The countries with the best coronavirus success stories and how they did it

It’s not just tiny secluded nations that have managed to escape huge death tolls and widespread outbreaks of coronavirus.

There are countries that have used quick, clever strategies to beat the virus and have been able to go back to living relatively normal lives.

Yahoo News Australia explores the countries which have been most successful in tackling COVID-19.

Taiwan triumphs over coronavirus risk

Taiwan was considered one of the most at-risk countries of a big COVID-19 outbreak outside of mainland China, because of its proximity and transport links to the mainland.

But, after suffering badly from the SARS outbreak in 2003, it had learnt its lesson, and has had a speedy and organised response to coronavirus.

With a population of about 24 million – the same as Australia – it had recorded just 400 cases by the end of March, compared to Australia’s 5000 active cases at the time.

A Metro staff in Taiwan wearing a protective mask and gloves cleans and disinfects a tram as a measure against coronavirus.
A staff member cleans a train in Taiwan as part of their measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Source: Getty Images

The coronavirus measures they took

124 ways to block the spread were introduced

In January, when many countries weren’t taking action at all, President Tsai Ing-wen put 124 measures in to place to stop the spread.

These included banning travel from many parts of China, stopping cruise ships docking at ports, strict punishments for anyone not adhering to home quarantine rules who had been in at-risk areas, ramping up the production of face masks, and punishments for people who spread misinformation about the virus.

They also held daily medical briefings very early on, so people knew what was happening.

Re-testing people

People who had previously been diagnosed with unexplained pneumonia were retested.

The results

Taiwan has had just 443 cases and seven deaths to date.

After initially banning the export of face masks so they had enough for their citizens, Taiwan is now donating 10 million masks to the US, Italy and Spain.

They are also sharing how they used technology to help other countries track and trace.

New Zealand acts quickly to control coronavirus

In mid-March things weren’t looking great for New Zealand. They had only banned travel from China in early February and their trajectory was rising fast.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern then took action swiftly, resulting in one of the best outcomes in the world.

Pictured is New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. She took swift action during the coronavirus pandemic to protect her country.
Jacinda Ardern took swift action to protect her country from the coronavirus pandemic. Source: Mark Mitchell - Pool/Getty Images

The measures they took against coronavirus

Mandatory quarantine for all visitors was introduced on March 15, which at the time, was one of the strictest policies in the world.

Countrywide level-four lockdown started very early on.

On March 25, when the country had just over 100 cases, Ardern shut everything down.

"We must fight by going hard and going early,” she said. “We currently have 102 cases, but so did Italy once."

She implemented the closure of nearly everything in the country. Schools and offices were shut, people could only socialise within their households, using vehicles was restricted, and the only shops allowed to open were grocery stores, pharmacies and petrol stations.

This was enforced for seven weeks.

The results

The country has had just 1154 confirmed cases and 22 deaths. As of June 4, it had just one case, out of a population of nearly five million people.

They might lift all restrictions, apart from border controls, as early as June 8.

“We will be one of the first countries in the world to return to this level of normality so quickly,” Ms Ardern said.

“Our strategy of go hard, go early has paid off.”

South Korea’s tough coronavirus fight

By the end of February, South Korea’s COVID infection rate was higher than any other country apart from China.

Countries were banning travel from Korea, cases were doubling every day, and the country was running out of face masks.

The measures they took against coronavirus

Track and trace was employed very early on, after the government realised many of the cases were coming from one woman who had attended a local church.

The government ordered the church to hand over its membership list, and tracked down the thousands of worshippers who had been there.

All were ordered to self-isolate and thousands of other people in the town were tested for the virus.

Everyone with severe cases went to hospital, while milder cases were sent to isolation units.

Photo shows workers in PPE spraying disinfectant in Seoul's Itaewon area to protect against the coronavirus.
Workers wearing protective suits and masks spray disinfectant in the Itaewon area of Seoul, South Korea. Source: Seong Joon Cho/Bloomberg

The Ministry of Health used mobile phone surveillance and personal interviews to track down any contacts of these people, and ordered them all to self-isolate as well. Within a month the virus was contained.

Testing was done early on and widely. By March, South Korea had tested 145,000 people, which is more than the US, UK, France and Italy combined.

They’d set up 600 testing centres across the country, including drive-throughs so people didn’t have to leave their cars.

Red Cross workers prepare emergency relief kits packed with instant foods and masks for delivery to impoverished people at a facility of the Korean National Red Cross in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, June 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
South Korea's quick and widespread adoption of wearing masks is believed to have helped them in their coronavirus battle. Source: AAP

The results

In February, South Korea and the US had recorded the same number of coronavirus deaths.

Today, South Korea’s death rate is 273 and the US’s is 109,000. Citizens appeared to be pleased with the results. President Moon Jae-in was re-elected with a huge majority.

Finland takes different path to neighbour on coronavirus

As neighbouring Sweden decided to try the controversial herd immunity method, Finland chose to implement an early lockdown, and also take advantage of its prime minister’s understanding of communicating with the younger generations.

People sitting on a terrace outside enjoy drinks in Helsinki, Finland on June 1, 2020, after months of lockdown measures.
People flocked to cars and restaurants after more than two months of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic. Source: Alessandro Rampazzo/AFP via Getty Images

The measures they used to fight coronavirus

Social media helped get the word out about social distancing and respecting lockdown. Prime Minister Sanna Marin is the world’s youngest head of state and understood that not everyone listens to government messages – but they do listen to influencers.

The Finnish government started to edit their messages into social-media friendly formats and then sent it to 1500 well-known influencers, who distributed it amongst their platforms however they chose.

The results were so good, the Finnish government has now defined social media as a critical operator – the only country in the world to do so.

People chat and drink outside a bar in Stockholm, Sweden. Source: AP
Neighbouring Sweden took a different coronavirus approach, relying on herd immunity and keeping most businesses open. Source: AP

Random anti-body testing was rolled out earlier than most countries in Europe, with letters posted to randomly chosen people of all ages, in all areas, to be tested for coronavirus anti-bodies.

Early lockdown was enforced on March 28 before the country had recorded any deaths. Gatherings of more than two people were banned, people were prevented from travelling to and from the capital region, and schools and offices closed.

Finland have since eased restrictions very gradually, with schools one of the last things to start functioning normally again.

The results

Finland has recorded just 6911 cases and 320 deaths – and 90 per cent of those people who died had at least one chronic disease, research shows. Sweden has recorded 10 times the number of deaths as Finland.

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