As on March 27, 2020, COVID-19 cases increased to 552,943 while the death toll rose to 25,045. The novel coronavirus has already reached 199 countries across the globe, bringing the world on the verge of a grave threat to mankind. Originating from China, the virus has massively hit Italy, Iran, Germany, Spain and the US. Many more nations are on the way to enter this list. The way these countries have been fighting the outbreak reveals a huge loophole in urban health resilience strategies. A recent report by ABI Research knocked cities worldwide for not being prepared to respond to the pandemic.
Unfortunately, many so-called smart cities in the world are under a naive impression of ‘nothing can happen to us.’ Call this an overestimation or ‘big mistake,’ it seems to be a greater threat than the COVID-19 itself.
There is a saying that, “we can learn a lot from our mistakes when we aren’t busy denying them”. With this hope, we unveil how nations went dangerously wrong in their interpretation. Let’s learn from these mistakes.
China – 17th November 2019 to March 2020
As per the Guardian, the Chinese media revealed that the earliest COVID-19 case in China appeared on 17th November 2019. This was weeks ago when the Chinese government confirmed the origination of the virus outbreak. Until then, the Chinese government was busy suppressing the facts. It was cracking down doctors who tried to warn their colleagues of a Sars-like virus emerging in the city of Wuhan.
On 25th December, a medical staff of two hospitals in Wuhan were quarantined with viral pneumonia, hiding the human transmission fact. ‘There is no evidence of human to human transmission.’ This was as stated by the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission and other Chinese authorities, from December to mid-January. This extremely vital period was lost which otherwise could have saved thousands of lives.
Late December, Li Wenliang, a physician at the Wuhan Central Hospital warned his colleagues about the disease. Outraged Chinese authorities summoned Li and forced him to sign a statement regretting his “misconduct”. Likewise, nearly seven doctors were arrested on similar charges. It’s unknown what happened to them. But Li resumed his work, contracted the disease himself and died in February.
As per sources, on 2 January, the Wuhan Institute of Virology mapped the genome of the virus. Yet, they did not announce the discovery until a week later.
China began committing mistakes 17 years ago in 2003 during the Sars virus outbreak. It promised to ban slaughter of exotic animals like bats and pangolin that were eaten due to superstitious health fads. This market became the vector for transmitting disease from animals to humans. However, soon after Sars hit East Asia, China silently unleashed these markets in spite of scientific warnings.
And now it is busy blaming its rival superpower, the US, for wild conspiracy theories involving biological weapons. Consequently, novel coronavirus spread like wildfire from Wuhan to the rest of Chinese cities and crossed the international borders.
Today, China is facing 81,218 cases and 3,281 deaths. These statistics are hard to believe as many experts ask, ‘How can the epicentre of COVID-19 (30 times bigger and 23 times more populous than Italy) have a quarter of deaths as Italy? Yet, the WHO praises China, for identifying a novel virus in a short period and demonstrating an increased potential to control new outbreaks.
Italy – 31st January 2020 to March 2020
Currently, the number of cases (86,498) and deaths (9,134) in Italy has surpassed the situation in China. This is despite the fact the country’s population is hardly 4% that of China’s.
The first confirmed case in Italy was reported on 31 January 2020, when two Chinese tourists in Rome were tested positive. A week later, an Italian man came back to his hometown from the city of Wuhan – confirmed as the third case.
Late January, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte made a TV announcement that the country was fully prepared. He said that Italy was taking the most severe containment measures in Europe to deal with the epidemic. The first infected people were immediately quarantined. All flights from China were suspended. And Italy was showing quick response to check the likeliest source of infection.
Later, cases started appearing In Codogno, in the northern Lombardy district. But reportedly there was no link between them and the first two cases of Chinese tourists. Patient zero – who must have infected people throughout the country – remained unknown.
During this time, a number of politicians took to the media, saying people should get on with their normal lives. A motivational video in Milan (in Lombardy) was extensively spread by the political class with the slogan “Milan does not stop.”
Meanwhile, one report came from the Prime Minister who accused a hospital in Lombardy for failing to treat a 38-year old. Denominated as patient one, the person was initially released as having pneumonia. This was mainly because he was confirmed not having any travel history to China. The hospital was criticized for not following emergency guidelines. He spent 36 hours at the hospital without any quarantine measures during which he infected many others.
However, the government quickly enforced a lockdown for 50,000 people in 11 towns of Lombardy. This was later followed by schools and public gatherings banned. And currently, the country is under complete lockdown with all factories closed until April 3. In this case, Italy became the first European country to take such tough measures.
Since then, a 10% decrease in cases has been reported which brings hope. But, more importantly, Italy’s failure to manage the initial spread of COVID-19 is one possible reason behind the pandemic. That said, some also argue that Italy wasted time in testing too many people.
The USA – January 20, 2020, to March 2020
At present, the US is leading the world with the number of cases exceeding 100,000. While the first case was reported on January 20, many questions remain unanswered. Like, how did the coronavirus spread?
The US responded very slowly to initial cases. The testing for the virus started weeks later after the first case. US President Donald Trump took the situation for granted, made claims while ignoring the expert advice. Experts recommended that elderly people avoid flying which wasn’t taken seriously.
On the other side, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an extra effort to call COVID-19 as the “Wuhan virus”. At the same time, he criticised China’s communist party for refusing to share data with the US. And for his government’s response to the outbreak, he said, “I am confident we will handle it better than any nation in the world.”
The administration of Trump has critically failed to act quickly letting thousands of people suffer and succumb to COVID-19. Until now, nearly 1600 people have died and the number is counting rapidly. The central government also understated to have adequate medical resources to deal with the problem. A total lockdown was refused with the belief that it will make the general public feel threatened.
Going ahead, if Trump is working his own ways of uttering easing guidelines to stay at home by Easter, millions more will be infected. Now, even with active control, the US might suffer from 81,000 deaths by July. The report comes from a new detailed analysis of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Going through the overestimation and ignorance of governments in China, Italy, and the US, we come down to the following lessons:
- Paying heed to expert advice is crucial. Alongside, it is crucial to convey these communications clearly to the public.
- Instead of making false claims, it is essential to stay put with facts and reality. Otherwise, the public has to pay a heavy price for the egoistic attitude of governments.
- Last but not least, each individual from government officials to hospital staff to the public need to stay proactive in their responsibilities.
Apparently, the US is repeating the mistakes of China and Italy. Hence, it is critical for the entire world, including smart cities, to build their resilience strategies by learning from these mistakes. Because COVID-19 would not have hit so badly as these mistakes have – when it was starting to appear in China. Nevertheless, there is time to bounce back – let’s learn, let’s act and uproot the existence of COVID-19.