There are just a handful of countries left with no recorded cases of COVID-19, but even those could be beause of unreported infections. Such is the scale of the coronavirus pandemic that started in China last December and has now gripped the entire world bringing everything to a standstill. Here we do a status check of the countries with the highest rates of COVID-19 infections and how those governments have been handling the outbreak.
China – 81,171 cases, 3,277 deaths
China continues to have the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the world. On Monday, nine more deaths were reported in the country. Although attention has shifted from the epicenter of the crisis as infections are rapidly spreading to other parts of the world, China still leads with 81,171 cases, the highest in the world. As of March, 23, according to data by Johns Hopkins University, approximately 3,277 people have died in the country.
Numbers provided by the Chinese government have been viewed with skepticism around the world, due to concerns that officials in the government’s hierarchy may have withheld figures to downplay the severity of the epidemic. By the third week of January 2020, it became evident to the international community that initial reports of COVID-19 had been suppressed by the Xi Jingping government.
In Wuhan, now considered to be the source of the outbreak, local officials attempted to suppress information concerning the infections and reports by the New York Times and the Washington Post suggest that Beijing, upon learning of these infections, further attempted to do the same. Hence, observers believe that infection rates and numbers of deaths may be higher than what China is letting on.
Within weeks of the rapid spread of COVID-19 in provinces of mainland China and the glare of international attention on the country’s approach to dealing with the public health crisis, the government was compelled to institute several measures including curbing of mass travel of its citizens and controlling and cancelling public gatherings that couldn’t have come at a more challenging time—Chinese New Year, possibly the biggest annual festival in the region.
Despite these measures that included mass quarantine in Hubei province, it was difficult for China to control the virus outbreak that had become more widespread within the country than the administration had expected. By February, countries began initiating evacuations of their citizens who were working and living in the province in various capacities. Hospitals began feeling the strain of a surge of patients with COVID-19 infections and the government was compelled to create makeshift hospitals to cope with the growing numbers of patients.
On the positive side, China has been reporting that there are hardly any new local cases coming up over the past week, attributing most new coronavirus numbers to those who have come from outside.
Italy – 63,927 cases, 6,077 deaths
On the other side of the world, Italy recorded its first COVID-19 patients when two Chinese tourists were detected with the infection on January 31. The nature of transmission meant that the virus spread across a large area with exceptional speed, with clusters of cases being discovered and recorded in parts of northern Italy. By early March, COVID-19 had spread all over the country. Although the Italian government had suspended all flights to and from China and had declared a state of emergency, it did little to prevent community transmission. By March 9, quarantine that had only been in force in northern Italy had been expanded to include the entire country. The Italian government restricted the movements of people and ordered the operation of only essential businesses like pharmacies and grocery stores.
In February itself, it became clear that the situation was dire and educational institutions began closing down, asking international students to return home. Businesses began enforcing work-from-home directives and the country’s famed tourist sites began shutting down. The widespread infections created enormous strain on Italy’s medical infrastructure and its medical practitioners.
According to WHO situation reports for Italy, there are at present 63,927 known cases in the country and an estimated 6,077 deaths since the pandemic began in January. However, local reports in Italy suggest that these numbers could be higher because it has become impossible for overburdened local authorities to track and process the number of infections and deaths in individual towns and cities. These new numbers of infections and deaths include doctors and medical practitioners working closely with patients.
The United States – 46,455 cases, 593 deaths
While the pandemic was impacting China and Europe, the US government was confident that it had resources to tackle any COVID-19 cases detected in its territory. For weeks the Trump administration insisted that American citizens had no cause for concern. After the first case was detected on January 20, in a man who had returned from Wuhan a week ago, the US instituted travel bans on passengers from China. The US government also launched the White House Coronavirus Task Force on January 29 to deal with the infection in the country and two days later, the country declared a public health emergency.
Still, according to local news reports, it did not appear that the US public or even officials in Washington were overly concerned with COVID-19. However, on February 26, the US saw its first COVID-19 case in a person who the country’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated, had no known exposure to the virus through travel or close contact with a known infected individual.
Medical practitioners in the US began sounding off an alarm of a widespread outbreak in the country and the possibility of a lack of resources to tackle the outbreak, and the Trump White House began receiving criticism for not doing enough to control the spread of infections. The US government’s initial response to the pandemic had been to curb travel, but it did little to stop the spread of infections.
On March 8, the CDC advised against non-essential travel to China, Iran, Malaysia, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and the 26 European countries in the Schengen area. The United States also began denying entry to foreign nationals who had traveled through China, Iran, or the Schengen countries in the past 14 days. US citizens were asked to undergo health screenings and 14-day quarantine after returning from these regions. On March 19, the US banned international travel for its citizens.
Domestically, the US government faced criticism from news publications, politicians and social media users for not having done enough to curb the spread of COVID-19 despite having had advanced warning of the impact of the diseases and having the financial resources to do so. In March, US Vice President Mike Pence admitted that the US did not have enough testing kits to administer tests to detect COVID-19, a lapse that had resulted in the loss of crucial time for the country in controlling the outbreak.
To further add to challenges that ordinary people were facing in the US, like The New York Times and TIME magazine began reporting how treatments for COVID-19 were costing patients thousands of dollars, making it inaccessible for many in the country. According to one report in TIME, the total cost of treatment for COVID-19 cost one patient $34,927.43. Observers said that the high costs of treatment would act as a deterrent for many and may lead to people avoiding getting tested simply because associated additional expenses were not one that they could afford.
Economic impacts of COVID-19 began to surface soon after the infections became widespread in the US. Domestic travel fell drastically and unemployment began to rise as businesses began closing down for the foreseeable future. For many living paycheck to paycheck in the US, the loss of work and rising expenses for everyday costs like rent, groceries and now, medical necessities, were additional burdens.
By March 22, most US states had closed down schools and colleges and the states of California and New York initiated lock downs to curb community transmission. The situation has taken such a turn that according to the Guardian, New York City has now recorded having 5% of all COVID-19 cases worldwide. Over this past weekend, the city itself has recorded 15,000 confirmed cases. The Guardian stated that this past Sunday, “the state of New York accounted for half the country’s 30,000 cases nationwide.”
Spain – 39,675 confirmed cases, 2,800 deaths
Despite having the fourth-highest numbers of COVID-19, Spain has been relatively less highlighted in international news. Spain recorded its first COVID-19 case on January 31, when a German tourist tested positive on Canary Islands. On February 24, a doctor from Lombardy, Italy, on holiday in Tenerife, was detected with the infection. This specific case led to community transmission in Tenerife followed by other detected cases in Spain among patients with travel history to Italy.
Like other countries in Europe, Spain also instituted entry bans and the suspension of passenger traffic for most countries in an attempt to control the situation. The Spanish government suspended all classes and encouraged online lessons. On March 13, public spaces and bars and restaurants were ordered to close to prevent people from gathering in large groups. Essential services like supermarkets and pharmacies were allowed to remain open. On the same day, the government instituted a State of Alarm, the lowest of the three degrees of emergency in the country, to control the spread of the outbreak by ordering restrictions on the movements of citizens.
Iran – 23,049 cases, 1,812 deaths
Already facing the brunt of prolonged sanctions imposed by the US, Iran has faced further challenges due to the high rates of COVID-19 infections. According to WHO, the country has 23,049 confirmed infections and 1,812 deaths, a figure that observers say is likely higher than what has been officially reported.
The first cases of COVID-19 in Iran were reported in the holy city of Qom. Community transmission resulted in the rapid rise in rates of infections, in part due to challenges that the Iranian government has reportedly faced in controlling the outbreak. In Qom, after weeks of deliberation, when authorities closed the shrine of Fatima Masumeh, the great-granddaughter of the Prophet Mohammed, worshippers broke down the gates to gain access to the premises to continue with prayers. Observers say that one of biggest challenges faced by Iran has been its difficulties in making a deeply-conservative and religious population understand the severity of the situation.
The government has faced opposition from religious hardliners in enforcing city-wide quarantines. Despite this, the country’s supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ordered the army to follow instructions from President Hassan Rouhani to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the country. Although the capital Tehran has recorded the highest number of deaths, the city’s mayor, Pirouz Hanachi, recently stated that they do not have the abilities to enforce quarantines, in part due to the sanctions that have been placed against them.
Germany – 30,649 cases, 123 deaths.
COVID-19 was first detected in Germany on January 27 in a patient in Bavaria. Soon, new cases were detected in travellers from Italy, China and Iran. Germany began closing down educational institutions and stopping visits to the elderly living in nursing homes. Several rules for social-distancing were enforced across the country that included banning of gatherings of more than two people. With the enforced closure of public spaces and tourist sites in the country, Germany too has been following the footsteps of other European nations by allowing the operations of only essential services like grocery stores and pharmacies.
On February 1, Germany arranged for the evacuation of 90 German citizens from Wuhan, who were quarantined for 14 days upon arrival. By March, community transmission had led to the spread of COVID-19 infections all across the country. Germany initiated its National Pandemic Plan with primary goals to reduce morbidity and mortality, to ensure treatment of infected people, to continue the operation of essential public services and to ensure the dissemination of short and accurate information to its public.
On March 22, Germany announced that Chancellor Angela Merkel had come in contact with a physician who tested positive for COVID-19 and had decided to self-quarantine.
France – 19,856 cases, 860 deaths.
France recorded its first COVID-19 case on January 24, when a French citizen who had recently returned from China was reported to have contracted the disease. A Chinese tourist who had been admitted to a hospital on January 28, died on February 14, making it the first COVID-19 related death in Europe and the first outside Asia.
With rising rates of infections caused by community transmission, France’s President Emmanuel Macron announced the closure of all schools and educational institutions on March 12 till further notice. Over the next few days, France also banned gatherings of more than 100 people and public spaces like restaurants, bars, cafes, cinemas etc. Days later, on March 16, Macron announced a nation-wide lockdown for 15 days.
Fashion shows and sports events were cancelled across the country and major tourist sites and cultural institutions also downed shutters for the foreseeable future. With rates of COVID-19 infections rising in the country, several nations around the world instituted travel bans on passengers from France. Citizens were placed in mandatory quarantine for 14 days. Foreign students who were studying in educational institutions were compelled to return home.
France was among the EU nations that tightened its borders for travellers, including EU citizens in an attempt to curb the spread of infections and to prevent new cases of infections brought into the country.
South Korea – 9,037 cases, 120 deaths
South Korea witnessed its first COVID-19 case on January 20. However, in mid-February, the country witnessed a sudden jump in infection numbers attributed to “Patient 31”, who was later discovered to be a member of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony church, a religious cult who had gathered in the city of Daegu.
Reports emerged of Shincheonji cult members having travel-history to Wuhan, the center of the COVID-19 outbreak, and of how the cult was continuing operations of large religious gatherings despite directives by the South Korean government to halt them. The secretive cult and its members found themselves facing the attention and ire of South Koreans who accused them for the methods of operation where they continued recruiting new members and hiding their affiliation to the church from government authorities who were attempting to track down people who may have been exposed to the virus.
With the rates of infections surging in the country, airlines began cutting their operations and public spaces in South Korea began closing down. South Korea’s military also began reporting cases of infections among its soldiers. By the third week of February, most countries around the world initiated travel bans and quarantines for passengers returning from South Korea. South Korea’s influential Korean pop culture industry began witnessing changes in performance schedules and promotional activities of its stars, including the cancelling of public performances in auditoriums, audience engagement and broadcast schedules. Many album launches of K-pop groups and stars were indefinitely postponed.
By March, there was global attention on Shincheonji cult members and their refusal to cooperate with government authorities for testing. Seoul city initiated a lawsuit against the Shincheonji cult and raids were conducted in the church’s premises. In response, Shincheonji members defended themselves saying they were being unfairly targeted by the public and the government. According to government analysis, most infections in the country are directly and indirectly related to the Shincheonji cult.
The outbreak of the infections led to widespread anti-China sentiments and several establishments like restaurants, coffee shops and pubs began putting up notices barring the entry of Chinese citizens. Some businesses went one step further by banning the entry of all foreigners all together.
South Korea has received international attention for its use of rigorous testing to control the spread of COVID-19. To prevent the spread of infections and to lessen the burden on hospitals, some cities in South Korea established drive-through testing centers that required minimal contact with people. However, the country has also received criticism and there have been concerns of the violation of privacy given public access to information of physical movements of patients within public spaces.
Switzerland – 9,494 cases, 124 deaths
As in the case of Spain and Germany, there has been relatively less attention on COVID-19 infections in Switzerland. The country’s first case was recorded on February 25, when a Italian citizen visited a border town in Switzerland. Since then, multiple cases, some isolated, have been recorded across the country.
Following rising rates in infections, public shows and gatherings have been recorded in the country. Public health information posters have been put up advising residents on rules to follow to avoid infections. On March 6, the Swiss government stated that they were focusing on older people and those with pre-existing conditions as a group that was most vulnerable to infections.
Between March 13-16, all schools and other educational institutions were closed. Shops, bars and other public spaces were ordered to close to April 19. Like in other European countries, only essential services like grocery stores and medical shops were to remain open.
The Swiss government also announced a 42 billion swiss francs package for the economy to assist businesses and people who had been unemployed due to the crisis. On March 20, the Swiss government further injected 32 billion swiss francs to aid the country’s economy. The country has recorded 9,494 cases and 124 deaths, according to WHO.
The United Kingdom – 6,186 cases, 335 deaths
Much like the US, the UK has received flak for not doing enough to curb the COVID-19 outbreak despite resources and advanced warning. By February 2020, the UK confirmed transmission of the disease in the country, with infections having been brought in by people who had travelled from overseas. By March 1, infections had spread to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as well. By mid-March, the UK government increased the risk level in the country to “high”. The government also began advising that people engage in social-distancing, similar to advisories given by other governments, along with advice to avoid public spaces and public gatherings.
By March 20, the government had closed all schools, pubs, bars and educational institutions. Following the announcement of these measures, reports emerged of people panic-buying supplies and hoarding out of fear. Although people were asked to work from home, essential travel for work was permitted.
Facing a growing storm of criticism on his government’s response to the coronavirus, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on March 24 that he would place Britain under a virtual lockdown, closing all nonessential shops, banning meetings of more than two people and requiring people to stay in their homes, except for trips for food or medicine.
Although public transport has not been banned, several routes have been reduced. Fast food joints have stopped allowing customers to eat inside although take-aways are permitted, as are home deliveries.
Following the outbreak, Cambridge University faced criticism for forcing international students to find their own accommodation and make arrangements to return home with only two-days notice, much like some US universities.
Sports teams have suspended and delayed matches till at least April and tapings for television programmes have also been halted till further notice. Cultural institutions like the British Museum and theatres on the West End have also been closed.
Several countries in the EU, South America, the US, Canada and Asia have banned British travellers, including India.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines