Leaders Who Acted Early Against the Virus and Saved Lives

In January the world watched as the coronavirus spread through Wuhan and China quarantined millions of people. After witnessing what happened in China, some leaders watched and waited. Others took early action against the virus. The World Health Organization didn’t characterize the virus as a global pandemic until March 11 when it had already spread to 114 countries and killed more than 4,000 people.

Long before the virus was officially characterized as a pandemic, some leaders around the world had already activated command centers, formulated policies, and coordinated communities. Many took action before there were any confirmed cases in their own communities. We know that the longer countries wait to control the spread of the virus, the more the number of cases increases, and the harder it becomes to control. Leaders who acted early were successful in containing the virus.

Dr. Jian Zhang is CEO of Chinese Hospital in San Francisco. The hospital is located in Chinatown which is the second most densely populated place in the United States after Manhattan. Over 35,000 people live in a 20 square block radius. On January 24, Dr. Zhang became aware of the virus from medical colleagues working in Wuhan. Since San Francisco has daily direct flights from Wuhan, she understood the potential risk to Chinatown. She immediately started working to mitigate risks to her community. She didn’t just focus on developing policies and procedures inside of her hospital. She and her team engaged the entire neighborhood. They contacted every business and organization in Chinatown including the Chinese language newspapers, radio stations, schools, community centers, and apartment buildings to coordinate efforts. Dr. Zhang, who has a PhD in Heathcare System Leadership and Nursing Practice, immediately required mandatory masking and temperature screening for anyone entering the hospital, isolation for anyone with symptoms, and frequent disinfecting. Landlords at apartment buildings throughout Chinatown installed hand sanitizers and encouraged everyone to practice social distancing. This all happened before there was a single confirmed case of coronavirus in the city of San Francisco. As a result of her efforts, Chinatown has the lowest number of COVID cases in San Francisco. This is a huge success story.

Silveria Jacobs is Prime Minister of Sint Maarten a country in the Caribbean with a population of 41,500. Tourism is the island’s main industry and every year 500,000 tourists visit. The country has the 14th largest GDP per capita in the world. On April 1st the country had 22 confirmed COVID cases and only two ICU beds. Prime Minister Jacobs issued a mandatory lockdown and set up an Outbreak Management Team at the island’s medical center. The island is still under lockdown. There have been just 77 COVID cases a 15 deaths in Sint Maarten. Prime Minister Jacobs is known for her strong speech on social distancing.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel responded quickly to the virus. She scaled up testing for both symptomatic and asymptomatic people and used aggressive contact tracing. She personally called on the German people to take care of everyone in society especially the vulnerable. Chancellor Merkel, who has a PhD in Quantum Chemistry, approached the virus in a rational way. She has excelled at communicating comprehensive and up-to-date information about the pandemic to the public. Germany has stood out for its ability to trace community transmission and methodically search for contagion chains. The German monitoring model is an example of how epidemiological chains of infection must be carefully tracked in order to be interrupted. Many initiatives have been launched in Germany to support scientific research aimed at preventing transmission and treating the infected. Germany, with a population of 83 million, has 8598 COVID deaths, one of the lowest rates in Europe.

On December 31, officials in Taiwan started boarding flights arriving from Wuhan and checking passengers for fever or pneumonia symptoms. In early January, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen introduced a list of 124 action items to protect public health. They were implemented within weeks. The government enacted strict border control for planes and ships, identified new cases using advanced technologies, quarantined suspicious cases, educated the public, and formulated policies for schools and businesses. In early January, Taiwan activated the Central Epidemic Command Center to coordinate government response. They relied on big data analytics and contact tracing. Taiwan implemented strict monitoring among passengers arriving from Wuhan. As a result of President Ing-wen’s efforts, there have only been only 7 COVID deaths in Taiwan, a country of 23 million people.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed was one of the first mayors in the US to take aggressive action against the virus. On February 25, she declared a state of emergency in San Francisco. She issued a local emergency order granting her wide powers to combat the virus before there was a single confirmed COVID case in the city. There were nearly 100 confirmed COVID cases in New York before Mayor de Blasio issued a similar order. Mayor Breed worked together with Governor Newsom to act early and confront the COVID threat. Mayor Breed’s efforts have been successful. There have been only 41 COVID fatalities in San Francisco, the second most densely populated city in the US

Dr. Jeong Eun-Kyeong, Director of Disease Control and Prevention led the public health efforts in South Korea. Dr. Jeong mobilized testing very early. Within one week of the first case, the government urged companies to immediately start developing COVID test kits for mass production and promised emergency approval. Within 2 weeks thousands of test kits were shipping daily. South Korea conducted over 300,000 tests early on which was far more than any other country at the time. This enabled them to isolate and treat many people soon after they became infected to minimize further spread. South Korea also scaled testing extremely well. Within weeks of the outbreak four Korean companies manufactured tests and developed a system that could assess 10,000 people a day using drive-through test stations. These measures enabled South Korea to flatten the curve without shutting down the economy. Dr. Jeong, who has a PhD Preventative Medicine, used smart and aggressive public health to combat the virus. As a result of these efforts, there have been only 269 COVID fatalities in South Korea, a country of 51 million peopl

KK Shailaja is the health minister of Kerala state in India which has a population of 35 million people. Minister Shailaja started organizing efforts against the virus on January 20 before there was a single confirmed case in Kerla. On January 24 she held the first meeting with the COVID rapid response team and organized medical officers across Kerala’s 14 districts. When the first COVID infected person arrived in Kerala on January 27 on a plane from Wuhan officials were ready. They had protocols in place to test, trace, isolate and treat the infected person. Minister Shailaja, who has degrees in both science and education, was successful at coordinating medical teams across the state and educating the public about preventative measures against the virus. Four months after their first case, Kerala, a state with 35 million people, has had only 524 cases and 4 deaths.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is known worldwide for her leadership during the virus. Early on she became personally involved in explaining the virus to the public. She engaged with them and inspired trust and confidence. On February 3 New Zealand denied entry to anyone who had traveled to China for 14-days prior to arriving in New Zealand. In early March she issued countrywide stay-at-home orders. By mid March very strict border controls were enforced, allowing entry only to citizens and they were quarantined in hotels for two weeks. Three days later, she addressed the country and announced a strict countrywide lockdown. She called on citizens to come together and protect each other. New Zealand, with a population of 5 million people, has had a total of 1,504 COVID cases and 22 COVID deaths. Today there’s just one person in all of New Zealand infected with the virus.

This article was written by Margaretta Colangelo. Margaretta is Co-founder and CEO of Jthereum, an enterprise Blockchain technology company, and President of U1Technologies and enterprise software company. Margaretta serves on the Advisory Boards of the AI Precision Health Institute at the University of Hawai’i Cancer Center and Ageing Research AI at King’s College London. Margaretta is based in San Francisco.

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.