Health Code” system, the government has also taken security precautions for international travel to China. All those arriving from international territories are brought through a system of testing and quarantine, which ensures every arriving passenger is healthy and safe before officially entering the country and going home. At the airport, passengers have their temperatures taken before they are sent to a testing centre, where passengers are then tested for Coronavirus and instructed to wait for their test results, which takes 7 hours to develop. After being discharged from the testing center, passengers can then choose to either be quarantined with their family or to be self-quarantined in a hotel.
Through the implementation of measures, such as the Health Code and the travel screening system, life in China for the average citizen is now gradually returning back to normal as shops, schools, and offices continue to reopen and resume business.
In Hong Kong, there have been little to no new local coronavirus cases reported. Therefore, the city has somewhat returned to a state of normalcy, with restaurants and places of work opening again. Because the city has been shut down since January, people are happy to start moving around again. Hong Kong has been able to beat this virus for three main reasons: widespread use of masks, easy access to necessary resources, like medical equipment and face masks, and government rules for international travelers.
Firstly, in Asia, it is common to wear masks when sick, so masks are a common household item. Although masks do not protect someone from contracting the virus, when someone contagious wears one, it reduces their droplet transmission, therefore protecting others.
Secondly, the fact that everyone in Hong Kong has had continuous access to disinfectants, hand sanitizers, masks, and even toilet paper without any price hikes enabled everyone to remain clean.
Finally, the government has done a great job preventing new cases from entering the city. Anyone entering Hong Kong must be tested for the virus, and is not allowed to leave the airport premises until results come back. If the result is positive, the person and any family members they have been in contact with must undergo government quarantine. Even if the result is negative, the person must self-quarantine for two weeks and receive two more tests to ensure they have not had a later onset. Although there was a second-wave of cases in early March when boarding school and college students returned from overseas, the increase in cases was ultimately minimal and contained.
The city has endured a trying twelve months since last May when rumblings of potential civil unrest began to grow serious. Schools were first closed in November when protests made commuting potentially dangerous, and then in January when COVID-19 began to threaten Asia. Now, at last, many eagerly await a return to normalcy. Hopefully, Hong Kong can serve as an example to show that despite these dark and difficult times, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
In late February and early March, there were various words and phrases that people around the world associated South Korea with, such as “heightening,” “hot spot,” and “fear.” However, now emerging as a leader in this struggle against the COVID-19 pandemic, South Korea has been fighting COVID-19 comparatively well. With its strict employment of “trace, test, treat” methodology, South Korea serves as a successful example of overcoming the novel coronavirus.
One of the first actions that the South Korean government took was extensive testing of its citizens. The United States and South Korea reported its first case of COVID-19 on the same day. The difference between the two countries was the large number of tests the Korean government took compared to the number of tests the U.S. government took. By March 8th, South Korea had tested 189,236 people while the U.S. only tested 1,707. Testing in South Korea did not apply only to South Korean citizens. Since late March, South Korea has required testing for all visitors from foreign countries. Whether or not the initial test was positive, people entering South Korea were subject to two weeks of quarantine by law. In addition, before leaving Incheon International Airport, the government officials required everyone to download a “quarantine app” on their phone. Using the new app, foreign enterers had to report their symptoms every day, and public workers tracked individuals’ locations to ensure they didn’t leave their residences.
Unlike the majority of the countries in the world impacted by COVID-19, South Korea never declared an official lockdown. Although the government closed schools and some private owners temporarily halted their businesses, there was no legal curfew imposed on citizens.
While testing and isolating infected patients have helped flatten the curve, another important detail is the quick and widespread use of face masks. Face masks do not completely protect the users from contracting the COVID-19, but they significantly lower the risk. Wearing face masks restricts the air particles from your coughs from traveling long distances. In addition, the added protective layer helps filter the viral molecules from the air when breathing. To prevent a shortage of face masks, the South Korean government purchased 80% of the national production of KF-94 masks, the equivalent of American N95 by early March. With the government taking control over the majority of production and the distribution of face masks, South Korea was able to prevent significant mask shortages.
The reason for South Korea’s quick flattening of the curve was its immediate response to the virus’ impacts. Prior to the COVID-19, South Korea had experienced other coronavirus outbreaks, most notably SARS and MERS. The prior knowledge on dealing with contagious outbreaks and strict protective measures helped South Korea become a model for other countries to learn from in this time of crisis.
On March 16th, the Ukrainian government ordered the shutdown of all the public places, including restaurants and movie theatres, allowing only supermarkets and pharmacies to continue opening shop.
Despite these regulations, some restaurants continued to remain open, while others notified their regular customers about ways of getting in by providing a phone number to call in case they needed a place to hang out with friends. The instructions these restaurants gave to customers were as follows: call an hour before showing up, come in groups of no more than two at a time, and leave one-by-one with a “take out order” to not raise suspicion.
On April 2nd, the government of Ukraine forbade people from going outside in groups of more than two. People are not allowed to visit parks or go to the beach unless they are walking a dog. Ads have circulated, calling for services like: “I’ll let you walk my dog for $5/hour”.
On April 19th, Ukraine celebrated Easter, a very important religious holiday that brings millions of people to churches annually. Online live streams were set up to encourage people to stay home and not gather in large groups.
Ukraine has only eight thousand confirmed cases among a population of 45 million people. The government shut down the borders when we had less than ten confirmed cases. Ukrainian citizens returning home had to sign an agreement to stay home for two weeks after returning and download an app tracking their location to ensure they don’t go outside.
Many communities in Ukraine have also come together to support each other in this complicated time. One delivery place put a stand in front of their office for those in need to take food and supplies and for others to donate. People on the streets dress up as superheroes and give out free facemasks. Volunteers help the elderly by delivering groceries. Citizens take care of each other. At times of such uncertainty and fear around the world, it’s important to put aside our differences and see that we are all in this together. No matter age, nationality, or religion, we all go through the same experience.
On February 27th, the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed, a 56-year-old from Loon op Zand. He had recently traveled from the Northern-Italian region Lombardia, just like the other cases that soon followed.
On March 5th, the number of cases increased to 82, which our Minister of Medical Care attributed to a “catch-up” of people who only recently started to link their symptoms to the novel virus. Like many Western countries, the severity of the virus was severely understated on a political as well as civilian level in the initial stage. I was even stopped at the Dutch border for wearing a face mask at the beginning of Spring break.
The following week, the number of cases rose dramatically in the southern province of Noord-Brabant. The intensive care units of the hospitals in that province were overloaded, leading to the transfer of various patients to other places in the country. The increase in cases again correlated to people returning from Northern-Italy and other parts of the Alps, as many people go skiing there at this time of the year.
It was not until March 16th did our prime minister Mark Rutte hold a live stream to explain the government’s ‘intelligent lockdown’ to combat the virus. People were still free to do what they wanted; but were encouraged to stay at home, practice social distancing, and avoid any unnecessary activities away from home. The idea behind this ‘intelligent lockdown’ was to ultimately achieve ‘herd immunity’ against the virus. Over time, the intelligent – but relatively lax – lockdown would inevitably cause a majority of the population to get infected with the virus, just over a longer period of time. This would grant more time for our healthcare workers to deal with the waves of patients, as well as possibly have all Dutch people develop immunity against COVID-19
While the consequences were grave for restaurants and other non-essential businesses, the intelligent lock-down still allowed a significant number of companies to remain open, which helped limit the impact on our economy to some extent. In addition, many people quietly realized that we were quite lucky to still remain free for the most part. Especially when compared to Spain, Italy, and even our direct Southern neighbor Belgium, who all enforced a full lock-down, we could still enjoy a refreshing walk and exercise outside, for example.
Of course, there are also some flaws in the idea of an ‘intelligent lock-down.’ The government estimated that if 60% of the 17 million Dutch people have had the virus, the outbreak is contained. Today, we’re only at approximately 4%. Moreover, it is not scientifically proven that people that have been cured are immune to COVID-19
Differences in the Netherlands ’ approach have worsened the country’s relationship with Southern-European countries to the extent of putting the EU on the line. Since there are no border controls within the EU, the Belgian authorities were not happy with all the Dutch people still coming into their country. Countries like Spain and Italy were in desperate need of monetary aid from the EU as their countries were hit worst physically as well as economically. They had more cases while suddenly having no more tourism and less demand in agricultural output, both of which are the main pillars of their economies. However, because Northern-Europe has already helped Southern-Europe multiple times in the recent past, the Netherlands, as well as Germany, demanded that any monetary aid ought to be tied to economic reform, which was referred to as “Euro-bonds.” The North set these demands because countries like Italy still have enormous debts and have only increased government spending in recent years.
On the flip side, the South believes that there should be no ties to emergency aid in times of ‘war’ and that the North should show more solidarity to the South and the EU as a whole. Of course, this rhetoric goes back to WWI, after which we demanded so much money and reforms to Germany that it helped spark WWII.
Eventually, the North submitted to the South and agreed to make €540 billion available with virtually no strings attached.
Overall, as the cases drop, Dutch people have adhered even less to the intelligent lock-down rules, as countless people, especially college and high-school students, start to meet up again. However, no one truly knows when life will return completely to normal.