A novel coronavirus appeared in Wuhan, China, for the first time in November 2019, and by January 2020, the number of cases had skyrocketed into the thousands. Outside of China, how different countries prepared for the pandemic varied widely. In South Korea, the government developed a new test before the first local case, while Brazil's president declared coronavirus a "fantasy." While some countries began planning for a global pandemic, others dragged their feet.
By the end of March, COVID-19 had reached nearly every corner of the world, sparing only the continent of Antarctica. But how are countries responding to COVID-19, and what are countries doing to prevent the spread of the pandemic? While countries like Spain and Italy implemented national lockdowns, the response varied by state in the US and Brazil. Some world leaders downplayed the disease's severity for weeks, while others implemented proactive changes to slow the spread of disease.
Total Population: 332.6 million
First Case: Jan. 20, 2020. One day earlier, a man in his 30s visited an urgent care clinic in Washington state. He reported recent travel to Wuhan, China. Based on his travel history, the Washington Department of Health notified the CDC. On Jan. 20, the CDC reported a positive COVID-19 test.
Initial Reaction: On Jan. 22, President Trump made his first public remarks on COVID-19. "We have it totally under control," Trump told CNBC. "It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”
On Jan. 31, the United States banned visitors who had recently traveled to China.
On Feb. 19, Trump said, “I think the numbers are going to get progressively better as we go along.”
Evidence of community transmission in Washington, Oregon, and California appeared at the end of February. In early March, Trump called COVID-19 "very mild" and said the death toll would be much smaller than the flu.
By mid-March, the US reported thousands of cases across the country. California became the first state to issue a statewide shelter-in-place order on March 19, quickly followed by other states.
Total Population: 10.2 million
First Case: Jan. 31, 2020. Sweden reported its first official case of the novel coronavirus early in the epidemic. However, Sweden took a different approach than other countries.
Initial Reaction: Sweden chose not to close its borders or shut down major sectors of the economy in response to coronavirus. “Closing borders at this stage of the pandemic, when almost all countries have cases, to me does not really make sense,” said Anders Tegnell, the state epidemiologist.
By late March, Sweden did limit gatherings of more than 50 people.
“For us, a total lockdown is a disaster,” hotelier Elisabeth Hatlem says. “But I am worried Sweden will explode at some point. I feel like I’m living in a huge experiment, and I was never asked if I wanted to sign up.”
Total Population: 1.3 billion
First Case: Jan. 30, 2020. In response, Indian authorities argued that the case was an isolated incident and claimed that community transmission had not occurred in the country.
Initial Reaction: India maintained strict restrictions on testing for COVID-19, and only began testing people without a travel history to an infected area in mid-March. The government also limited testing for healthcare workers treating patients with the novel coronavirus.
After initially downplaying the danger of COVID-19, Prime Minister Modi announced a lockdown on March 24.
India began a 21-day lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19. However, for the 74 million Indians who live in urban slums, social distancing remains nearly impossible.
Total Population: 23.6 million
Initial Reaction: As reports of the epidemic surfaced in January, Taipei implemented 124 safety protocols to control the disease. The tools included an educational outreach program to warn people about the dangers, tech-based tracking, extensive screening of travelers from Wuhan, and contact tracing for suspected cases.
Taiwan implemented its screening program in mid-January, quarantining anyone with symptoms. Experts from Taiwan also visited China to gain more information about the epidemic.
On Jan. 26, Taiwan banned flights from Wuhan, becoming the first country to take that step. By late February, the government distributed 6.5 million masks to the public. Buildings and schools also began screening people for signs of fever.