by Naomi Bang ‘23
A quick glance at a coronavirus world map reveals that while infection rates continue to surge in many countries, nearly half the world is on the path to recovery … or never had a huge outbreak in the first place. Photos show crowds of strangers enjoying concerts and New Year’s celebrations. How is this possible?
Though these cities and countries seem to be living a fantasy, their freedom came at a cost. Wuhan, the Chinese province where the virus first emerged, implemented a 76-day lockdown. New Zealand began lockdown on March 25 and eased restrictions on June 8. The city of Melbourne in Australia carried out a lockdown that lasted 111 days. These measures, although severe, helped prevent community spread of Covid-19.
Wuhan reported its first Covid-19 outbreak on December 31, 2019. Its government immediately closed the city’s borders and shut down public transportation, including buses, subways, and ferries. Wuhan officials warned citizens to avoid crowds and public gatherings. As a result, Lunar New Year celebrations, which are typically the largest events of the year and mark the busiest travel period around Wuhan, had to be cancelled. In under two weeks, China completed construction of two “instant hospitals” in Wuhan. Huoshenshan and Leishenshan housed 1,000 and 1,500 beds, respectively. These instant hospitals, along with other makeshift facilities, were built to exclusively treat and quarantine Covid-19 patients.
Once total lockdown was lifted, China installed a health code system to track users’ exposure to Covid-19. Each user receives a personalized health code in red, yellow, or green. Individuals with a red or yellow code must quarantine for 14 or seven days, respectively, while a green code allows citizens to travel freely. Authorities can contact-trace and identify potential Covid-19 cases through this app. Due to the government’s swift, firm action, life in Wuhan is nearly back to normal. People are back on the streets and in clubs, although health precautions are still in place. Public places like malls and trains are sanitized on a regular basis and school classrooms follow safety procedures, including requiring masks at all times, installing hand sanitizing stations and proper air vents, and conducting temperature checks.
Australia, another country praised for its swift response, recorded its first Covid-19 cases on January 25 of last year. On March 20, Prime Minister Scott Morrison cut off all international travel and several regional states of the country subsequently shut down their borders. The government limited social gatherings and some cities set a curfew. In addition to lockdown measures, Australian scientists immediately began work on Covid-19 tests once China revealed the strain’s genetic code. In Melbourne, Australia’s second most-populated city, Premier Daniel Andrews enforced a lockdown that lasted 111 days, the longest in the world. Between July 9 and October 26, citizens were confined to their homes and businesses were closed. However, the seemingly endless days of isolation paid off as the restrictions were lifted after Melbourne reported zero new daily cases.
New Zealand confirmed its first Covid-19 case on February 28. The following month, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern completely closed international borders after having slowly added travel restrictions in weeks prior. On March 25, New Zealand moved to Alert Level 4 and the whole country began lockdown. The New Zealand government’s official Covid-19 website states that sustained community transmission must occur to reach an Alert Level 4. Citizens were instructed to stay home and all businesses and educational facilities were closed except for essential services.
New Zealand converted 28 hotels into managed isolation and quarantine facilities (MIQs) to isolate travellers or suspected Covid-19 patients. Individuals in MIQs are tested multiple times throughout the mandatory quarantine and must be free of Covid-19 symptoms before leaving. Like China, the New Zealand Ministry of Health created a Covid-19 tracing app to let users track their travel history. A bluetooth tracing feature alerts citizens if they have come into contact with other users who test positive for Covid-19. New Zealand’s website currently reports that the nation is at Alert Level 1 which warns citizens to be prepared in case Covid-19 reappears in the community. Although the country’s numbers have been consistently down after several outbreaks, the government still warns New Zealanders to be cautious as Covid-19 is not completely eliminated.
These countries have been some of the most successful in containing Covid-19 due to their swift, decisive actions, but they maintain caution and recognize that this pandemic is not over.