The process has been repeated several times during the last seven months: Asian countries adopt measures against the coronavirus and Spain labels them as excessive, unnecessary and even counterproductive; Covid-19 cases drop in Asia and skyrocket in Europe; finally, the Old Continent surrenders to the evidence and ends up adopting the eastern measures. It happened with the use of masks, which many in Europe came to consider dangerous when several Asian countries forced their use, and it has happened again recently with the requirement of a negative PCR for those who come from abroad, a requirement that came into force last Monday in our country and that China already approved on March 28, when it decided to close the borders to all foreign citizens.
Statistics show that the saying ‘better late than never’ is not true in the current pandemic conjuncture: the West embraces Asia’s restrictions too late and that compromises its results. It also withdraws them too soon, something that favors the endless succession of outbreaks that we currently suffer. “China proposed to suppress the coronavirus with drastic measures and Europe has considered controlling it and living with it,” said the prestigious Sevillian virologist Fernando Arenzana in an interview with this newspaper. “The dilemma between health and economy should not exist, because without the first there is no second,” he added.
Is it better then to decree a strict confinement quickly and endure with it until there are no new cases than to dictate a half-gas quarantine and start the unconfinement when dozens of deaths are still registered every day? Data from different countries bet in that direction. China, for example, closed the province of Hubei with 651 infections and 17 deaths, while Spain decreed the first State of Alarm on March 14, when it added more than 5,700 cases and 136 deaths. The big difference, however, is found in the moment in which La Moncloa began the first phase of the de-escalation process: on May 4, 185 deaths from Covid-19 and more than a thousand new infected were registered, while on May 8 April Wuhan opened its doors after 76 days of confinement when throughout China there were no new infections or fatalities.
Something similar happened in Japan: the State of Emergency was declared on April 6 and it was not lifted until May 25, when the entire archipelago registered only fifty infections in a week. And the most extreme example is that of New Zealand, which decreed a general confinement on March 26 without having registered a single death and with only 102 infected. As in the case of Spain, the island country carried out a progressive de-escalation that began at the end of April and did not end until June 8, 40 days after the last community transmission and after having chained 17 days without active cases.
Cheap defense line
Prime Minister Jacinda Adern then declared victory over the coronavirus. “Now we can reactivate our economy immediately. We are not immune to what happens in the rest of the world, but, if we protect New Zealand, we can take the lead in that economic restart, “he said at a press conference in which he acknowledged having celebrated the end of the nightmare with a small dance. Of course, the country has not lowered its guard. Not surprisingly, last Monday Auckland reintroduced the requirement to wear a mask on public transport and the Government is considering the possibility of extending that measure to all of New Zealand. “It is a cheap, practical line of defense that represents a minor inconvenience for the population,” explained Chris Hipkins, special minister for the battle against covid-19.
In any case, both New Zealand and other countries in the region have been clear from very early on that the closure of borders is a necessary shield. Not surprisingly, the Adern Executive banned the arrival of travelers from China on February 3 and gradually added risk countries to include the entire world on March 19. Although it does not require PCR at origin for New Zealanders and residents, it does test them upon arrival and imposes a 14-day quarantine in a place designated by the authorities.
This confinement of newcomers is also a constant among Asian countries. The only difference lies in the strictness of these two weeks of isolation that Spain has never required and that experts consider more effective than tests: China requires that it be carried out in hotels whose room you cannot leave, while countries like Korea del Sur allow quarantine at home. Of course, previously installing a mobile tracking application.
These barriers have made it possible to identify thousands of infected from abroad who could have caused new outbreaks. But Spain has resisted taking similar measures, stating that ports and airports are a marginal source of infection. The Minister of Health, Salvador Illa, has estimated the imported cases in our country at just over 4,000, but there are not a few who consider that, in addition to the fact that it is not a negligible figure, it is not reliable either, because the inefficiency of the tracking in Spain makes it impossible to know it reliably.
Precisely, the exhaustive tracking of the cases is what has allowed South Korea and Taiwan to contain the pandemic without ever having decreed a general confinement like that of Spain. “We have achieved this through determined and transparent leadership driven by data, not emotion,” said Jerome Kim, director of the International Immunization Institute in South Korea. “The voluntary cooperation of a well-informed population has been key in the country’s response,” he added in statements to the newspaper ‘The Guardian’.
While in our country only patients with clear symptoms of the disease were tested and the Government fought to hire trackers, Seoul ordered up to 20,000 daily tests at points established for this purpose and the identification and quarantine of anyone who could have been in contact with an infected person. Thus, South Korea, with five million more inhabitants than Spain, managed to set its record of daily infections at less than a thousand, while that of Spain has multiplied that figure by fifty.
Neither means nor laws
“In Europe we do not have the means, nor the laws, nor the governance necessary to carry out the tracking and PCR tests that a country like China has done,” adds Arenzana, referring to the massive tests that the communist country It has been done where outbreaks have occurred, regardless of whether they affected only a handful of people. The West considered these massive tests useless and unnecessary, but now the Community of Madrid is proposing to test all citizens for antigens using pharmacies as a key infrastructure. “These tests provide the confidence necessary to be able to return to normal life if those infected are quarantined,” says Arenzana.
He is right, because the new normal in China is identical to the old normal. With the exception that wearing a mask is mandatory in public transport and that it is still required to show the QR code generated by the health application in some places. Parties, concerts and entertainment in general have returned to normal. Thus, the Asian giant has managed to make its economy grow again, something that has also happened in Japan during the third quarter of the year, in which it has finally left the recession behind.
World institutions are clear: the only countries whose GDP can end up positive this year will be in Asia. It is the reward of a determined strategy to eradicate the coronavirus. At the opposite extreme, Spain will be one of the economies hardest hit by the pandemic. And, if that were not enough, the country will mourn one of the highest death toll per million inhabitants.