By Oscar P. Lagman, Jr.
Wuhan’s bold approach of restricting travel in and out of the industrial city seems to serve as a model for other cities and even whole countries to copy in combating COVID-19, although the lockdown of Wuhan only slowed down the spread of the virus by three to five days because about 5 million residents fled when they sensed the city government would ban exit from it.
Wuhan mayor Zhou Xianwang said nearly half of the city’s 11 million population had escaped before the lockdown was imposed. His estimate was based on a 2018 survey which indicated that 48% of Wuhan residents had gone somewhere else to celebrate the Chinese New Year.
As at least 15,000 people had been infected by COVID-19 and more than 1,000 people had died from it, Italy locked down the entire country on March 10, with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte telling his people, “Stay home.” The decree had disastrous effect, as Italians jumped in cars and on trains to flee the travel lockdown, with authorities not knowing whether they should stop anyone from leaving.
The lockdown restricted the normal activities of its 60 million citizens outside their homes as the government ordered the closure of retail stores (except pharmacies and grocery outlets), service centers, places of worship, sports and leisure facilities, educational and cultural institutions. Anyone defying a ban on “unnecessary movement” could be subject to criminal charges. While public transportation and airports are allowed to operate, those who want to travel for valid work or family related reasons must obtain police permission.
Denmark was the second European country to impose a nationwide lockdown in an effort to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus disease. The lockdown began on March 14 and is to last until April 13. “We are in uncharted territory. We are in the middle of something none of us have faced before,” Danish Prime Minister Matte Frederickson said during a press conference. “Right now, I know that the overall list of measures is very extreme and will be seen as very extreme, but I am convinced that it is worth it.”
Ireland announced on March 12 that it would impose a country-wide lockdown to contain the spread of the disease. All educational and cultural institutions will be closed. Indoor gatherings were to be limited to no more than 100 people, and outdoor no more than 500. Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said, “We have not witnessed a pandemic of this nature in living memory.”
While El Salvador, which has a population of about 6.4 million, has no confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection, its President Nayib Bukele announced an orange alert on March 11. Schools will be closed for three weeks and gatherings of more than 500 will be banned. Salvadorian citizens returning from abroad will be quarantined for 30 days. Foreigners will be banned from entering the country.
“I know this will be criticized, but let’s put ourselves in Italy’s shoes. Italy wishes they could’ve done this before,” President Bukele said in a national address on Wednesday, according to the Post.”
Poland has also made known it would impose a countrywide lockdown. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced Friday that the country would undergo a nationwide lockdown, which would mean banning foreigners from entering the country as well as shutting all restaurants, bars and casinos. “The state will not abandon (its citizens). However, in the current situation we cannot allow ourselves to keep borders open to foreigners,” Mr. Morawiecki said.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has also announced a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all individuals entering the country in an attempt to prevent the spread of the virus in the country. Everyone entering the country will be required to quarantine themselves for 14 days, she said, and no cruise ship will be allowed to dock in the country until June 30.
What is common among the various lockdowns are the banning of entry of foreigners, requiring 14-day quarantines for citizens returning from abroad, the shut down of schools and leisure facilities, and restriction of large gatherings and unnecessary movement of people.
In contrast is South Korea’s approach. From the outset, the Korean government set key principles to combat COVID-19: Be quick, transparent, and pre-emptive.
Instead of testing only patients showing symptoms as is done in other countries, South Korean health authorities tested everyone who had been in close contact with confirmed cases. They pursued and tracked down possible patients to prevent spread within the community. In the process, the health workers discovered a rapid community transmission taking place among members of the Shincheonji Church.
The catchall approach identified Korea as one of the most affected countries. As of March 11, Korea has 7,755 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the result of having tested 214,640 people, which accounts for the low mortality rate of 0.77%, which is way below the 3.4% global average.
President Rodrigo Duterte announced late Thursday night the imposition of “community quarantine” for the entire Metro Manila effective at 12:01 a.m. of March 15 to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The quarantine meant the suspension of land, domestic air, and domestic sea travel to and from Metro Manila from March 15 to April 14.
Government work would be suspended and a skeletal workforce would be in place. Foreign nationals from countries with localized COVID-19 transmissions would be banned from entering the country.
“We do not want to say it is a lockdown because that frightens people but it is a lockdown. There is no struggle of power here, it is a matter of protecting and defending you from COVID-19,” the president, said.
The following morning, thousands of temporary residents of Metro Manila trooped to bus terminals, sea ports, and airports to avoid being confined to the metropolis and prevented from seeing their families for 30 days. On Friday and Saturday, TV stations showed scenes of jampacked bus terminals and sea ports.
One cannot but assume that many among the tens of thousands in those overcrowded places are carriers of COVID-19. As people were jammed shoulder-to-shoulder while waiting to get on board a bus or ship, the carriers could have infected many others. As the buses and ships were to bring them to the different provinces north and south of Metro Manila, the announcement of the quarantine of Metro Manila might have only triggered the spread of the coronavirus all over the country.
I shudder to think of how the inadequately staffed and ill-equipped health care facilities in the provinces would cope when the infected seek medical attention.
Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a retired corporate executive, business consultant, and management professor. He has been a politicized citizen since his college days in the late 1950s.