At the same time, if the inroads Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong — China, too — have made against Covid-19 are promising, these gains also are fragile. These governments will need to keep at their containment measures for many more months or else risk a surge in infections. Taiwan seems especially vulnerable because it appears not to be testing people enough.
The Chinese government has taken something of a victory lap recently, prematurely. But even it seems to know that, despite its bluster: Judging from bans China is now imposing on travelers from certain European countries, it is well aware that cases of infection could be reintroduced from abroad.
Containment, however valiant an aim, also comes with very high costs, social and economic, and it might be an impossible goal for some countries, especially by now. In some places, Covid-19 could already be too widespread to be stopped. The vast majority of infections still appear to be mild, though; many might not even require medical attention. In such cases, it would be better to forgo trying to contain the disease and instead focus on mitigating its worst effects, for example, by concentrating resources on preventing an overwhelming surge in demand for hospital care, particularly intensive care.
Still, the central point is this: Each in its own way, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong — three places with markedly different socioeconomic and political features — have been able to interrupt the chain of the disease’s transmission. And they have done so without embracing the highly disruptive, drastic measures adopted by China. Their success suggests that other governments can make headway, too.
Benjamin J. Cowling is a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong. Wey Wen Lim is a graduate student in infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong.
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