Why Asian Countries Have Succeeded in Flattening the Curve

On March 25, Hong Kong closed its borders to non-residents to fend off a second wave of Covid-19 cases imported by foreign visitors. The territory has managed to contain the spread of the virus since its first case of coronavirus .

On March 27, Prime Minister Boris Johnson tested positive for Covid-19 and started self-isolating, telling the Brits to “stay home, protect the NHS [National Health Services] and save lives,” in a video he posted from his Twitter account.

In France, President Emmanuel Macron was still going to the theater a week before declaring the situation a national health emergency. The government also insisted the first round of the nationwide municipal elections take place, despite Macron having given a televised speech four days prior, saying that the country was facing “its worse health crisis in over a hundred years.”

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio went to the gym on March 16, after New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo recommended everyone stay home. One of de Blasio’s spokespeople said that “the mayor wanted to visit a place that keeps him grounded one last time,” according to Business Insider. On March 23, de Blasio demanded hundreds of ventilators and hundreds of thousands of masks on CNN, saying that New York City would otherwise run out of supplies within a week. He even asked individual citizens to send ventilators to the city, if they happened to have one.

Several states in the U.S. have ordered a lockdown, like New York City, or a stay at home order, like California. Most schools are now closed. In Europe, all countries but, Sweden and Germany have implemented nationwide lockdowns, even though some are looser than others. India, South Africa, Jordan, Kuwait and Argentina have as well.

In France, anyone who wants to go out has to have an ID and a “self-authorization,” a paper stating the reason for being outside. Valid reasons are grocery shopping, going to the pharmacy, getting medical care, or daily physical exercise. Without a valid document, fines go up to 135 euros ($149) from 35 euros two weeks ago, and can be increased upon repetitive infringements. On the first full day of the lockdown, the police delivered 4,000 fines across France, according to France 24.

Most countries are setting the penalty higher, hoping this will persuade residents to stay home.

In Spain, people risk fines between 100 and 600,000 euros depending on “the severity of the infringement,” and jail time, too.

On March 25, Italy issued stricter legislation, and people testing positive for Covid-19 caught outside of their homes can face five years in prison. Fines can go up to 3,000 euros. During the first nine days of the lockdown, 40,000 fines were issued to people venturing outside without a valid reason.

At the local level, mayors have been tackling the issue in their own way: by yelling at those still outside to go home. In a video that went viral, Antonio Tutolo, the mayor of Lucera, Italy, declared “These [redacted] hairdressers who go from home to home to fix women’s hair, what the [redacted] are they for? What is the damn point? But do you understand that coffins are closed? Who will see all these beautiful hairstyles in the coffins?”

Sutan, the Burgundy School of Business professor, said that she believes the respect — or not — of quarantine and national lockdown orders lies in people’s relationship to authority. In China, amid an authoritarian regime, people had little choice but to comply with the massive lockdown measures imposed on regions like Hubei, where residents even have their temperature taken upon entering buildings or restaurants. Police wear smart helmets that are able to detect someone’s temperature from afar, and drones are used to make sure people stayed home.  

The question remains, of course, whether countries that have been using an arsenal of technologies to make people comply during the pandemic will stop using them once the situation stabilizes. In an article published in the Hong Kong Free Press on March 24, Shui-yin Sharon Yam, assistant professor of writing, rhetoric, and digital studies at the University of Kentucky, wrote that “safeguarding public health has historically been used as a justification for mainstream institutions and government authorities to stigmatize, monitor, and regulate the lives of marginalized people – such as immigrants, racial minorities, LGBTQ+ people, and people living in poverty.”

In the meantime, technology and testing are proving useful in containing the outbreak. Flores, the French photographer living in Hong Kong, traveled to South Korea via London on assignment and tested positive for Covid-19. She’s asymptomatic but will spend 14 days isolated in a Seoul clinic.

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