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COVID-19 in the Government sector

Learning from the East

COVID-19 in the Government sector

Liz Forsyth | Leadership,

While no country has managed the spread and effects of the pandemic perfectly there are valuable lessons from those who have been dealing with the crisis for longer. Understanding what works is critical to managing the impact of the virus in countries that are earlier on the curve of disease progression. We have therefore identified a few examples of how countries and governments have managed the spread and effect of the virus. The experience of one country cannot be overlaid onto another due to the cultural, social, geographic and economic structures that they work with and these are not empirically-proven best practices but they provide some insight into how governments have responded.

Zhejiang Province and Hangzhou – China

As the country first-affected by the virus, China’s response was critical to supporting a global response. This included sequencing the disease and reporting emerging findings to the WHO and global community.

Big data – Hangzhou implemented a system of QR codes by which everyone in the city monitors their temperature, update their profile and be attributed a green, yellow or red code which regulates their movement.1

Reopening – has been phased based on priorities and restrictions were also eased on companies with a good track record though many organizations are retaining remote meetings and learning approaches.

Taiwan

Central command – followings the Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak Taiwan has coordinated health efforts through a national health command centre which integrates a range of data sources including checks on people arriving by plane, immigration and customs systems.2

Managing supply – the government funded mask production by the military, reduced exports of key items and implemented some rationing which was supported by penalties for hoarding. Further penalties are in place for spreading misinformation and disobeying quarantine orders.

Republic of Korea

Data - In the wake of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) crisis in 2015 the government in Korea retained certain powers. These included access to mobile phone and credit card data and enabled the government to track the movement of individuals and alert the wider public to specific places and times where they may have been exposed to people who tested positive for the virus. People who have tested positive have been required to download an app that tracks their location and flags if they leave their place of isolation.

Culture - Korean culture promotes avoiding minpye - causing trouble to others – and has an ingrained respect for authority, education and expertise which strengthens the effect of government interventions. While this is not universal it has supported the social distancing measures brought in to reduce disease spread.

Testing – Korea has the capacity to test 15,000 people per day including ‘drive-thru’ and 'walk-thru’ testing facilities which increase speed of testing by reducing the cleaning and preparation time. Testing is free for at-risk groups and others are charged for tests, though they are reimbursed if they test positive and are not charged for treatment.3

Singapore

Penalties – officials in Singapore call and conduct spot-checks on people in isolation, to enforce a system where they share their phones location online. Non-compliance results in fines and potentially prison terms, while there is financial support for people in isolation.

Tracking – the police force have used interviews and CCTV to track contacts of people who have tested positive.4

Summary

There are clearly some similarities in the ways that governments have responded which include providing clear information, embedding social distancing in the community, tracking it with data and technology and enforcing it with penalties. Much of the world is on a crash-course in behavioural change and government policies need to have carrot and stick elements, supporting people to live in isolation while tracking and punishing those who put others at risk.

A key area that stands out when looking at the responses of places like Hong Kong(SAR), China and Korea is that the legislative and technical infrastructure from previous epidemics, such as SARS and MERS, were ready to be activated. There is also a cultural learning from those crises where populations have accepted a more invasive state in return for support and safeguarding. When the emergency phase of the pandemic is over, governments understand that not everything should go back to normal.