Countries like South Korea, Taiwan and Japan managed to keep the Covid-19 pandemic under control with no general lockdowns.
It’s time for the Western World to plan for the next pandemic.
Let me be clear. I am not a negationist! The new coronavirus known as Covid-19 exists, it spreads and it kills.
What really disappoints me is how the so called Western world, where I live, has miserably failed in managing the pandemic. As a citizen, a taxpayer, a human being and as a father, I am extremely disillusioned by the ease by which almost all the western countries have copycat-ed each other on the lockdown strategy. I am astonished and worried by the total absence of debate about this matter.
In late spring, when the pandemic curve started flattening and decreasing in Italy, I started hearing Italian politicians bragging about the ‘Italian way’ as a benchmark for other countries. The race for the tighter lockdown had started, while people were losing jobs, businesses were closing down and people were dying.
From day one many experts like virologists, immunologists and epidemiologists have advised the governments of western countries that this pandemic, like many others in the past, would have lasted between 1 and 2 years. So the question is how is it possible that with an 12–24-month pandemic ahead the only option that has been considered is to keep people jailed at home and to close businesses? How is it possible that the dramatic long-lasting consequences of these measures on the economy and also in terms of mental health have been underestimated?
The first wave, that undoubtedly took everyone by surprise, was painful and didn’t offer many options. Every country adopted, understandably, the lockdown strategy. Then the summer ‘truce’ came, giving everybody some time to breathe, look back, analyze the data, look at how others have managed the situation. Later in September, as many predicted, the second pandemic wave arrived and again the strategy was still the same: lockdown.
When I look at how some other democratic countries have managed this crisis, like South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, I can’t refrain from asking myself a few more questions. These countries contained the pandemic recording a very limited number of cases and casualties: 572 in South Korea (51m population), 2,395 in Japan (126m population), 7 in Taiwan (23m population). They attained such results without forcing any severe lockdowns but through aggressive testing and effective contact tracing. Why the West didn’t even try to put together similar plans? Why haven’t they asked for any help from these countries?
When I talk about this issue with people, the most popular feedback I get is something like “we can’t go the South Korea way, we have tight privacy laws, and people wouldn’t comply with the tracing procedures…” People tend to underestimate what we’ve been asked to trade off to flattened the pandemic curve. We have been forced to close our businesses, we’ve been confined in our homes for months, compromising on our freedom of moving, meeting the people we love, going places we like; in my opinion this is by far more than giving up a small part of our privacy.
I am well aware that it is now too late to change the strategy, also considering that the vaccine is a few weeks away. This is not the point. The most important point is about the future. Again, all the experts seem to agree that more pandemics will hit the world in the future, so the question is what will be the strategy then? More lockdowns? We all know this can’t be a viable strategy, unless we are ready to give our comfortable lifestyle up.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a mere complaint for its own sake. This wants to be a constructive criticism, a wake-up call to the decision makers from a citizen who expects the best for himself, his family, his community and his country. So now that we start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, I think it is time to start having this discussion and plan for the future.