The Role of Data in the Fight Against COVID-19
Claire Standley:; The state does not have to be rich in order to take steps that, in the long term, save money and stimulate the economy
How have New Zealand, Singapore, Rwanda and Germany managed to minimize the devastating effects of the pandemic? Claire Standley, professor at Georgetown University (Clair Standley, Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University), told the Russian service of the Voice of America about the accumulated world experience in combating the pandemic:
“New Zealand is a good example of a successful government response to the pandemic. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern showed her best side, she demonstrated humanity and understanding of the huge impact this pandemic will have on people’s lives. Her government took the necessary measures in time to protect the population. Yes, New Zealand is a small and wealthy country with no land borders, surrounded on all sides by the ocean. Every New Zealander returning from overseas was given a free hotel room so that a person could spend two weeks in self-isolation there to prevent the spread of the virus.
There are other countries that have taken a similar approach. For example, Rwanda has resorted to isolating people, and so did Vietnam … This shows that a state does not have to be rich in order to take steps that save money and stimulate the economy in the long run..
At this point, it is clear that, especially in the early stages of a pandemic, good planning and determination are needed. For example, Rwanda is a tiny country in Africa where people of low and middle income live. Back in February, at the very beginning of the pandemic, a working group was created in Rwanda to combat COVID-19, testing centers and a special hospital were organized. The testing was free. And all this – long before the first case of the disease was detected in the country. As a result, Rwanda was able to quickly isolate the sick person and take all necessary measures..
Germany also managed to do a good job in the spring in combating the pandemic, organize testing, build quality communication with the population, emphasizing the responsibility of everyone for the success of the whole country. In public places in Germany, there are almost no reminders to wear masks, because everyone wears them anyway. People trust the government and believe that it makes smart decisions. Due to the fact that the Chancellor (Angela Merkel – GA) is a scientist, she easily manages to work with scientific data and easily explain them. For example, at the end of March, they made it mandatory to wear masks in closed rooms and crowded places, such as grocery stores. Everyone grumbled at first, but began to wear masks, because the authorities clearly explained why this was done.
The Singapore government has also managed to successfully build communication with the population. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the prime minister has been spreading honest statements – through the WhatsApp app and on the website of the Ministry of Health. Reports were published daily on the number of patients, hospitalized and recovering, the data were promptly updated. As a result, Singaporeans trusted their authorities, were ready to share personal data and help track contacts of infected people to prevent the spread of the virus..
At the very beginning of a pandemic, it is possible to contain the spread of the virus, localize each case of infection and trace the contacts of a sick person. I think that if hotel owners knew what losses they would incur as a result of the pandemic, they would be more willing to cooperate with the authorities. It would be helpful to involve behavioral experts and marketers in the decision-making process from the start.
Margot Gontard: How do you rate the use of telephone applications for tracing contacts with COVID-19 patients, as well as other methods of countering the spread of the virus, which have been used in many countries of Asia??
Claire Standley: One of the fundamental principles of health care is to use methods that are least likely to violate people’s rights. In China, this balance has not been maintained, so I don’t think it is worth practicing a similar approach in other countries. We also need to consider the importance of the need to protect personal data..
At the same time, it is important to understand that residents of different countries may have different attitudes towards outside interference in their lives. So the population of Singapore reacted positively to the fact that third parties will have access to the data of their mobile devices. This is impossible to imagine in Europe.
I think if people will trust their governments more, if they feel confident that their personal data is safe, and will be deleted as soon as they are no longer needed to fight the epidemic, many may find it possible to share it. In Western Europe, applications are used to track such contacts. Millions of people in Germany have downloaded them.
M.G .: What do you think of the “Swedish model”?
K. S .: It’s a difficult question. Sweden did not impose the same restrictions as other states. Here, what I have already mentioned played an important role: the Swedes ‘confidence in the actions of the authorities, and the authorities’ confidence that the country’s population will act correctly. For example, although restaurants were not closed, their attendance dropped significantly: people began to eat more often at home and, without coercion, seriously adjusted their behavior..
M.G .: Some African states have been able to successfully cope with COVID-19. What could be the reason?
K. S .: I think the experience they have in dealing with past epidemics helps. This applies to most of Western and a number of Central African countries. In some East African countries, even before the coronavirus pandemic, there was a strong centralized testing system and high-quality laboratories, so it was easy to use them to test for coronavirus. Many African leaders began to prepare for the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic well in advance.
M.G .: How do you rate the use of quarantine?
K. S.: The term “quarantine” is now used to describe a fairly wide range of activities. We have a Wuhan example, when people were forbidden to leave their homes at all, video cameras on the streets were used to spy on the townspeople. And there is what is happening now in Germany, when the authorities recommend working from home whenever possible, but this is not a mandatory requirement. The shops are open. The only thing closed are the bars and restaurants. It is also not recommended to see relatives, it is not allowed to gather in large groups, but, in general, these are rather mild restrictions.
Obviously, something like a quarantine was needed to slow the spread of the infection. If we take the example of Germany, then, I think, the government did a good job of this task: it recognized that bars and restaurants are especially dangerous in this regard, and these businesses have been provided with financial compensation. Therefore, it is hoped that the impact of the pandemic on the country’s economy will be minimized. People can go out, shop in stores wearing masks, schools are open, economic activity is taking place.
The way we talk about “waves” in a pandemic is very harmful. In the summer, all the media in Europe repeated: “When will the second wave come?”, And as a result, people felt that this is something inevitable, nothing can be done about it and cannot be stopped, which means that you can just as well go to a party or go to a restaurant, because the virus will reappear anyway. This behavior led to the spread of the virus and created a second “wave”.