We’ve been following COVID-19 around the globe since January when it became clear that the outbreak in Wuhan, China was having broader employment and business implications. Under the general pattern, countries with a few confirmed cases act to contain the spread of the virus through a combination of inbound travel barriers, mandatory isolation/quarantines and aggressive testing and follow up of suspected contacts of the confirmed cases. If the number of new cases become too numerous to source (i.e., people are getting infected in the community), the focus shifts from containment to damage control in a predictable way. Lockdowns are part of that equation – often beginning with school closures, the ban of large gatherings and the cancelation of events, progressing to the closure of an increasing list of “non-essential businesses” and culminating in mandatory stay at home orders.
In the past few weeks, we have seen an unprecedented number of countries progress through increasingly stricter lockdown measures.
Perhaps the largest lockdown in terms of population is now taking place in India, where a 21-day nationwide “stay at home” lockdown went into effect on 24 March 2020. It is estimated that ~1.3 billion people are impacted. The measure follows lockdowns and other restrictions that had been imposed by Indian states and localities. Elsewhere in the region, Iraq is on a one-week lockdown. Iran, which still has a high infection and mortality rate, has just begun to impose some measures now that the Persian New Year, a traditional travel holiday, is over. Lebanon and Jordan are on stay-at-home lockdowns and Israel, which has lockdown measures in place, is preparing to move to a complete stay-at-home lockdown this week.
In Africa, countries are starting to take measures against the spread of COVID-19 as the number of confirmed cases on the continent surpasses 2,000. Notably, South Africa, the African nation with the most confirmed cases, announced a 21-day lockdown. Rwanda, Libya, South Sudan, and Tunisia are also on stay-at-home lockdowns. Travel restrictions, curfews and other measures are being imposed by other African nations.
On 10 March 2020, Italy was the first European country to impose a nationwide stay–at-home lock down. As of today (25 March), nearly every European country has COVID-19 restrictions in place (Russia, with the exception of Moscow, remains a notable outlier, followed by Sweden, which has limited restrictions (e.g., a ban on large gatherings). Many European countries have progressed to stay-at-home lockdown status, including Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Ireland, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Norway, Poland (which notably launched a Minecraft gaming server to keep its children engaged and indoors), Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom.
In the United States, many schools are closed with lockdown measures at varying levels imposed by states and localities. In Canada, schools remain open, but provinces are beginning to act to enforce stricter measures (like banning large gatherings and closing businesses where people gather).
In Latin America, some countries have taken aggressive action, seemingly as a containment strategy. Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, El Salvador, Peru and Venezuela, have implemented stay-at-home lockdowns. Costa Rica has closed bars, casinos, and nightclubs. Uruguay has closed schools and large commercial gathering spaces (e.g., shopping malls). Chile has banned large public events and imposed a curfew. However, the countries with the largest number of effective cases have been more measured in their approach. Brazil, with the most cases in the region, has no nationwide lockdown but the city of Sao Paolo is locked down and other Brazilian cities have canceled schools and large-scale events. Ecuador, which saw its Health and Labor Ministers resign after 400 COVID-19 cases were confirmed in a single week, has limited measures in place. Mexico, which has about the same number of confirmed cases as Argentina, has closed schools but taken few other measures. However, some Mexican cities have adopted measures, including Mexico City, which has closed theaters, cinemas, gyms, bars, and other spaces where groups larger than 50 people tend to convene.
New Zealand has just begun its stay at home lockdown. Australia has shut down pubs, clubs, gyms and houses of worship on Monday but schools remain open, though some Australian states have started to take stricter measures.
In Malaysia, there are presently more than 1,400 active COVID-19 cases and its main island is in the midst of a month-long partial lockdown under which residents may only leave their homes to buy groceries, for emergencies or to access health care. Malaysia is a cautionary tale. Having successfully contained early exposure to COVID-19 to ~20+ cases, Malaysia hosted a four-day international religious festival in Kuala Lumpur attended by ~10,000 people. The Kuala Lumpur event is known to be the source of hundreds of new cases across Southeast Asia.
On 13 March, the Philippines announced a month-long lockdown of the Manila metropolitan area which was extended a few days later to the entire island of Luzon. On 22 March, Thailand announced the closure of dine-in restaurants, shopping malls and amusement parks, following a single day jump of 188 new cases (they still have less than 600 positive cases). On 24 March, Indonesia reported 100 new confirmed COVID-19 cases in a single day, though, to date, Indonesia has continued to rule out imposing any lockdown measures.
In Japan, which at the request of Prime Minister Abe had closed schools and restricted large-scale gatherings, the number of COVID-19 cases continues to increase even as restrictions are beginning to lapse. This has caused Tokyo’s governor to suggest that he might impose a lockdown in the future if necessary. Regardless, the Summer Olympics scheduled to take place in Japan has been postponed until next year.
As we look to what the end of the lockdown will look like we look to some of the countries impacted first. Yesterday, China announced that travel restrictions in Wuhan will soon lift because there save for one new case reported on Tuesday, there had been no new reported COVID-19 cases in a week. Schools in China are starting to reopen. In Taiwan and Singapore and some places in Vietnam, children have already been back to school. Hong Kong and Macau are anticipating reopening their schools next month. As lockdowns and quarantines continue to be experienced around the globe, it helps to know that it is possible to emerge on the other side and get ready to start assessing the steps that will need to be taken by businesses to open up again.