Women-led countries can look beyond their political party and borders in tackling the pandemic.
A no-nonsense approach of strict and strategic country-wide mandates has enabled them to manage the virus better.
Although the US is starting to see the light in the fight against COVID, several countries continue to deal with the unprecedented effects of coronavirus worldwide.
With solid and strict leadership, Germany's Angela Merkel did manage the virus well early on. The country is struggling presently with the third wave ripping through Europe. Germany's Merkel continues to implement strict lockdown rules to curb the third wave of infections, issuing a set of new measures expected to last until June.
When Merkel announced lockdown restrictions, she remained impervious when heckled by Parliamentarians and unwavering in the face of threats and protests in the streets.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand said the country's response was a "go hard, go early" strategy. New Zealand has done exceptionally well, as the country recently reported around 2,500 cases and 26 deaths.
Asia-Pacific has been the most successful region in the world at containing the pandemic. Tsai Ing-wen, the leader of Taiwan, and Halimah Yacob, Singapore's leader, have kept their county's COVID-relates deaths to a minimum.
As of May 2nd, Taiwan had 1,137 total cases and twelve total deaths, while Singapore had 61,128 total cases and 31 deaths. Even though Singapore has tens of thousands more cases than Taiwan, President Yacob has been able to control the mortality rate.
How SARS Prepared Singapore and Taiwan for COVID-19
In 2003, Singapore and Taiwan were hit with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). This caused widespread tests, transparent case reporting, interventions to impose social distancing, and frequent public health communications.
As a result of SARS, Singapore built a task force to deal with future pandemics by coordinating messaging and interventions across multiple government agencies. This task force was tested in 2009 during the H1N1 pandemic and in 2016 during the Zika outbreak, so it was well prepared to heal with the coronavirus pandemic.
Taiwan learned a lot from the SARS outbreak and put numerous institutions and policies into practice as a result.
A Closer Look at Taiwan
Taiwan took copious precautions as a result of the SARS pandemic. In 2004, the Taiwanese government established the National Health Command Center (NHCC), which operates under the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control (CDC) under the Ministry of Health and Welfare. This is one example of how Taiwan has enacted laws, formulated policies, and established institutions to give experts the authority during epidemics.
During the SARS epidemic, 73 people died in Taiwan, but only twelve people have died so far during the coronavirus, proving that their tactics and preparedness have paid off.
There are other examples of the Taiwanese government being a step ahead of future pandemics. The NHCC has an integrated information system that can gather real-time information from multiple government databases.
This has been crucial in gathering early data on COVID-19 outbreaks in China and other parts of Asia. The CDC's authority has been strengthened so that they are allowed to quarantine and monitor travelers who were infected suspected of carrying a contagious virus.
This allowed them to take exponential steps to limit the number of COVID-19 cases in the community. One example of this occurred at the end of January when CDC officials did onboard inspections on direct flights from Wuhan; they found a suspected case. She later tested positive, and the passenger was quarantined before exiting the plane.
This is part of the 2017 plan that the Ministry of Health and Welfare created to enhance disease inspection at airports and ports. This plan that the ministry concocted identified some existing problems, leading to creating a "smart quarantine network."
This network upgraded the information-sharing system to electronic and built apps to track and connect disease carriers to travel histories. The ministry also increased the number of quarantine officials, purchased infrared thermal equipment and temperature testers, and produced educational materials on infectious diseases for Taiwanese traveling abroad to increase border screening capacities.
One of the critical reasons for Taiwan's epidemic preparedness is the Enforcement Regulations Governing the Central Epidemics Command Center. These regulations allow the Ministry of Health and Welfare to establish a Central Epidemic Command Control (CECC) to formulate policies, integrate resources, and coordinate responses across different government ministries and agencies. The CECC is only dissolved when/if the commanding official deems the threat level low enough, with executive approval from the central government.
President Ing-wen has shown her leadership through the plans, regulations, policies, and institutions established to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and limit its spread within Taiwan, preventing it from getting outside its borders. In her own words: "We can quickly respond to the rapid changes in the global environment, through organizational efficiency, respect for professionalism, and decisive leadership."
A Closer Look at Singapore
In Singapore, the number of COVID-related deaths is relatively low, but the number of total cases far surpasses Taiwan's. However, a majority of these cases and deaths occurred between March and August in 2020. President Yacob now has COVID cases and deaths well under control.
One reason for this is that there has been cooperation between different influential organizations. One example is the Ministry of Health's contact tracing teams and the Singapore Police Force working together to rapidly determine links between individuals and confirmed COVID-19 cases and their contacts.
On top of that, in 2014, a national Diagnostics Development Hub was created to prioritize innovative clinical diagnostics. As a result of this Hub, a test kit for the coronavirus was complete by February 9th.
Singapore also created a virtually seamless testing and treatment process. Private clinics provided primary care physicians with training and preparation for outbreaks to be more than prepared to give patients respiratory symptoms, government-subsidized treatment, and medication. These patients are also given five days of medical leave to stay at home and avoid transmission to others.
The government covers the cost of all testing and treatment, reducing barriers for vulnerable individuals. This is especially true for high-risk Singapore residents; they receive diagnostic testing if they suspect that they have the coronavirus.
Targeted quarantining is another way Singapore has controlled the number of COVID cases and the number of COVID-related deaths. On top of those diagnosed with COVID-19, close contacts of these people are also quarantined. Quarantines are also made easy by governmental rules and subsidization; self-employed individuals receive SGD 100 ($75) daily allowance, and, for employees, quarantine is treated as paid hospitalization leave.
One thing unique to Singapore is "stay home notices," which are used on workers returning from countries with community transmission of the coronavirus. These notices are similar to quarantine orders but are more precautionary and have less severe penalties for not obeying.
The Singapore government has taken public health communication very seriously in the days of the pandemic. Every instance in which there is a new case, new death, or any update about the COVID-19 pandemic, the government sends out messages to its citizens through a nationwide WhatsApp group.
Through the SARS epidemic, Singaporeans learned how vital their healthcare workers are, leading to the Courage Fund's creation. During the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations and individuals donated to this fund and encouraged healthcare workers through social media and physical gifts.
President Yacob has shown how a pandemic should be handled through the countless policies, institutions, and communication that have been implemented during the pandemic to keep her people safe without breaking their banks.
We can help support vulnerable individuals and families, healthcare workers, and frontline workers in Singapore by giving to the Courage Fund.
Governmental Leadership Is Making All The Difference
In common between Singapore and Taiwan, in terms of COVID-19, the one thing in common is that there are country-wide mandates and institutions to keep their citizens safe.
Both countries have had more epidemics than the U.S; this has helped prepare them for this global pandemic. Both women have learned and put their knowledge into play from the second they got a glimpse of this deadly virus. They never tried to hide anything from their people, leading the citizens of Singapore and Taiwan to control the coronavirus in their respective countries.
Written by Megan Maxwell