Interest Pieces

THE BEST AND WORST COVID RESPONSES. For a future travel plan.

Full disclosure, the second that the borders are open I’ll be heading off somewhere. I don’t mind where, I just want to go on an adventure and smell the air of a different place and maybe even hear a conversation in a different language. Being free to travel again will represent more than just exploration as well, it’ll be the closest thing to bringing my life back to a level of normal.

I may not know exactly where I’m heading to, but I have decided that the criteria I will use in deciding where I go is a simple one. I’ll be looking at the countries that have the lowest figures of Covid related fatalities and I will be heading there first. I don’t think I need to explain my reasons for doing it this way.

Below, I’ve compiled a list of five of the places I would trust to travel to because of their approach to dealing with the virus and five places I will hesitate to revisit in the near future.

  1. Taiwan (890 cases and 7 deaths)

Compared to the half a million deaths in the USA and over 98,000 deaths in the UK to think that there is a country out there that has had seven deaths due to Covid 19 sounds outlandish. Taiwan’s population is 23 million compared to the UK’s 67 million. So,  their response to the pandemic has definitely put us to shame.

Not to be too political but it has been suggested that the UK Government’s response to this virus has been to wait until the very last minute to make the hard decisions. This is why there has been an ongoing uncertainty in the country which has made the number of deaths in our country literally just the tip of the iceberg of problems.

In Taiwan, before the coronavirus even registered on the radars of other governments, they were testing and quarantining travellers from Wuhan, China. The island’s networks with China gave it a clear view of the original epicentre of the now-global pandemic, enabling it to act early and deploy a containment strategy that has proven to be one of the most successful in the world.

They made quick use of technology to trace suspected cases, and are still doing so today. If a citizen tests positive, they are provided with a quarantine hotel and cab. Taiwan also maintained a stockpile of face masks, medical officers, and lab capacity to handle any outbreaks prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

They learnt a valuable lesson during the outbreak of SARS in 2003 which severely impacted Taiwan and left it with  the third most infections in the world. The country has since strengthened its preparations for the next epidemic, including setting up an infectious disease prevention network and holding annual drills in hospitals.

In October 2020, they had achieved a record 200 days without any domestically transmitted cases of COVID-19. That changed on the 30th November when 24 cases were reported in one day.

Most of these cases were from people traveling from Indonesia, so and in line with their rigid strategy the government conducted coronavirus testing on all Indonesian migrant workers undergoing quarantine in quarantine centres. This meant they were able to contain the outbreak and demonstrate that a country can indeed stay one step ahead of COVID-19.

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  1. New Zealand (2290 cases, 25 deaths)

In the same way that the All Blacks waste no time in dominating the rugby field, New Zealand immediately sought to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in its country.

As early as the 28th January 2020, while the UK Government were dismissing the severity and recommending everyone wash their hands, the Ministry of Health set up the National Health Coordination Centre (NHCC) to respond to the outbreak. An Infectious and Notifiable Diseases Order was issued to take effect from 30 January. This required health practitioners to report any suspected cases under the Health Act 1956. This formed the first barrier of protection for New Zealand.

Travel restrictions to and from other countries were imposed as early as February, and on the 23rd March, New Zealand committed to an elimination strategy. At this time the country had reported 102 cases and 0 deaths when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that New Zealand was going to rapidly escalate levels of social distancing and travel restrictions, reaching the level of a full national lockdown on 26 March.

While the UK and USA were deliberating and holding meetings regarding “flattening the curve”, New Zealand  aggressively targeted the disease with a plan of elimination. This was a completely proactive response because the country has never experienced a major pandemic and was not really affected by SARS. They just saw the danger and acted decisively.

Nine months on from New Zealand’s first lockdown, the country is still swift to respond to cases. Recently, health authorities partially shut down the central city of Auckland, asking workers in the city to stay home after just one student became infected with COVID-19.

  1. Iceland (5,990 cases, 29 deaths)

Perhaps Iceland’s success can be attributed to its small population of around 364,000, however if we compare the UK’s death rate (1/683) to Iceland’s (1/14000) it isn’t an argument really worth making. Clearly, early vigilance combined with action is what has kept the rate of infection and the resultant number of deaths down.

Again, a key point is speed of action. In Iceland, health officials rushed in to contain the spread earlier than most countries and took action to trace and isolate cases. A team of contact tracers were established who would interview those who tested positive and actively track down people they had been in contact with.  As a result, the country has not faced one of the large-scale lockdowns seen across the world.

Tellingly, one of the biggest reasons for their success is that people actually cooperated and stayed at home. If someone was suspected of having the virus, they were told to stay inside while the government covered the individual’s full salary.

When the country opened its borders in the summer it saw a sharp spike in cases, rising up to 55 cases in a week and even with this comparatively tiny number they acted swiftly. Their widespread testing, tracing, quarantine procedures as well as fresh restrictions and emphasis on mask wearing have been praised by researchers globally.

  1. Singapore (59,352 cases, 29 deaths)

Having more cases than the others on the list but still a comparatively low number of deaths, Singapore’s approach of protecting their population of 5,7 million relied on timely preparation, aggressive testing and tracing and lessons learnt not only from their own experiences but globally.

Worth noting is how the government tightened its borders immediately after the disease erupted in China and provided a clear public communication strategy that was noticeably missing in the UK and USA.

Despite having high case numbers, many have questioned why Singapore’s mortality rate is so low. Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious disease specialist, said the population’s average age had “diluted” the country’s death rate – since most of Singapore’s new cases are younger people.

In fact, more than 90% of Singapore’s recent cases are low-wage foreign workers living in dormitories.  More recently, the government in Singapore announced that pupils over the age of seven must use the city state’s contact-tracing app or wearable device from December onwards. It’s hopeful that this will combat the transmission of COVID-19 to older family members.

  1. Vietnam(1,549 cases, 35 deaths)

Overreaction in Vietnam allowed them to make the best of a small window of opportunity. At the first Coronavirus infection detected on the 23rd January they slammed an emergency plan into action months before other countries had even started taking precautions. This included travel restrictions and increased health checks on borders and even closing the border between them and China.

Schools were closed from the end of January until mid-May and a vast contact tracing operation was put immediately into action.

As a demonstration of the dangers of this virus, in July 2020, they had an outbreak in Danang that led to 450 cases being reported in just one weekend. This could have been a disaster but the government was ready to respond and evacuated approximately 80,000 visitors in the city who were promptly flown home. The historic port town then went into full lockdown and sealed itself off.


How a government handles a crisis reflects their principles, strategies and ability to lead. The below countries have failed each and every person who has died directly because of this virus and also because, thanks to the bewildered leadership, were not treated for the untold numbers of other conditions that were forgotten because of this virus. Because of this these are the countries I would not like to visit or support.

  1. USA.(25.03 million cases, 423,859 deaths)

There are a lot of moving parts to be successful in controlling a pandemic. Importantly strong leadership is needed to inspire cooperation from their citizens and the citizens then need to cooperate. With this in mind the blame for the USA being number for the highest number of deaths lies directly at the feet of Former President Donald Trump. Woefully ignorant and incompetent, his nonchalant approach with handling the pandemic and taking action has cost the lives of almost half a million of his citizens.

The USA ignored advice from the World Health Organisation, they did not implement a track and trace system and Trump was more fixated on what he could gain from this virus and acted like a snake oil salesman. He also held rallies that brought thousands of people together without masks or social distancing in what were termed “super spreader events”. He openly mocked people who wore masks, lied about what they were doing and even suggested having bleach injected into the body- within the same sentence as speculating if we could somehow get sunlight into a person’s body!

The list goes on and becomes vaguely redundant after a while. If you aren’t aware of the lengths he has gone to to make himself a complete disgrace, then I don’t know how you’re reading this because you clearly don’t have the internet.

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Things are changing though. President Biden has not been in office for even a month and is already working hard to undo the damage that his predecessor has done. Specifically dedicating his time to fixing the issues and taking advice from experts on what to do.

  1. Brazil.(8.9 million cases, 217,664 deaths)

Ever read something that gave you Forest Whittaker face? Brazil hasn’t even had a national lockdown yet. It has one of the highest death tolls in the world but it has largely allowed each state and cities to follow their own guidelines. Yet, even these have been met with protests and overall compliance has not been high.

For crying out loud, their leader President Jair Bolsonaro actually joined in with anti-lockdown protestors in the capital and with the Trumpiest move yet, repeatedly called the Covid 19 a “little flu.”

Similarly to the USA under Trump, Brazil has ignored medical advice and taken its time to instigate mass testing let alone doing anything with contact tracing. One health minister has been sacked and another has resigned and people are still dying. Poor Brazilians, unable to afford health insurance and having to work jobs to earn money per day, have been hardest hit by this and because of the government’s reluctance to even really acknowledge it are not supported if they have to stay at home and isolate.

Presidente Jair Bolsonaro has proved to be an even worse Trump than Trump, even with the vaccines becoming available, he is simply downplaying all of it. The numbers could even be worse than the states and because their leader is not likely to be replaced by a competent replacement, it isn’t going to get better any time soon.

The news is rife with scenes of people dying at hospitals because they don’t have ventilators. While their president does little except shrugging.

  1. India.(10.6 million cases, 153,470deaths)

Unlike the USA and Brazil, India’s growing numbers or cases and deaths have less to do with incompetent leadership and far more to do with the state of the country’s economy. Millions of people in India live on the poverty line, with hardly any financial help from the government. When India, as early as January 17 began implementing surveillance to combat Covid 19, and then enforced a strict lockdown that lasted from the 24th March to the 31st May, the country wasn’t ready for it.

Overnight millions of people who had come to the city for a better life were faced with an impossible decision. The sudden lockdown hit these low-income migrant workers the hardest and they were forced to face hunger and illness and potentially a hundred mile journey to walk on foot to their villages because the public transport – literally known for being shoulder to shoulder in India- were shut down.

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The medical services, from General Practises to Hospitals were ill equipped for an outbreak, especially those in rural areas. Hence people were turned away and had to return to their families to be cared for. These families then had to be looked after by neighbours and in a highly supportive community where families look after each other as part of their culture, the virus spread fast.

  1. Mexico.(1.76 million cases, 149,614 deaths)

Mexico is an example of what happens when a pandemic is simply ignored. Perhaps President Andres Manuel López Obrador believed that by forcing his people to get through the virus themselves would produce herd immunity or maybe he just thought he could outdo his neighbouring presidents for being the best at ruining people’s lives? Who knows.

The effect is that thanks to him refusing to close borders or exercise any caution at airports and going so far as to claim that “Mexico’s spirituality will protect the country against the virus” (he then pulled out two religious amulets that he claimed would protect him), the virus has gone nuts in Mexico.

Saying that his country was going to continue life as normal and urging people to take their families to restaurants to help strengthen the economy, he deliberately went against the grain and lost any hope of saving people.

On March 15th, while most of the world was getting ready to go into lockdown, some 40,000 concert goers crowded into the Foro Sor venue for the popular Vive Latino music festival. European and USA tourists were able to enter the country without any restrictions until late March. Plus, restaurants, airports, subways, and grocery stores remained open in Mexico City until lockdown was finally introduced on 30th March.

But, the rules made no sense, restrictions were placed on border travel between the US and Mexico to limit tourism, but he still allowed people to work and go to school across the border. There was scant leadership when it came to the migrant camps near the US border, which were already facing problems with disease because of overcrowding and sanitation.

Like Trump as well, mask wearing was met with cynicism from the leaders and it got to the point where the leader of the WHO basically stepped in and asked them to take this seriously and sort out their shit.

  1. UK.(3.7 million cases, 98,531 deaths)

Oh, Britain.

The UK should not be on this list. It really shouldn’t. It has all the technology and resources at its fingertips, it has the modern hospitals and highly capable GP practises that a country could want, generally good infrastructure and an educated population.

Unfortunately, we (I currently live in the UK… at least while Scotland is still part of the UK), also have a government that is led by the English parliament which is made mostly up of bluster, rhetoric and hyperbole.

Slow to realise the seriousness of the spreading pandemic and even slower to implement a real plan Boris Johnson’s government has spent much of their time bewildered. After the first cases happened here, so scared was he to disturb the Status Quo, that he told people to go about their business as usual. It took the deaths of 285 people before he made steps to quell this.

Incapable of giving a straight answer and certainly more interested in his political career than people’s lives, Boris has left the country feeling that they totally lack any sort of leadership. Cases continue to rise by roughly 1200-1400 a day and the country is now in its third Lockdown. The economy has crashed to levels worse than during the 2nd World War, entire swathes of people are not only locked in but are by now jobless. Mental health is frayed beyond belief and the United Kingdom is potentially facing splitting up as Scotland is looking to claim independence again.

And who could blame them? Boris’ government acts as if they’re on a different planet. There has not been a consistent approach to combating this virus since it began with difficult decisions being held off being made until right at the last moment. The clumsy attempts of ministers to try and find quick-fix solutions that just cost people their lives is repulsive and demonstrates simply that those in charge of Britain have no idea what it is like to actually live under their rule.

A list of their bumbling errors reads as such:  25000 patients to be discharged from the hospitals to care homes without testing them first; they abandoned contact tracing at the height of the pandemic and then expect to be applauded when they brought it back; in September 2020 the UK’s “Eat Out to Help Out” plan caused an eruption of cases (who could have seen that coming hey?). I can’t help but doubt that Chancellor Rishi Sunak has ever eaten in a local Nandos?

Millions of people have received the vaccine but it is clear that Boris and his ministers are leaning on this as a one-stop shop for fixing the problem, despite all research suggesting that this is not the case.

Indeed, if anything, their approach of hoping for the best could end up costing the lives of many more people.

During this it must be said that the National Health Service and all of the people who are working in it on the front line have gone truly above and beyond. Hospitals are at breaking point but nurses, doctors and the copious number of other staff members are still going in to fight to keep people alive and healthy. They are the heroes who have met this pandemic head on and they are the ones that should be remembered.

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In conclusion, it is important to prepare ourselves for the fact that travelling is going to be different from here on out. If you recall how strict international travel became after 911, when the threat to our safety was terrorism, imagine how stringent it’s going to be after all this.

But that’s the point, it will be stricter, it will be tighter, we’ll all have to take responsibility for our conduct and if we can do that, then we will be able to travel sooner than later.