By Kait Schuster, Staff Writer, May 2020
The infamous coronavirus (COVID-19) was first detected in the city of Wuhan, China in late 2019. It is continuing its spread across the globe, with over 5.1 million confirmed cases now in 185 countries. As of May 21, 2020, at least 333,000 people have died worldwide. The United States has almost five times as many confirmed cases as any other country in the world, with 1.6 million confirmed cases and over 95,000 deaths. Some areas of our country are considered “hot spots,” including Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey.
There is no easy or simple solution to eradicate COVID-19, especially since there is currently no available vaccine to immunize the population against this lethal virus. To slow the spread of this virus, different countries have implemented various measures, such as: mandatory lockdown restrictions, closing schools and non-essential businesses, issuing work-at-home orders, and requiring social distancing and wearing masks when in public.
Credit: BBC News
Due to the complex nature of the COVID-19 situation and a lack of understanding of the virus itself, countries are in different stages of containing the virus. After the surge is over, defined by a reduction in the number of hospitalizations, each country will shift its focus to reopening in a safe manner. Some countries are beginning to ease restrictions while others are opting to continue strict lockdown measures to contain the virus and prevent another surge, or second wave of the virus, which could be more deadly and further hurt their economy. While various measures are being reviewed, one thing is clear — from this point forward, life will be very different. Every country is transitioning gradually to a “new normal.”
For most countries, the current approach is focused on slowing the infection rates of the COVID-19 virus and gradually reopening schools and businesses, with restrictions. After the United States, Italy and Spain remain the worst affected countries, although the slowing of infection rates appears to show the success of social distancing. Spain has more than 230,000 confirmed cases — the second-highest global figure — while Italy has the second-highest death toll of nearly 31,686. Both countries are now in phase 2 of the coronavirus lockdown, which has included relaxing a number of restrictive measures placed by the government. Italy has started to allow certain shops to reopen and Spanish children, who have been kept indoors at home since early March, are now allowed outside.
In the United Kingdom (UK), there are now more than 250,000 confirmed cases and 36,000 deaths. Initially, the UK resisted imposing restrictions to contain the virus but reversed course when models estimated that 250,000 people could potentially die in the UK unless restrictions were implemented and enforced. As hospitalizations and deaths have decreased since the beginning of May, England’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson introduced a phased reopening plan. He stressed that his plans are conditioned on four factors: 1) that there are enough National Health Service hospitals and personnel to care for those infected; 2) a sustained fall in the death and infection rate from COVID-19; 3) ample supply of personal protective equipment; and 4) that "exponential growth" of the coronavirus does not return. He has allowed anyone who cannot perform their jobs at home, such as construction and factory workers, to return to work. He encouraged those who return to work to avoid public transportation and to bike, walk, or drive instead. He has stressed that people will be protected by new guidelines designed to make workplaces “COVID-secure.”
In late April, China –– where the COVID-19 pandemic began –– reported only three new cases and no new deaths. They have slowly lifted restrictions and are currently focused on avoiding a second wave of infections. As of mid-May, Wuhan reported its first cluster of coronavirus infections since a lockdown on the city was lifted a month ago, fueling concerns of a wider resurgence. They recently announced new regulations that include requiring residents to cover their mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, not eating on public transportation, and wearing a mask in public. Restaurants are also required to provide single-serving utensils and to encourage separate portions over the traditional shared family-style meals. China has also tested a “subway by appointment” where riders book specific times to enter certain stations to avoid overcrowding. In Taiwan, passengers have their temperatures checked as they enter the transit station. The government will reintroduce strict restrictions if hospitalizations begin to increase.
In Germany, more than 900 new coronavirus cases were reported less than a week after German Chancellor Angela Merkel relaxed lockdown restrictions. As a result, the “emergency brake” was applied and restrictions were re-imposed throughout the country. Health authorities in Germany warned that this foreshadowed the dangers of opening a country too soon.
Unlike many other countries, Sweden adopted a relatively relaxed approach to the COVID-19 outbreak. In particular, they have not instituted mandatory public restrictions. They have instituted a very loose social distancing requirement, asking everyone in the country to “keep a distance” from others and reduce their social contacts. They have also advised people over the age of 70 to stay home as much as possible. The government has hoped to increase “herd immunity,” and thereby develop antibodies needed to fight the disease. Schools, stores, and restaurants are open, and people are free to leave their houses. However, Sweden now has the highest coronavirus-per-capita death rate in the world, with an average of 6.08 deaths per million inhabitant a day.
While every country works to accelerate the development and production of a new vaccine, it is clear that the coronavirus has the ability to create havoc on a society. Any lockdowns or restrictions should be lifted slowly and carefully to avoid a second surge, which could cause more loss of life and worsen the economy. Each leader must balance opening their economy with the health of the public –– livelihood versus life. A “new norm” is being established, which includes wearing masks while in public, social distancing, and vigilant hand washing. Until a vaccine is developed, life as we once knew it will cease to exist.