As Americans continue to watch our country’s response to COVID-19, it’s time we reflect on the way other countries have handled the pandemic and how the United States compares.
In a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, most Americans – 62% – say the U.S. response has been less effective than that of other wealthy countries.
Ali Almail, a genetics, molecular and cell biology major, comes to Northwestern from Bahrain, an island nation in the Persian Gulf. Almail has yet to go home during the pandemic. Fearful he would be unable to return this fall, he stayed on campus this summer.
Bahrain had its first case on Feb. 21. Within days, Bahrain established a travel ban that was instated with Iran and Dubai.
In that same week, schools, nurseries and universities were closed for two weeks. In the middle of March, Bahrain banned gatherings of more than five people. Violating this resulted in a fine of 5000 Bahraini dinars, roughly $13,000, or three years of imprisonment.
“Our government trusts people but still implements harsh policies, such as fines for not wearing proper personal protective equipment (PPE) to give people proper incentive to follow the rules,” Almail said.
According to the New England Journal of Medicine, America had their first positive COVID-19 case on Jan. 20.
On March 11, President Donald Trump banned travel from Europe. On March 16, President Trump issued a recommendation to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people but did not initiate a national guideline on repercussions. This mitigation effort was not enforced until over 1,000 cases were confirmed, a much slower response compared to Bahrain.
Bahrain also provided its citizens with proper PPE, such as masks and gloves, and required their use. In the U.S., mask mandates have been left up to local governments, creating inconsistent rules across the nation.
“Comparing the U.S. and Bahrain, Bahrain took a much more proactive approach,” Almail said. “In Bahrain, health is not political, but in the US it is, which is why the U.S.’s response was extremely slow and cost many people their lives.”
At one point, New Zealand’s response and support measures brought cases down to zero in a country with 4.9 million people.
In a national address on March 21, Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, laid out plans to close schools, businesses and domestic travel.
As of Oct. 13, New Zealand reported 1,872 total cases, with under 70 being active and reporting only single digit new cases daily. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, New Zealand’s mortality rate was four per one million, one of the lowest in the world.
“Rapid, science-based assessment linked to early, decisive government action as critical,” the medical journal wrote.
Halfway around the world, life is returning to some sense of normalcy while the U.S. continues to set records with over 7.8 million COVID-19 cases and 216,000 deaths.
In Europe, National Public Radio (NPA) called Germany the victor after bringing transmission down faster than any other European country.
For the first time German Chancellor Angela Merkel was elected in 2005, she made a rare unscheduled television address, telling Germans to take this seriously. Merkel said that since the end of World War II, there has never been a time where the need to work together was higher.
Both Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Ardern phrased this as a time to come together, emphasizing the need to protect their neighbors. In the U.S., President Trump continues to downplay the danger of the virus, even after he tested positive and was hospitalized.
Three days after his diagnosis, he tweeted from the Walter Reed Medical Center, “Feeling really good! Don’t be afraid of COVID.”
As other countries are coming back from COVID-19, the U.S. continues to struggle with keeping the virus contained.