Not long after the first restrictions across Europe and the US were introduced as a response to the seemingly uncontrollable spread of the novel coronavirus, a meme appeared online saying that naysayers will call these measures “overkill” when the worst predictions fail to materialize due to them. The one who created it deserves to be called a “prophet” because that’s exactly what happened.
Most countries around the world went into strict lockdowns, closing their borders and often confining their residents to their homes to slow the spread of the virus and prevent the health system to be overwhelmed. In some countries, the measures seem to have worked, in others… not so much. The search for a COVID-19 treatment is underway as we speak, with several vaccines and potential treatments being tested. But so far, social distancing, contact tracing, and face masks seem to be the best – and only – ways to keep the epidemic at bay. Of course, if they were introduced in due time. Some countries, in turn, have downplayed the risk, delayed their response. And the results were – and still are – devastating, to say the least.
The novel coronavirus “landed” in the US at the beginning of the year, with the first COVID-19 case reported in Washington state on January 21. At the time, human-to-human transmission of the virus was already confirmed, and the first casualties have also been reported. By January 30, WHO declared a pandemic, and there were five cases in the US. In the coming weeks, US President Donald Trump has repeatedly downplayed the disease, claiming it was “under control”. In the meantime, the country didn’t have a coherent strategy to fight it, and without a dedicated task force to handle it since the Global Health Security and Biodefense unit has disbanded in 2018.
Today, the US has close to 2.4 million confirmed cases, more casualties than World War I, and the number of cases keeps rising to this day.
Brazil, Russia, and the UK
The situation in Brazil was similar to that in the US, with president Bolsanaro downplaying the pandemic repeatedly. Today, Brazil has the second-largest number of confirmed cases and the second-largest number of casualties.
When it comes to the total number of cases, Brazil is followed by Russia, another country where the response to the spread of the disease was tardy and insufficient. With more than 600,000 cases and over 8,000 dead, the country is hit harder by the virus than many other countries across the world.
The number of total cases is not that large in the UK – still much larger than it should be, mind you – but the number of casualties is huge compared to that in some way more populous countries. PM Boris Johnson hasn’t taken the disease seriously enough. He insisted that rigorous hand-washing was the only preventive measure needed, even when the number of confirmed cases exceeded 1,000. A couple of weeks later, in turn, the British government drastically escalated its response – this may or may not have had anything to do with Johnson himself being infected and hospitalized.
Britain is beginning to reopen as we speak – but some people still consider it being too soon.
If there is one thing we learned from the ongoing pandemic is that prevention is way better than treatment. And that governments rarely listen to scientists. The WHO repeatedly warned governments that the question is not “if” a pandemic will happen but rather “when”.
Prevention is the thing these governments seemed to ignore at the beginning of the pandemic. The cost was dire: thousands of casualties, tens of thousands of infected, and millions of jobs lost. Here’s hoping we’ve learned our lesson and when (not “if”) the next pandemic comes, our leaders will handle the situation much, much better than they did this year.