A man wears a face mask on a busy street in Monrovia, Liberia, 18 March 2020. EPA/AHMED JALLANZO

Opinion – Five models of containing Covid-19: The convergence of control

Judging from the ways in which countries and cities in the world attempt to contain Covid-19, there are five major models: totalitarian, authoritarian, swiftly control, partial control and laissez-faire. The trends for most countries and cities are to converge toward more control, but they oscillate between the partial control and authoritarian approaches.

Judging from the ways in which countries and cities in the world attempt to contain Covid-19, there are five major models: totalitarian, authoritarian, swiftly control, partial control and laissez faire. The trends for most countries and cities are to converge toward more control, but they oscillate between the partial control and authoritarian approaches.

The first extreme model is the North Korea one, which can be regarded as a totalitarian model. North Korea belonged one of the two neighbors of China, together with Russia, which closed the border much immediately after the Chinese lockdown of Wuhan city.

According to media reports, one patient of Coronavirus who escaped quarantine and who went to public bath was “shot dead” in February. A recent mainland Chinese report claimed that North Korea had 20 cases of infections. If these reports were accurate, the swift and extreme action of the North Korean regime to control the spread of Covid-19 appears to work effectively.     

The second model is the authoritarian approach adopted by China to impose lockdown of Wuhan city and other related cities and provinces on February 23. The actions were decisive, swift and marked by full mobilization of citizens to obey lockdown instructions.

It was reported that, thanks to the prompt lockdown, China has already prevented tens of thousands of citizens from being infected. This authoritarian model appears to be effective because the recent numbers of infections have reportedly declined. Although a few mainland netizens revealed that some hospitals in Wuhan have seen a slight upsurge in infected patients, the Chinese regime contains the infectious disease generally and effectively.

But the new challenge is whether this momentum can be maintained, whether the outside visitors from other countries would bring about a “second wave” of infections, and whether the localities remain transparent enough to report the infected figures accurately to the central authorities.

Given China’s vastness and complexity, central control over provinces and localities to persist in the implementation of the authoritarian model is necessary. Any complacency and relaxed attitude on the part of provinces, cities and villages would run the risk of plunging the Chinese regime into another new challenge.

The third model is the swift control approach, which can be seen in the cases of Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore.

These three places were affected by the rapidly transmitted Covid-19 and adopted swift measures, like immediately closing schools, closing the border quickly from the travelers of mainland China, testing the patients suspected of being infected quickly and effectively, coping with logistical supplies of masks and medical equipment promptly, imposing self-isolation measures on returned citizens, and appealing to citizens to lessen social contacts.

Although Hong Kong’s authorities were criticized for being not swift enough to close the border in February, they generally did well in escalating the measures to contain Covid-19. Yet, an ongoing return wave of Hong Kong people from foreign countries and the mainland can pose a new challenge, for the number of daily infections has been slightly increasing.

Macau’s swift reaction to Covid-19 was praised by many Hong Kong people, including its swift action to provide subsidies to the ordinary citizens and to assist small and medium enterprises financially.

Japan and South Korea show the features of the open control model. Both countries have been learning quickly on how to contain Covid-19. Although Japanese health authorities were criticized for being cumbersome in dealing with the passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, they have improved the quarantine work.

Similarly, South Korean authorities have been using drive-through testing of citizens, deploying GPS to track down infected patients, alerting citizens to all those potentially infected areas, and stemming the tide of infections after the outbreak of cluster cases in the mass gathering of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus. 

Taiwan also fits into the control model as it barred the mainland Chinese, Hong Kong residents and Macau people from entry and instituted strict quarantines quickly. Taiwan has also imposed a ban on the non-Taiwan people to enter the island while the Taiwan people who return from foreign places must impose self-isolation.

In short, the control model adopted by East Asian states and cities – Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau and Japan – has been temporarily containing the spread of Covid-19. A hallmark of the swift control model is its openness and transparency. 

The fourth model is the partial control model, which was originally characterized by the relatively relaxed and insensitive attitude of political leaders, who have recently shifted to more controls by closing the border and more restrictions on travelers at least temporarily.

Italy, France, Spain, the United States and Canada originally adopted this partial control model characterized by governmental appeals to citizens to observe self-isolation, a change from the lack of border control to more controls, and the inadequate use of technology to track down potentially infected patients.

The health care infrastructure of all these countries will face huge challenges if there is a massive outbreak of Covid-19. Italy and Spain have been badly hit by Covid-19.

In recent days, many European and North American states have imposed ban on foreign travelers, including Canada, Ukraine, Denmark, Czechoslovakia and Italy. France has just imposed a lockdown on cities. The US has banned people from China, Iran and Europe from entering its territory. 

In fact, many of these countries have been comparatively relaxed in February when Covid-19 was spreading fast in East Asia. Perhaps a lesson learned from some of these originally relatively relaxed states is that, for the world to contain infectious diseases, a relaxed and complacent attitude is arguably the biggest threat to their national security and public health of citizens.      

The fifth model was originally advocated by a tiny minority of public health officials in the United Kingdom, namely a laissez faire model marked by a theory of herd immunity.

The theory assumes that the immunity of more people can and will develop if a higher proportion of the population is going to be infected by the virus. Indeed, this theory was severely and quickly criticized because the public health of many citizens would be endangered rapidly and extensively. This theory was quickly jettisoned by the UK government whose popularity and legitimacy would be easily undermined by Covid-19. 

The overall trend of most countries and places in the world is to shift to more control measures, oscillating between more authoritarian and partial control, depending on the rapidly changing circumstances. This situation shows that Covid-19 has become the fastest and the most dangerous bio-terrorist threat to many countries since the end of the Second World War.

However, whether countries in the world will win the battle against Covid-19 depends on a number of factors, including the effectiveness of testing and quarantine work; the education, mobilization and self-discipline of citizens; the resources and capability of public health systems; the decisiveness and sense of urgency on the part of political leaders; the transparency of reporting infected cases; the tenacity of political leaders and citizens to endure economic loss and pain for the sake of long-term peace; and the speed in which any vaccine can be produced. Hopefully, all countries and affected places in the world will win this battle sooner.

MNA political commentator