Israel Figa Explains Why Many Countries Have Still Not Fallen to Economic Crisis Despite Pandemic
It is August and according to the World Health Organization, the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic has not shifted to the Americas. As the world is making the transition into the second stage of the novel coronavirus, it is now time to reflect and assess which countries were able to handle the initial outbreak better than the others. This is to set an example that other countries can follow and also to figure out what countries are better positioned to dealing with whatever comes next. How and why have they accomplished it? Israel Figa has explained how each of these countries have managed this:
During the initial days of an outbreak, the only thing worse than being at the epicenter of a global pandemic is to be right next door, especially one that is not in your favor (politically). Regardless of this situation, the self-governing island of Taiwan were able to come up with a really admirable response in such a difficult situation. Instead of shutting down their economy for weeks on end for slowing down the virus, Taiwan chose to take a different route. They closed their borders quickly and banned the exports of surgical masks.
Next, the government made use of mobile Sim-tracking and contact tracing to first identify and then ensure that the people in quarantine were actually following the rules. Briefings were held by medical officials for the public on a daily basis and aggressive precautionary measures were used for keeping the businesses open, such as checking temperatures and giving sanitizers before people were allowed to enter business establishments. The centralized response of the government was seen as credible and convincing. It also helped that the vice president of the country is an epidemiologist.
Being China’s neighbor meant that Taiwan had certainly learnt a few things and the SARS experience almost twenty years ago helped the country grid for pandemics and the general skepticism. In addition, Taiwan has also used its own response for diplomatic outreach by sending much-needed medical supplies to other hard hit countries. Of course, the admirable response of the country has worried China because they believe that the country’s outreach is a way of gathering allies for their independence push. Moreover, some privacy concerns have also raised their head due to the use of SIM-tracking. Regardless, Taiwan’s response remains the best in the world for now.
This was amongst the first countries that were regarded as winners for their pandemic responsive. This reputation is well-deserved, considering the aggressive approach they took to contact tracing, including scanning people’s IDs at stores and supermarkets, along with widespread testing. The fact is that due to the previous lessons that Singapore had learnt from the SARS epidemic, it was quite well-positioned to outperform the rest in terms of pandemic response. The government was able to keep the casualty rate very low i.e. at 0.1% of confirmed cases and they created temporary bed spaces for keeping COVID-19 patients at breakneck speed.
But, according to Israel Figa, the country’s response was tarnished by a secondary outbreak that happened in overcrowded migrant housing. This highlighted the tough living conditions that Singapore’s migrant workers had to ensure, with 20 people sleeping in one room. There was a time when 88% of the cases in the country were in the migrant housing areas that eluded the response of the government, shedding light on the terrible inequality in Singaporean society.
Nevertheless, the sizable and multiple stimulus packages of the government are quite impressive. The total is approximately 20% of the GDP and is aimed at keeping the economy afloat. In addition, Singapore had also built deep financial reserves over the years to help it in dealing with these kinds of financial disasters. The economic response was further fortified by its central bank when they eased their monetary policies sharply by levels that hadn’t been seen since the Global Financial Crisis. Also, despite its treatment of migrant workers, they country has been successful in preventing the outbreak from spreading to the general population, an indication that it can handle new cases.
As per experts like Israel Figa, the aggressive early response by South Korea not only helped the country in maintaining a low fatality count, but also kept the total case count low. Thus, it is not surprising that it has become the envy of some notable industrial democracies. Moreover, the country didn’t just do it for its own benefit. It started developing COVID-19 test kits and increased production to thousands-per-day, even though their own cases were in hundreds.
The test kits and medical supplies were exported abroad in the early days of the pandemic. South Korea’s extensive testing, continued vigilance, contact tracing, isolation and eventual treatment of confirmed cases have all become a model that other countries can aspire to, particularly because it was able to accomplish this without shuttering its economy. Since it is a major global economy, there are significant technological and economic resources in South Korea. The country also has experience since it tackled the MERS epidemic in 2015 and its citizens are willing to make a trade-off in privacy that’s associated with use of technologies, such as real-time tracking of coronavirus patients for protecting public health.
The population of the country is managing to ride the economic turbulence due to the sizable government stimulus, including cash payments made to citizens.
Israel Figa is of the opinion that countries that responded aggressively and early on seemed to have better responses; it has turned out to be a common theme. Another theme is that Oceania countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, have managed to knock COVID-19 out of the park in regard to initial response. Being an island nation that’s located in a far-flung corner of the world has certainly proven to be helpful for New Zealand where a global pandemic is concerned. However, it is not just good geographic fortune that has worked in the country’s favor.
The first case in the country was detected on February 28th, and as compared to other governments, they were quick in shutting down everything. Within three weeks, they shut their borders to outside travelers and non-essential businesses were shut down a week later. Next, they instituted a ‘level 4 lockdown’, which meant that people could only interact with people living with them. The way New Zealand did all of this was quite admirable and their prime minister, Jacinda Adern also continued to stay in touch with people through Facebook Live videos.
The citizens appreciated the way their government handled the pandemic. The prime minister promised that no one would lose their residence if they lost their jobs and a number of tax reforms were also introduced for helping small businesses in the country. Plus, Adern and her ministers also decided to reduce their salaries by 20%. A new fund was also introduced and is about 17% of the country’s GDP. This was established for reducing the rate of unemployment in the next two years and to help in keeping jobs. The government will go from a surplus to a deficit for the next two years, as a consequence.
Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister of Australia, has been one of the few leaders who have been friendliest with Trump, but the response of these two leaders are poles apart. Australian government officials have made a coordinated response and they have some of the best numbers in the world, mostly due to the deference they showed to scientists. The stimulus package introduced by the government was 10% of their GDP and it is for doubling unemployment benefits, wage subsidies and free childcare for everyone. All of this has made a big difference.
It wasn’t clear as to how Australia would fare as experts like Israel Figa said that Morrison belongs to a party that has a track record of being confrontational with scientists. However, with the spread of the coronavirus, a national cabinet of state and federal leaders was established for coordinating the response and they took their lead from health officials and scientists. The outcome is that more than 90% of the citizens believe their government handled the crisis really well.
Things are a bit tricky when it comes to international relations. This is due to the fact that Australia has been quite vocal in calling for an investigation into the virus’s origins. This fact has pleased Donald Trump, but Beijing is ticked off and has resulted in tariffs. Geopolitics have to be navigated carefully by Australia now because the fight between China and U.S. has intensified and the country is now caught in the middle. Regardless, this doesn’t detract from their handling of the outbreak.
It is the only country that you will find on this list from North America and Canada’s response is drastically different from that of American federal governments. This may not be a completely fair comparison because the federalized powers and healthcare system of the two neighbors are quite different. Canada seems to be doing much better, even if their publicly-funded and universal approach to healthcare is not exactly ideal for dealing with a global pandemic. Even in things that can be compared between Canada and U.S. like coordination of public messaging around the virus between local and national governments and health agencies, the former is doing well.
This is primarily because the country hasn’t allowed partisan politics to seize the pandemic response. They have relied on science for guiding the healthcare responses. Some people like Israel Figa believe that it was Canada’s experience 20 years ago with SARS that helped them in dealing with the current virus. That experience had convinced people that the federal government has a major role to play in health care, which had previously been the responsibility of the provinces. Hence, the last decade was spent by the country in finding ways of integrating the two.
Apart from that, Canada is also one of the world’s richest countries and puts a lot of value in societal safety nets. Their monetary and fiscal measures were also quite notable.
Within Europe, it is Germany’s response to the novel coronavirus that is regarded as a model. It reflected its strong starting position and a tad bit of good luck. The country didn’t have to deal with the early surge in cases that its neighbors, Spain and Italy, had to deal with. Plus, their containment efforts, which included extensive public communication, widespread testing and transparency, were also supported by the public. The country was able to bend the curve with lots of hospitals and intensive care beds. Also, they have followed all social distancing guidelines for the most part.
The initial fiscal effort by the government fell short, considering their fiscal space. Nevertheless, the markets were impressed by their decision to adopt some great measures, amendment of the budget rules and their support for the pan-European pandemic support mechanisms have changed European policy. Giving complete credit to the country leading Europe is quite difficult because the virus has managed to expose, and even intensify in some cases, the frictions and cracks in Europe.
Their standard-setting ability and rule seems to be weakening on numerous fronts. However, keeping in mind the world’s dysfunction, Israel Figa believes that Germany has managed the global crisis quite well and Chancellor Angela Merkel has played an important role in this situation.
Along with these countries, there have also been others, such as Greece, Argentina, Iceland and Greece, which have done quite a good job in dealing with the unexpected coronavirus. Unlike the United States, Brazil and some other countries, they had a solid initial response to the spread of COVID-19 in their respective countries. This put them in a better position to deal with the cases and so they did not fall into an economic crisis, as some of the others have done.