By the time Spain went into a state of alarm, Singapore had already received congratulations for its management in the face of the coronavirus health crisis. The director of the WHO, Tedros A. Ghebreyesus, praised the early and “rigorous” response of the Asian country in February and a few weeks later he referred to it again, praising “its approach based on the participation of all the Government”. In mid-March, this country had 44 infected per million inhabitants, well below the 160 in Spain or 412 in Italy, and contrary to them, its curve was already flattened and the number of infections was decreasing every day.
Japan had a similar trajectory. Despite having a high rate of smoking and the highest percentage of the world’s elderly population, it was able to contain the coronavirus without even having to resort to general isolation. Its curve remained flat, far from the doubling every three days experienced by countries such as Spain or Italy, and even the Spanish Government asked its citizens to “learn from Japan”, although some voices have pointed out that only after the postponement of the Games Olympic, at the beginning of April, the Japanese figures adjusted to reality, experiencing a sudden increase since then.
However, April has brought both countries a much greater outbreak than the one they had a month ago and that it’s getting worse as the weeks go by. Something that forces us to review the measures taken weeks ago and to rethink whether they were optimal, as was congratulated then.
The consequences of a late lockdown
During the second half of March, Japan celebrated its spring holidays. Large human concentrations around the cherry blossoms, an unusual image during a global pandemic that the governor justified saying that “taking this party from the Japanese would be like taking the hugs from the Italians.” A couple of days later, a Japanese epidemiologist warned that the scant sense of crisis among citizens could lead to an explosion of infections like those in Europe or the United States. Something that is finally happening since April began. In these three weeks, the average of new daily infections has only increased.
Both outbreaks are a reminder of how effective distancing measures are, even when it seems like the worst is over.
In Singapore, the government applied early detection measures to suspected cases and applied isolation to confirmed ones. Nevertheless, did not apply general confinement until April 7, when the regrowth had already begun. Two weeks later, the cases have continued to increase and the April 21 peak has forced his prime minister to extend the lockdown beyond the originally planned month.
His original measurements had a blind spot: they left out a million inhabitants, from the lower class, who did not have access to tests and medical follow-up like the one that the rest of the population did. In this group, most of the new positives have been identified.
Both countries share having relaxed their measures aimed at social distancing (or not having taken them in depth) after having passed their peak of infections in mid-March, something that has left them a black April in the number of infected. To the rest of the planet, he has taught us what not to do when the spread seems controlled.
The epicenter Hubei and South Korea, on the other hand, managed to appease the virus to a large extent And since March, the new cases are a fraction of those they had every day, maintaining their curve flattened despite having been one of the first regions to suffer the great initial outbreak. In the case of Hubei, the unlocking came at the end of March and gradually after strict confinement and many other measures aimed at identifying suspected cases and preventing infections. In South Korea they opted for massive tests at an early stage and measures such as the obligation to wear masks to go out, something that helped it to quickly stop the contagion curve and incidentally to establish itself as the country with the best management of the health crisis.
By taking its figures to a logarithmic graph, it is better appreciated how flat its curves follow, as opposed to the Japanese and Singaporean. Spaniards and Italians have them better than a month ago, but still with a long way to go to make them look like those of Hubei and South Korea.
In Spain, children will be able to leave home again in the next few days and European neighbors begin to propose the deadlines for lack of refinement, but if the evolution of Japan and Singapore has taught us something, it is that the absence of isolation measures or their lukewarmness they can re-sprout a virus that already seemed under control. The world we are heading to is going to be very different from the one we knew until recently, at least for a time. Social distancing as the new sine die norm.