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As the world continues to struggle with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a small number of countries have emerged as pioneers in epidemic response and virus containment efforts, according to a recent assessment of government responses to the pandemic.

The Foreign Policy’s COVID-19 Global Response Index recently released a list that outlines national leaders’ responses in critical policy and financial areas, as well as public health directives, while also outlining the number of cases and deaths in each country. Some of the tactics these global leaders and governments used can serve as important lessons in disease management and prevention for other countries still dealing with the coronavirus and to help address future outbreaks.

Here is a list of five countries that had some of the best responses to tackling COVID-19.

1. New Zealand 

COVID-19-New-Zealand-Response-Medical-Worker.jpgMedical staff talks to a shopper in her car who volunteered at a pop-up community COVID-19 testing station at a supermarket carpark in Christchurch, New Zealand, April 17, 2020.
Image: Mark Baker/AP

New Zealand ranks first place when it comes to its COVID-19 response, according to the Global Response Index. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus singled out the country for its management of the effects of the virus. As of Sept. 10, the country had reported just 1,401 cases and 22 deaths

The country started implementing preventive measures just three days after the WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency on Jan. 30.

In the weeks that followed, New Zealand's approach was guided by public health advice and evolving evidence. On March 26, the government declared an alert level four lockdown, and the entire country, aside from some essential workers, were required to self-quarantine at home. After five weeks, the lockdown was lifted from level four to three. 

On June 8, 103 days after the first COVID-19 case, New Zealand lifted restrictions to an alert level one and declared that the country was free of the virus.

2. Senegal

COVID-19-Senegal-Red-Cross-Response.jpgIn this photo taken Saturday, April 18, 2020, Senegalese Red Cross volunteers talk to people during an awareness campaign to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, in Dakar, Senegal.
Image: Sylvain Cherkaoui/AP

Despite its fragile health care system, Senegal sits in second place for their pandemic response and has had less than 14,000 cases and only 284 deaths.

Director of Senegal’s Health Emergency Operation Center Dr. Abdoulaye Bousso said that the government began developing contingency plans right when the WHO declared the coronavirus an international public health emergency at the end of January.

Senegal was the fourth African country to confirm a positive COVID-19 case on March 2. The country quickly imposed a curfew and restricted all domestic travel between the country’s 14 regions to delay any internal spread.

By using mobile labs, the country was able to increase testing capacity, and many of the COVID-19 tests provided results within 24 hours, USA Today reported. Hotels were also transformed into quarantine units.

Senegal was faced with the Ebola outbreak in 2014 and Judd Devermont, director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that provided the country with a "blueprint" on how to approach the coronavirus. Senegal's approach made it one of the least affected countries on the continent.

3. Iceland

Iceland was able to tackle COVID-19 without having to implement the type of lockdowns that many European countries had to put in place. The country has reported 2,107 cases and 10 deaths

The country confirmed its first COVID-19 case on Feb. 28 after an Icelandic man returned from Italy. However, a month before the first case, Icelandic hospitals were already testing people arriving from abroad and quarantining anyone who had traveled from a virus hotspot.

Over the course of six weeks, Iceland tested almost 50,000 people, which translates to more than 13% of the population. Thanks to the help of Icelandic genetics and pharmaceutical company deCODE, Iceland has more testing capabilities than any other country in the world.

"Preparation is hugely important. It seems to me that in many countries where the response hasn’t gone well, there was maybe not a lot of preparation," Iceland’s Chief Epidemogologist Þórólfur Guðnason told the Iceland Review.

4. Denmark

On March 12, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen notified the country of a lockdown, making it one of the first European countries to shut down.

This early action meant that Denmark was also the first to reopen, on April 17. After only a month of lockdown, the country opened primary schools, and restaurants, shops, and salons quickly followed. 

The lockdown was part of Denmark’s suppression strategy, which aimed to curb the virus’ spread. When the lockdown lifted, the Ministry of Health began widespread testing initiatives on April 20. In less than a week, the country had five testing tents set up and 11 more in development.

The Danish state offers universal access to health care and the country funds 85% of costs, which means that the hospital infrastructure is highly centralized. This allowed for quick and organized responses at large hospitals that already had state-of-the-art resources. Medical students and retired doctors were also called in to help in COVID-19 treatment units. 

Despite its rapid response, the virus made a comeback in August. Still, the country has only reported 16,985 cases and 624 deaths.

5. Saudi Arabia

COVID-19-Saudi-Arabia-Hajj-Restrictions.jpgHundreds of Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque, as they observe social distancing to protect themselves against the coronavirus, in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, July 29, 2020.
Image: AP Photo

Saudi Arabia also took early measures to prevent the spread of the virus. Despite the country’s limited testing capabilities, Saudi Arabia’s approach to disease management has kept the number of confirmed cases low. The country has reported 315,722 cases and 3,897 deaths.

Saudi Arabia is home to Mecca, a holy site in Islam that millions of people around the world travel to for pilgrimage. On Feb. 28, the government banned all travelers from COVID-19 hotspots, regardless if they were traveling for religious purposes. 

On March 4, the two mosques on the site were closed and pilgrimages were suspended. Shortly after, mosques throughout the country closed and people were asked to perform daily prayers at home.

Saudi Arabia is also home to the largest social media user population in the world, according to Global Media Insight. The government took advantage of this as a tool. Online campaigns about wearing masks, staying at home, and flattening the curve flooded platforms like Twitter.


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