By Sania Choudhary
The world is currently experiencing an unexpected global epidemic, a truly historic event caused by the rapid spread of the coronavirus that has affected the lives of everyone, both those who are and who are not affected. The arrival of this disease has also proved to be a test for how prepared our healthcare systems are to deal with a pandemic. While some countries have proven to be ready, other countries are suffering greatly.
In China, the epicenter of the coronavirus disease is in Wuhan City, Hubei. Wuhan’s healthcare system was exhausted by the outbreak, and help was sent from across the country. Wuhan accounted for 60% of mainland China’s total confirmed cases, and about 77% of its deaths. To accommodate for the large influx of patients, local authorities rushed to build new hospitals. Wuhan had designated 46 hospitals to care for confirmed coronavirus cases, but there was still a shortage of hospital beds and medical care. China sent more than 30,000 medical staff to Hubei, of which two thirds were sent to Wuhan. 10% of China’s critical care medical staff were deployed in Wuhan to fight against the virus. Insufficient healthcare services had already been an issue for China even before the outbreak. At the end of 2018, Wuhan’s health commission said that the occupancy rate of hospital beds was already at 94%, and the city’s total staff in medical institutions was 136,300. Many locals said it is difficult to get medical care, with some people having to wait over a week to get into a hospital bed. China began to take further extra measures to try and control the spread of the virus. For example, there was the mandatory lockdown of Wuhan and nearby cities in the Hubei province. The government also began to make efforts to track down contacts of the infected patients. Social distancing measures were also put into place, as sporting events and theaters were closed, schools were cancelled, businesses closed shop, and anyone going outside was required to wear a mask. Each person’s phone also had a color code, on which it either showed green, yellow, or red. These colors displayed the health status of the person, and it helped guards at train stations and other checkpoints know who to let through and who to not. This was a way to keep those who were infected from travelling and spreading the disease further. After taking aggressive but necessary measures, China has witnessed a decline in the amount of infected people and in the rate of people getting infected.
Unlike China, Singapore was prepared to deal with an outbreak. After the SARS outbreak in 2002-03, Singapore realized its infrastructure was not ready for a pandemic and began preparing by building isolation hospitals, which are hospitals meant to isolate or quarantine patients with a contagious or infectious disease. They also took action immediately after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus to be a global epidemic. They kept the patients who were tested positive within the hospitals to prevent further spreading of the virus. They also had contact tracing teams, who would find patients’ contacts, just as China had done, and get them immediately tested. This leads to another helpful aspect of how Singapore has been dealing with the coronavirus; they have been running lots of tests. If a medical staff even has a cold, they are given a test. They have additionally been very strict about quarantine, something we are all facing at the moment. People get SMS’s a couple times a day where they are asked to click a link that will allow the phone to share its location. This is how they make sure that people are staying in their homes. Quarantine orders are given to those who have, or are suspected of having coronavirus. These quarantine orders can be carried out at home, or in dedicated government quarantine facilities or hospitals. For those who are carrying it out at home, spot checks are carried out by officers. Those found to be non-compliant may be required to wear an electronic tag or may be detained and isolated in a hospital. Those who breach a quarantine order for the first time may be fined $10,000, jailed for six months, or both. Subsequent breaches would result in higher penalties. Residents who returned to Singapore from elsewhere are given a stay-home notice for fourteen days. They are allowed to live with their families but are required to stay at home at all times. Breaching a stay-home notice for the first time would result in a $10,000 fine, six months in jail, or both. The only similarity that the US shares with these methods is that we are advised to quarantine ourselves for fourteen days after travel, especially from China or a cruise. Unlike Singapore, however, no one checks to make sure travellers are carrying out their quarantine and there does not seem to be any punishment for not carrying it out. Because they had started preparing even before the announcement of the coronavirus being a global problem and because they acted quickly when informed, Singapore’s healthcare system was ready to deal with the pandemic in an efficient way.
Italy faced a grave shortage of healthcare resources because the coronavirus has overloaded the healthcare system. Because of the overwhelming amount of patients, hospitals are erecting inflatable, sealed-off infectious disease tents on their grounds. Patients are crowding into hallways as well. The medical staff is exhausted and overworked, with there even being cases of nurses fainting while working 10-hour shifts. According to The New York Times, Giorgo Gori, the mayor of Bergamo, mentioned that in some cases in Lombardy, because of the gap between resources and the large influx of patients, doctors were forced to intubate some very old patients, essentially leaving them to die. As others worldwide have done, those in Italy have gone into lockdown. The Italian government originally imposed a nationwide lockdown that stopped people from leaving their house except to make necessary trips such as going to work, shopping for food or other necessities, exercising or walking dogs for a brief time, or caring for elderly or relatives. However, a short while later, the lockdown was made more restrictive. All non-essential businesses were closed, and any movement within the country was banned, unless it was deemed non-deferrable and was for business or health reasons, or was for other urgent matters. Lombardy, one of the country’s worst hit regions, passed a law that requires anyone going outside to wear a face mask. Anyone who flouts this regulation could be fined €400. Like in China and Singapore, these harsh but necessary measures seem to provide reason as to how Italy is now experiencing a lower rate of people getting infected and how Italy seems to be flattening the curve.
The United States’ death toll and number of total cases has surpassed Italy’s, and is currently one of the highest in the world. One reason is because of delays in distributing testing kits. The uninsured rate among the people has also been rising. There are not enough hospital emergency rooms for care as well. There are only a few intensive care unit beds that are available on a daily basis, and it seems likely that the maximum capacity will be exceeded. Some hospitals even have to take patients to rooms in other wings of the hospital. The coronavirus has brought to light the deficiencies of the United States’, and many other countries’, healthcare systems. Currently, New York, one of the largest cities in the country, is the epicenter of the US’ outbreak. A factor is because of New York’s large density and population. Another reason, however, is that, unlike anywhere else in the United States, New York has ramped up testing at hospitals, and at labs and drive through centers that are set up in the most dense places. According to CNN, around 25% of all the testing nationwide has been performed by New York. Other reasons include that New York was slow to react to the outbreak during its early stages, as was the entire country. They were slow to promote social distancing, to shut down to schools, and events and social gatherings. New York is also a world-renowned tourist destination, meaning that it is likely that contagious people from other countries that had coronavirus outbreaks earlier would have travelled to New York and spread the virus. The coronavirus outbreak has proven that the United States does not have the necessary systems and resources to deal with a pandemic.
The historic, global outbreak of the coronavirus has exposed the varying levels of efficiency, preparedness, and proactiveness of different countries in response to the epidemic. While the future of this worldwide battle against nature remains unpredictable and uncertain, this has been a loud wake-up call to healthcare systems and people around the world reminding us that we should prepare for the unexpected as though it were expected. That is how we would be best prepared for future pandemics like the one we are fighting against today.