Any attempt to address the complexity of the global Covid-19 pandemic in a few hundred words will inevitably suffer from oversimplification and rapidly outdated information, and this article shall be no exception. However, as we pass 25 million cases worldwide and edge ever closer to the chilling “1 million deaths” milestone, it is important to remain aware of how the pandemic has progressed around the world, and of the policy decisions that shaped it.
First, let us consider the countries suffering from their first Covid-19 incidents, where cases per day continue to rise. Argentina, Iraq, Indonesia, and India all fall into this category but for markedly different reasons. The Indonesian government has been widely criticised for its lacklustre response to the pandemic and there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that the situation is more dire than state data suggests. In comparison, India, and Iraq both won praise for swiftly imposing national lockdowns, but then suffered when the lockdowns were relaxed, thus delaying rather than averting their first wave. The trend seen in Argentina is perhaps harder to explain with an exponential rise in cases despite a March-imposed lockdown being repeatedly extended and only cautiously eased. It is possible that in this case an already struggling economy is exacerbating the effects of the pandemic, with some people forced by financial necessity to continue working, thus undermining lockdown efforts.
It is worth noting that in each of these examples, the second wave was more destructive than the first.
Next, we should take a look at the nations that have passed the peak of the first wave of infections but are still seeing a substantial daily increase in cases and deaths. Brazil and the US are the most obvious members of this category, but there are other examples including Mexico and South Africa. The US and Brazilian responses have been widely publicised and criticised, so I will instead focus on the other two. In Mexico, President Obrador has been gradually lifting lockdown measures to protect the economy, and in South Africa, one of the strictest lockdowns has been substantially scaled back over the last few weeks. There are fears that both nations will now suffer a second wave but, as of yet, these fears have fortunately not manifested into reality.
Now, let us consider the group we find ourselves in – those nations experiencing a second increase in cases after a containment of the first wave. This trend appears common across Western Europe, with Italy, Germany, France, and Spain all in a similar position. It remains to be seen how severe any second wave might be, and this will of course depend upon the steps each of these countries take. But we can perhaps gain a glimpse of the future by looking to those nations that have already suffered a second wave such as Peru, Australia, and Israel, where initially successful lockdown measures were eased, prompting a resurgence in cases. It is worth noting that in each of these examples, the second wave was more destructive than the first.
The pandemic is complicated and the impact of the underlying context beneath every nation’s Covid response is impossible to address in a short article. It is also easy, with the benefit of hindsight, to criticise decisions that governments had to make based on incomplete information. But what is undoubtedly true across every democratic nation at least, is that the pandemic was most easily controlled when governments swiftly followed scientific advice, were transparent in their decision-making, and consistent in the advice they gave. This is what we must demand from our government as we seek to avoid, or at least mitigate, the second deadly wave.