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HSE Experts Analyze the Lifting of Quarantine Restrictions in 30 Countries

HSE Experts Analyze the Lifting of Quarantine Restrictions in 30 Countries

© HSE University

In a recent report, HSE experts evaluated the world’s 14 countries hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic based on data (including the number of recorded deaths) from May 1, 2020 or later. The report also examined 16 other countries whose experience was considered significant. While refraining from making generalizations, experts nonetheless noted that leaders in Europe and the United States have generally not responded to the situation as effectively as their Asian counterparts. Africa, meanwhile, follows its own course, while the situation in Brazil is worse.

A team of experts from HSE University led by Andrey Zhulin, HSE Vice Rector and Director of the Institute for Public Administration and Governance, presented the report, ‘Back to the Races or a False Start? Lifting Coronavirus Quarantine Restrictions in the Spring of 2020 (An Analysis of 30 Countries)’, at the XXI April International Academic Conference on Economic and Social Development.

The report was made in cooperation with Intexpertise, a Russian economic research centre that specializes in assessing foreign economic risks. This collaboration made it possible to put together a group of full-time HSE researchers and create a wide network of experts and specialists from many other Russian and foreign research centres and industries in a short time.

The report comes at a particularly pivotal time in Russia, when, after a short period of economic and social restrictions, officials are determining how to ease lockdown rules and deciding what course the country should take.

In total, the team analyzed the pandemic responses of 30 countries, which collectively account for 83% of the 3.7 million recorded COVID-19 cases worldwide and 93% of recorded deaths (totaling 258,000 as of May 6). The most reliable data, in the unanimous opinion of the team, is that of recorded deaths, since a country’s number of recorded infections is determined by the scale of that country’s testing and can hardly be considered reliable. As of May 6, 2020, the most deaths have been recorded in the United States.

  • Number of deaths from COVID-19:

    USA — 72 271

    United Kingdom — 29 427

    Italy — 29 315

    Spain — 25 613

    France — 25 531

These five countries account for 71% of all coronavirus-related deaths worldwide. The report examines the course of the outbreak in these and other countries, as well as in countries that did not impose strict quarantines, such as Sweden and Belarus.

Each of the 30 country profiles in the report provides a brief summary of the course of the outbreak, statistics, and a brief overview of the measures taken in that country.

In addition, researchers examined the principles, approaches, reasoning, and decision-making processes behind the lifting of restrictions. They looked at what centres and expert groups were formed, what statistical indicators were considered, what data were analyzed, what technological solutions to control the population and the spread of the virus were used, what factors gave rise to disagreements, who the country provided aid to, who the country requested aid from, and, finally, what explained the need for and procedure for lifting restrictive measures.

© iStock

‘We examined the role of expert communities, institutes, and universities. In different countries, the leading role in consolidating expertise at the national level is played by medical centres, universities, technological centres, consulting companies, interdisciplinary project teams, and administrative structures,’ the report authors noted.

For each country, the factors determining the decision to lift restrictions can be divided into three groups: 1) economic; 2) socio-political (the population is tired of quarantine; the continuation of quarantine measures has been met with protests); and 3) medical (such as the extent to which the healthcare system is overloaded or the rate of infection). ‘We examined the ratio of these factors, which varied from country to country depending on the circumstances,’ the researchers write.

In many countries, decisions were made amid discussions that were not always constructive, taking into account short-term party and factional interests and being conducted under pressure from opposition groups and the media. Contradictions between government branches, industry lobbies, trade unions and, of course, contradictory relations between regional and central authorities all played an important role in decision-making. State systems varied in their flexibility and ability to adapt and respond to the extraordinary crisis situation.

Changes in the dynamics between federal and regional structures in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak was a particularly interesting point of comparison. For example, in China, federal power was strengthened, whereas in Brazil, it was the states who took on more authority in responding to the crisis. Meanwhile, there are almost no examples of an increase in interstate structural cooperation.

Streets of Oslo during the quarantine
© iStock

Systems of citizen control and surveillance were implemented in different ways and to different degrees. China and South Korea introduced de facto tracking systems immediately and without public discussion. Many European countries have relied on citizen awareness. For example, Norwegians have demonstrated a strong willingness for cooperation: on the first day of access to the country’s contact tracking mobile application, 730,000 Norwegians voluntarily downloaded it and installed it.

The coronavirus crisis has revealed the strengths, weaknesses, as well as simply the features of government and public institutions around the world. The pandemic has functioned as a spotlight which has allowed experts to analyze and compare different countries in their responses to it. ‘The preliminary result is quite predictable — leaders in Europe and the United States have generally not responded to the situation as effectively as their Asian counterparts. Africa, meanwhile, remains on its own course, while the situation in Brazil is worse.’

At the same time, the HSE experts deliberately refrained from making generalizations in their report. ‘There are hypotheses, work is underway to verify them, and the results will be presented. Now we consider it of paramount importance to bring to our colleagues and a wide circle of experts the information we have collected and verified so that they can use it in their work,’ they emphasize.

Recovering from the coronavirus pandemic will be a complex process that must grapple with a large number of factors, the experts say. ‘It is already clear that some institutions, enterprises, industries and even entire countries will not only recover as a result of this process, but will also strengthen their influence. Many countries are already, as they lift restrictions, trying to identify and support areas of future growth, and not just rebuild the most affected sectors of the economy.’

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