As the first wave of COVID-19 winds down in many countries, and we have a better understanding of the disease and how dangerous it really is, the recipe for success in facing the pandemic (measured by deaths per capita attributed to the disease compared to the cost—economic and human—of the health measures adopted) is emerging. The countries, regions, or institutions that have achieved the best health and economic results so far have certain characteristics and operational procedures in common.
First, they were prepared. In Asia, the countries traumatized by SARS in the early 2000s (South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan) were ready to deal with a new epidemic. In France, certain university hospitals equipped themselves with the technological and human resources to analyze and understand the characteristics of a new pathogen and to treat the sick on the spot.
Then, these regions carried out a maximum of tests from the outset (Iceland) to isolate people having contracted the disease and follow them, as well as their circles. The most vulnerable populations (seniors and those with chronic illnesses and immune deficiencies) having been identified quickly enough, the rest of society could continue to live normally.
Finally, while recommending basic preventive measures (wearing masks and washing one’s hands frequently), they treated those afflicted at low cost with the relevant treatments available at each stage of the illness, sometimes against official government advice.
In contrast, total generalized lockdown—by far the costliest measure—has not proven its worth in terms of reducing mortality, and now seems like an admission of defeat. It bespeaks to varying degrees a lack of preparedness, and an inability to organize widespread screening and the isolation and following of those affected.
We must be sure to apply these lessons if a second wave of COVID-19, or some other epidemic, should occur in the coming months or years.