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Alternative Responses To COVID-19: Sweden, Netherlands, Japan And More

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Alternative Responses To COVID-19: Sweden, Netherlands, Japan And More

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The most mainstream strategy to handle the COVID-19 pandemic is almost complete isolation of every citizen, so that the spread can be limited as much as possible.

This, however, isn’t the only approach that countries throughout the world are applying.

In Europe, Sweden has chosen the most unconventional approach to the fight against coronavirus.

The country’s authorities insist that strict quarantine is not needed, because in the long term, the infection can be defeated either through universal vaccination, or through the acquisition of immunity as a result of the disease.

The government practically does not introduce restrictions, but instead gives recommendations: if possible, switch to remote work, avoid contact with older people over 70 and so on.

Kindergartens, schools, restaurants and bars, public transport continue to work. Until April 2, ski resorts worked.

Only higher education institutions are closed.

In addition, Sweden did not begin to close the border, as its neighbors Norway and Denmark did.

Until March 27th, events with participation of up to 500 people were allowed in the country, after which a more stringent restriction of 50 people was introduced.

At the same time, the Swedes as a whole do not strive once again to go out. About half of Stockholm’s population has already switched to remote work. In the city, the metro congestion fell by 50%.

In Norway, on March 12th, all kindergartens, schools and universities were closed, public events were banned, bars and restaurants stopped working.

In Denmark, universal quarantine was announced the day before, on March 11th, when almost the entire public sector was closed in the country.

On April 2nd, in Norway, a country with a population of 5.3 million people, has 4898 cases of infection and 45 deaths, in Denmark the population is 5.6 million and has 3542 cases, and 104 of them ended in death.

In Sweden, where more than 10 million people live, 4947 became ill, 239 died.

Since the beginning of the epidemic in Sweden, relatively few tests for coronavirus have been carried out – as of March 30th, they were around 35,000.

In Germany, where 84 million people live, about half a million people are checked every week – this, by the way, is one of the possible explanations for low mortality from coronavirus in the country.

The Swedish government ordered the increase in the number of inspections only on March 31st.

The country’s chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell believes that most Swedes should go through coronavirus in order for them to form collective immunity.

This approach appeals to the sense of personal responsibility of the Swedes, he says.

“So that’s how we work in Sweden. Our entire system of combating infectious diseases is based on voluntary action. The immunization system is completely voluntary, but has 98 percent coverage,” he explained.

The country’s professional community, however, is concerned. More than 2,000 Swedish doctors, scientists and professors, including Karl-Henrik Heldin, Chairman of the Board of the Nobel Foundation, have signed a petition calling for tougher quarantines.

No such plans have been announced so far.

In the Netherlands, the government of the country believes that the virus needs not only to be contained, it is necessary to make the infection controlled, but only in those groups of the population that are at risk.

Conceptually, this is similar to what the Swedes are offering, but, apart from the preamble about controlled infection in the approach described by the government, it is practically no different from universal quarantine measures introduced in Europe and around the world.

The government is asking people to stay at home as long as possible, if possible, switch to remote work, if sick, get treatment at home.

Museums and theaters, concert halls, sports clubs and more are closed until the end of April.

Schools and universities are closed, meetings are allowed, but in limited form – including church services, funerals and weddings, the number of which does not exceed 30 people.

However, there is no ban on leaving the house – this is the main difference between the Dutch approach and the classic lockdown.

In total, more than 12,000 people were infected, of whom 1173 died.

On Tuesday, March 31st, 175 people died from the virus, and the increase in cases was 845.

The country has one of the worst mortality rates in the world, almost twice the global rate, more than 8%. It is only higher in Europe only in Spain and Italy.

At the same time, the Netherlands is comparable with France in the number of cases per 1 million people, where now more than 52,000 people are sick.

In South America, the main opponent of the measures taken in most countries is Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

It was in his country that on February 26th the first individual on the continent was diagnosed with the new coronavirus – a 61-year-old man who returned from a business trip to Italy, fell ill and was sent to a hospital in São Paulo.

Now, Brazil, with a population of 209 million people is the leader in the number of sick and dead on the continent – nearly 8,000 cases and nearly 330 dead.

The president himself had a suspicion of a coronavirus, he underwent a test that was negative.

But even after that Bolsonaro did not change his approach; on Sunday, March 29th, he took another walk to one of the markets of the capital of the country, where he shook hands and talked, not observing any “social distance”.

However, the president has disagreements not only with other countries, but also with his own government and state governors.

If Health Minister Luis Enrique Mandetta insists on maintaining a distance and warns that, while maintaining the current dynamics, the health system will collapse by the end of April, the president says no additional quarantine measures are required.

“Those under the age of 40 have almost zero chance to die. So there is no reason not to let these people work. In the end, the virus kills as much as hunger,” Bolsonaro believes.

Local authorities, within their powers, impose their own restrictions. For example, public parks and recreation areas, fitness clubs have been closed in Rio de Janeiro since March 18th, restaurants are restricted.

With Bolsonaro blocking attempts to limit spread, local gangs in the Cidade de Deus (City of God) favela in western Rio are ordering residents to remain indoors after 8pm.

In the Morro dos Prazeres, gang members have told residents only circulate in groups of two while in Rocinha, one of Latin America’s biggest favelas, traffickers have also decreed a curfew.

Thus, Brazilian criminal gangs are enforcing social distancing, quarantine and a lockdown in order to limit the spread of the virus.

In Santa Marta, a favela that sits in the shadow of Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue, traffickers have been handing out soap and have placed signs near a public water fountain at the community’s entrance that say:

“Please wash your hands before entering the favela.”

In Mexico, with a population of 129 million people, President Andres Lopez Obrador is also a supporter of continued economic activity.

“If you have the economic opportunity, continue to take families to restaurants because you will strengthen your families and economy,” he called on fellow citizens in March.

Local authorities take their own precautions. In the capital, Mexico City, city authorities switched to a limited mode of operation from March 23rd to April 19th or stopped working all together.

From March 20th to April 20th, classes in schools were canceled.

Since April 1st, shopping centers have been closed in the capital, restaurants should only run away, meetings throughout the country involving more than 50 people are prohibited.

Mexico just passed 1,500 cases and 50 fatalities.

Despite being close to China, Japan has a rather mild quarantine regime.

The first case of infection in the country was recorded at the end of January, by the beginning of February the number of cases had increased to 20, by March more than 200 patients had been identified.

In early March, authorities closed schools and banned mass events, but strict restrictions on the movement of people or the work of public institutions were still not introduced.

This distinguishes the country from China and Western Europe, where the epidemic developed more rapidly and the authorities imposed strict quarantine measures against companies and citizens. Russia is another example of the country with strict quarantine measures. Nonetheless, in this case, they are likely a result of media hype and political motivation of local elites rather than the real COVID-19 outbreak in the country.

Japan has 2,600 cases and 63 fatalities.

Analysts provide two explanations for low rates. First, Japan conducted fewer tests than other countries.

For example, more than 300,000 people were tested in South Korea, while less than 20,000 were checked in Japan.

Another explanation is that Japan traditionally takes “social distance” and hygiene seriously.

In mid-March, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said there were no reasons to take emergency measures to fight the virus.

However, on March 28th, he called for preparations for a “battle” with the coronavirus, “which could drag on for a long time.”

He stated this after the number of virus diseases recorded in one day in the country exceeded 100 for the first time.

Due to the threat of a growing epidemic, the resumption date for Japanese schools may be delayed, Japan Times writes.

On March 31st, a representative of the Executive Board of the Japan Medical Association, Satoshi Kamayachi, urged Abe to introduce a state of emergency to fight the virus.

What did Shinzo Abe do? He turned into a meme – he announced on April 1st (and not as an April’s Fools joke) that the government would distribute two cloth masks to every household in Japan to fight the COVID-19 spread.

Presiding over a COVID-19 meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office, Abe revealed a batch of measures the government would be taking to alleviate the nationwide shortage of face masks, including plans to dole out 15 million surgical masks to medical institutions across the nation next week. He also said financial support for domestic manufacturers had led to a supply of 600 million masks last month.

But it was the unexpected distribution of two cloth — therefore washable — face masks to approximately 50 million households nationwide that has left many online aghast.

Abe, for his part, insisted the distribution of cloth masks, announced before the comprehensive economic package is mapped out, would be “extremely effective” in easing the ongoing shortage because, unlike surgical masks, they can be reused if washed properly with detergent.

The government is set to announce its biggest-ever economic package, which is likely to include cash handouts to households and relief measures for businesses. It’s expected to take place after April 5th.

Due to the epidemic, schools and churches were closed in South Korea, but no serious restrictions on the movement of people were introduced in the country.

Instead of mass bans, a large-scale virus testing system was launched in the country to identify cases at an early stage and track those who contacted them.

Tests for the virus are publicly available, there’s special road checkpoints.

In case of a positive result, the patient receives a notification from the authorities, and he or she is obliged to isolate themself.

Patients are monitored through a special application. In total, South Korea conducted more than 300,000- more than any other country.

South Korea has just upwards of 10,000 cases, out of which less than 4,000 are active and it’s fatalities sit at 174.

The first case of the disease was detected at the end of January, at the end of February the pace of disease began to increase, and on March 1st, the number of people infected during the day increased to 730 people.

The authorities managed to slow down the pace of the epidemic, so that on March 11th the number of new infections was 162 people, March 31st – 102.

Because of the ongoing epidemic, authorities in Seoul have postponed the opening of schools planned for early April, but they do not plan to introduce larger-scale prohibitive measures.

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