For weeks, observers in the U.S. have been looking to the relative success stories of Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan for lessons on combating the spread of the coronavirus. Despite their proximity to the outbreak’s original epicenter in Wuhan, China, the three areas have managed to keep widespread transmission at bay and drawn praise for “quickly [putting] social distancing into practice” (Hong Kong), “detailed detective work” to track the sick (Singapore), and taking control of the production of medical equipment (Taiwan).
But now, as the number of cases begins to tick upward in those places and the Trump administration gestures toward loosening rules regarding social distancing, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan may have another lesson for the U.S. — don’t let up too soon.
All three have seen a spike in cases in recent days and responded with tightening rules on movement, especially for those who have recently traveled abroad.
In Hong Kong, many workers returned to their offices on March 2 after weeks under quarantine. They also resumed “having dinner together, going to the park, and attending weddings and other large social gatherings,” CNN reports. Two weeks later, the number of coronavirus cases spiked. The local government responded by cracking down on foreign arrivals and sending police out for spot checks on those who are supposed to be in quarantine.
On Monday, the city’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, announced a 14-day ban on nonresident visitors and asked bars to stop serving alcohol. The ban on visitors resulted Tuesday in a crush of arrivals, who will all be under 14-day quarantine orders.
The moves come as the number of cases in Hong Kong nears 400. Singapore, meanwhile, reported 54 new cases on Monday, its highest single-day total yet. The island, which did so well to stave off an early outbreak, has now seen 558 cases and its first two deaths, which were announced on Saturday. The government responded by instituting new travel restrictions and closing bars and theaters, along with barring gatherings of more than 10 people.
In Taiwan, where cases remained in the double digits until mid-March, 20 new cases were added to the tally Tuesday, bringing the total to 215.
The second wave of outbreaks is being blamed largely on people traveling from abroad. Taiwan says 158 of its 215 cases were imported, Hong Kong says most of its new cases are due to travelers, and of Singapore’s 558 cases, 326 are purportedly due to people coming from outside the country.
As Paul Anantharajah Tambyah, president of the Asia-Pacific Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infection, told The Wall Street Journal, this turn of events demonstrates the global nature of this problem. “We are not safe in any place until everyone all over the world is safe,” he said.
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