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On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) as a pandemic. The pandemic was declared on the grounds of the scale and the gravity of the new virus outbreak in the world as well as because of the inaction of some countries. The WHO told countries to take immediate and aggressive measures to fight the coronavirus. According to the WHO, every country is able to change the course of the pandemic. The WHO declared the new coronavirus as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern as early as 30 January 2020.

The previously unknown strain of the coronavirus was first detected in December 2019 in Wuhan, China and started to spread rapidly both within and outside of China. As of 18 March’s data, the novel coronavirus was detected in 157 countries. The number of infected people exceeded 205,000 with over 8,200 cases of deaths. At this time, more than 82,100 people have recovered.

The Director-General of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told other countries to follow the containment strategies used in China and South Korea since these strategies demonstrated that it is possible to control the pandemic. Of note is that on 17 March 2020, the European Union decided to shut its borders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. FactCheck analysed how the coronavirus turned into a pandemic and what measures are being taken by countries to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. This article offers a review of the practise of several countries where numbers of COVID-19 cases are high.

China

On 31 December 2019, Chinese authorities informed the WHO that cases of pneumonia of an unknown aetiology were reported in Wuhan in China’s Hubei province. The virus outbreak is linked to a seafood market which was closed on 1 January 2020. It was found out that pneumonia was caused by a previously unknown strain of the coronavirus. On 9 January 2020, the first death from the coronavirus was reported. On 20 January 2020, China confirmed human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus. At the initial stage of the coronavirus outbreak, China sought to contain the virus within Hubei’s territory. On 23 January 2020, Chinese authorities put Wuhan on temporary lockdown and stricter measures were taken all across Hubei province. However, coronavirus cases were already confirmed in other Chinese cities and the infections spread beyond China’s border (South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam and the USA). China cancelled its New Year celebration planned on 25 January because of the coronavirus which was followed by cancellations of other large events. The educational process was also stopped. Chinese authorities put the population of Hubei province under strict isolation. Fourteen temporary hospitals were opened for patients with the coronavirus and healthcare workers were mobilised.

China had the peak of the coronavirus outbreak in mid-February. On 12 February 2020, there were 14,000 new cases reported in a single day. As a result of very stringent control measures, China succeeded in significantly improving the epidemiological situation. Since late February, new cases have started a dynamic decline and as of March 2020 the number of new cases fell to a minimum. On 10 March 2020, China officially declared that virus outbreak was curbed in Hubei province and Wuhan. The temporary hospitals were closed down. On 15 March, restrictions on in-country travel imposed because of the coronavirus were also lifted.

According the data of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control, only 21 new cases were reported in the last 24 hours as of 17 March 2020. In total there are 80,881 confirmed cases. Of that amount, 3,226 people died and 68,679 patients have recovered. China is starting to provide assistance to other countries in fighting the coronavirus. Beijing sent group of doctors and medical supplies to Italy. In addition, China provided Georgia with USD 420,000 worth of rapid coronavirus tests for free.

South Korea

The first case of the coronavirus in South Korea was reported on 20 January 2020 when a person who travelled from Wuhan tested positive for the virus. As of March 2020’s data, the number of confirmed cases in South Korea is over 8,000 whilst 84 people have died. In contrast with other countries, South Korea opted for a strategy of testing as many people as possible. In this manner, more than 20,000 people are tested daily in South Korea. Some people do not have to go to a hospital to get tested since they can undergo this procedure without leaving their cars. To this end, special locations are set up near roadways where healthcare workers test people without them leaving their cars. The procedure which takes ten minutes is completely free. As part of this strategy, over 270,000 people were tested for COVID-19. The new coronavirus cases in South Korea are dropping sharply. Authorities state that mass testing brings positive results although taking additional measures are also considered in order to fight the coronavirus. At the present moment, the educational process is suspended, offices are closed and large gatherings are not held.

Italy

Outside of China, the novel coronavirus spread most widely in Italy. In late January, the first three COVID-19 cases were reported in Rome; of these, two were tourists from China. Prior to reporting the COVID-19 cases, an unprecedented growth in pneumonia cases was reported in Codogno, in northern Italy, which had not been tested for COVID-19. This might indicate that given the poor coordination between healthcare authorities and local hospitals, doctors were presumably treating patients with the coronavirus similar to a seasonal flu infection. Therefore, according to one opinion, the spread of the coronavirus started covertly in probably mid-January which undermined measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 after 21 February when the first internal transmission case was confirmed. Of note is that contrary to the initial version, the coronavirus in Italy might have come from Germany. As of 18 March 2020’s data, a total of 31,506 people tested positive for the coronavirus in Italy and 2,503 have died.

Although Italy was the first EU country which suspended flights with China and declared a state of emergency in the country, in light of a sharp increase in the number of deaths and infection cases, Italian authorities were forced to take more stringent measures. At the initial stage (from 23 February), different cities in northern Italy were put under lockdown. Northern Italy’s regions have been put under lockdown from 8 March and a nationwide lockdown was declared on 10 March.

Under the lockdown, which until now is in effect until 3 April 2020, people are allowed to go outside only in exceptional circumstances. The educational process was suspended all across the country, sport events were stopped and café-bars, restaurants, cinemas and gyms were closed. In addition, Serie A football matches were postponed. People are allowed to go to grocery stores and pharmacies provided they follow the safety measures. Respective penalties are applied to those who violate the lockdown rules.

United Kingdom

On 31 January 2020, two coronavirus cases were confirmed in the UK. As of 18 Match 2020, the number of confirmed cases in the UK increased to 2,000 whilst 72 people have died.

After the WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, stated: “COVID-19 is now a global pandemic and the number of cases will rise sharply. Indeed, the true number of cases is higher, perhaps much higher than the number of cases we have so far confirmed… I must level with you, I must level with the British public: many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.”

As opposed to other European countries, the UK did not resort to strict measures (closing borders, self-isolation of people, suspending studies) in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The UK government’s strategy means protection of people in risk-groups and building immunity among the others. It was recommended that people with coronavirus symptoms have to be self-isolated for seven days.

Later, the UK made a U-turn. On 16 March 2020, the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, gave a speech on tightening measures against the coronavirus. People over the age of 70 years in the UK will be placed in quarantine for four months. In addition, if any family member has coronavirus symptoms, all family members have to remain self-isolated for four days. Mass gatherings were also banned. Although, of note is that the UK has not yet adopted more aggressive measures to contain the virus.

Spain

On 31 January 2020, the first coronavirus case was confirmed in Spain. A German citizen in Gomera in the Canary Islands tested positive for COVID-19. As of 18 March’s data, the number of confirmed cases surpassed 11,000 and 533 people have died.

Given the current circumstances, the Spanish government declared a state of emergency on 15 March 2020. After the WHO’s declaration of the pandemic, Spanish football authorities decided to suspend football leagues on 12 March. However, of note is that prior to that decision, the government did not impede mass gatherings. For instance, 120,000 people took part in an International Women’s Day march in Madrid on 8 March which supposedly abetted the spread of the virus.

Since 16 March 2020, Spain has closed land borders with France and Portugal. The educational process was suspended and museums, libraries, hotels and restaurants were closed. Sport and cultural events are banned. People are allowed to leave their homes only to buy food and medicine or in the case of exceptional circumstances.

Germany

On 27 January 2020, the first coronavirus case was confirmed in Germany. As of 18 March 2020’s data, the number of confirmed cases in the country exceeded 9,000 and 26 people have died. After different measures were taken by Germany’s federal lands, the central authorities also decided to impose nationwide restrictions. According to Angela Merkel’s statement on 16 March, bars, theatres, museums, cinemas, public parks and most shops are to be closed. In addition, the movement of tourists both inside and outside of the country will be prohibited. In addition, supermarkets, pharmacies and other facilities which provide essential services to the public will remain open. Furthermore, restaurants will be open only from 06:00 to 18:00.

At the beginning of March, the number of the coronavirus cases surged in Germany. On 4 March, Germany banned the export of medical protection gear needed to fight the coronavirus. On 16 March, the government partially shut the country’s borders with five neighbour countries. In addition, also from 16 March, the educational process was suspended across the country. Moreover, holding mass events is prohibited and as a result sport and cultural events were postponed.

Islamic Republic of Iran

On 19 February 2020, the first coronavirus case was confirmed in Qom, Iran and both infected elderly people died. As of 18 March’s data, the number of confirmed cases in the country exceeded 16,000 whilst a total of 988 people have died. Of note is that many sources indicate a possible cover-up and reporting of false numbers by Iranian authorities. According to these sources, the real situation in the country as a result of the coronavirus outbreak is much worse than the official figures demonstrate.

In February, after the detection of the coronavirus cases, authorities set up check-points along the roads to limit the travel of people between big cities. Iran has suspended the educational process and cancelled mass sport and cultural events. In addition, Friday prayers in mosques in Tehran and other cities are suspended. To fight the coronavirus, authorities temporarily released 85,000 prisoners from jails. In addition, in spite of the president’s statement that there were no plans to put cities or other settlements on lockdown, Iran’s holy city of Qom and important holy shrines (for Shia Muslims) were closed for the faithful on 16 March. The public decried the authorities’ strategy not to take stricter measures for fighting the virus although the Iranian government still does not plan to declare a mandatory quarantine and currently they only advise people to stay at home and avoid non-essential travel.

USA

On 21 January 2020, the first coronavirus case was confirmed in the USA when a man who returned from Wuhan tested positive for the virus. On 30 January, the first internal transmission case was also confirmed. As of 18 March 2020’s data, the number of confirmed cases in the country surpassed 6,000 and 114 people have died.

The Trump administration restricted travel from China as early as 31 January. After the WHO’s declaration of the pandemic on 11 March, President Trump suspended all travel for Schengen countries for 30 days and later the UK and Ireland were also added to the list. The US travel ban extends to those persons who visited China, Iran or the aforementioned European countries in the previous 14 days. On 13 March, Donald Trump declared a national emergency. The White House has initiated a USD 1.2 trillion aid package to alleviate coronavirus-induced damage to US citizens which is currently being debated in the US Congress. In addition, a deal has already been reached on USD 108 billion to provide funds for coronavirus tests and paid leaves as well as for expenses needed for the national emergency.

Some US states have completely suspended the educational process. Universities are switching to online classes. Since 16 March, cinemas, gyms and casinos have been closed in the states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut whilst bars and cafes will continue delivery service only. Although President Trump has not declared a lockdown or curfew, he told Americans on 16 March to avoid participation in mass gatherings (more than ten people).

Georgia

On 26 February 2020, the first coronavirus case was confirmed in Georgia when a Georgian national coming from Iran through Azerbaijan tested positive for the virus. However, the spread of the virus in Georgia is mostly related to travel to Italy. As of 18 March, there are 38 confirmed coronavirus cases in Georgia and one patient has recovered. More than 1,300 people are quarantined and over 200 remain under hospital supervision.

On 1 March, the Coordination Council led by the Prime Minister of Georgia issued a recommendation to cancel mass events in places of public gathering. The educational process in schools, kindergartens and universities was suspended. The summer draft for military conscripts was postponed until 13 April and daily disinfection work of municipal transport was launched.

After the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, all bodies of the Government of Georgia started to work 24/7 in an emergency mode from 12 March. On 12 March, all public and private entities were given the recommendation to start telework. The Ministry of Internal Affairs has been tasked to provide monitoring on observing the self-isolation rules. Those citizens who violate self-isolation rules are forcibly transferred to the quarantine zones. Since 12 March, passengers coming from Germany, France, Spain and Austria have been subjected to mandatory quarantine or self-isolation after a check-up at the border. Previously, mandatory quarantine and self-isolation was extended to passengers coming from China, Iran, Italy and South Korea. From 18 March, Georgia will completely shut its borders to foreign nationals.

According to the government’s decision on 16 March, Georgia’s mountain and ski resorts were temporarily closed. Cafes, bars and restaurants were given a recommendation to limit the service and keep the delivery option only.

The authorities called on citizens over 70 years of age to remain self-isolated and the government in turn will provide essential service to them. According to the government’s decision on 17 March, mini-buses were suspended and only municipal transport (subway, buses) will continue service which has to be disinfected on a daily basis. On 17 March, a draft bill was registered in the Parliament of Georgia through an accelerated procedure which envisions a GEL 3,000 fine for people who violate quarantine and self-isolation rules and a GEL 15,000 fine for legal entities.

Virus Spread Data is Constantly Being Updated

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