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Preventive approaches to containing COVID-19 more effective than reactive methods

Lessons learned from previous pandemics should have been implemented at the onset of the virus' spread, report says.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Which is more important in the initial phase of a pandemic: taking precautionary actions or responding to its severity? That is the question that researchers from the Singapore University of Technology and Design set out to address in an article published in BioEssays.

The authors explored and reported on the various strategies undertaken by the United States, the European group of nations (comprising nations in the European Union, the Schengen area and the United Kingdom), the People's Republic of China, Japan and South Korea. 


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By looking at how the number of new cases changed with the adoption or relaxing of strategies, the data collated suggests that three strategies should have been considered for implementation during the COVID-19 pandemic: controlled movement by implementing some form of coordinated social distancing, stay-at-home orders or extreme lockdown; early and sustained implementation of containment through internal and external border controls; and efficient and early testing to identify symptomatic and asymptomatic transmitters.

These are not new strategies, but were learned from previous pandemics. However, at a time when these strategies should have been implemented in some form as a precaution to contain COVID-19 in the early days, many countries chose to wait.

The article explained how a collective strategy is needed, not just country-wide, but globally. If the effort to contain COVID-19 is not implemented in unison, a community that opens up out of phase with others might see new infections. 

The researchers observed that incoherent strategy allows waves in each territory into superposition to form a sustained wave for the virus to ride on as it hops from territory to territory, country to country and continent to continent. 

In particular, because these known strategies were not adopted early with sustained implementation, the report said, the U.S. continues to account for a fifth of the world's total COVID-19 cases and is facing the start of a third wave. Another example cited was the post-summer resurgence of COVID-19 cases in Europe, at a time when measures were significantly relaxed.

In the initial response to the growing number of cases, governments across the spectrum of affected countries have adopted different strategies in implementing control measures, in a hope to reduce the number of new cases. Despite not having any precedence on the nature of this coronavirus, many of the strategies to tackle infectious diseases like COVID-19 were previously known. The precautions that many governments could have taken were not implemented as a precautionary preparation, but as a reaction after COVID-19 became widespread.

The successes and failures of coronavirus management have set a precedent for how countries should approach future outbreaks – as a precaution, not a reaction.


The numbers of COVID-19 cases continue to bring grim news, especially in the U.S., which struggled early in the pandemic to secure testing capacity and necessary personal protective equipment for frontline healthcare workers.

As of Tuesday morning. The Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracker showed more than 8.7 million confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S., with the death toll climbing to over 226,000. Both lead the world. Second on the list is India (7,946,429 cases, 119,502 deaths), while Brazil comes in third (5,409,854 cases, 157,397 deaths).

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