Lessons learnt: Effective practices to manage the COVID-19 pandemic
Various interventions have been introduced by governments around the world to contain the spread of COVID-19, from mass testing and the imposition of restricted movement orders to the deployment of technology-driven track and trace initiatives. Each intervention has advantages and disadvantages, and each is applied and governed differently in different countries. In the countries which have been most effective in managing the spread of the virus so far, the application of a range of complementary strategies has been a common factor. Several common effective practices have been identified.
This first version of the GPF report focuses on interventions and practices designed to improve the health recovery of countries; it does not focus on understanding the impact of economic stimulus or on policies on economic recovery, which will take longer to become apparent. The next phase of research will focus on the economic impact of interventions.
The analysis of effective practices in successful countries reveals the impact of interventions in the areas of testing, contact tracing, movement restriction, easing of restrictions and public engagement. It identifies common successful practices. Countries that have excelled in COVID-19 health recovery have deployed all five health recovery-related interventions at a rapid pace.
Not all countries ranked in the top 20 applied equal weight to each of the five intervention categories. However, all countries prioritised them and managed to deploy sufficient resources to ensure all five were addressed purposefully. At the time of writing, the top 20 countries (identified as of 17 May 2020 from the GCI) continue to record improvements in recovery with little indication of suffering from a second wave of infections. Although there were instances of countries and regions (such as South Korea) dealing with a spike of new infections as a result of easing restrictions, they were addressed rapidly with appropriate stringent measures and, to date, South Korea has managed to contain the spread of COVID-19 successfully.
The five intervention categories are not presented in priority order and are viewed as having equal importance in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Through strategic and coordinated delivery across the five intervention categories, other countries can aspire to levels of effectiveness similar to these countries.
The importance of these interventions is summarised below.
1. Testing Approach
- A successful testing approach leads to rapid identification of cases, quick treatment of patients and immediate isolation to prevent mass spreading and/or the formulation of clusters in different areas.
- In the broader context of public health, it enables healthcare investigators to understand the prevalence and contagiousness of the disease and develop purposeful mitigation strategies as a result.
2. Contact Tracing
- Contact tracing is critical in the beginning and throughout the recovery phase of the pandemic to ensure any outbreak is contained.
- Contact tracing contributes to countries’ efforts to ‘flatten the curve’ successfully by identifying and isolating infected individuals, and by reducing the risk of further transmissions from asymptomatic contacts.
- Contact tracing is the most effective measure to identify ‘patient 0’ in a new cluster, and makes it possible to anticipate and minimise the impact of further outbreaks.
3. Restricted Movement Order
- Restricted movement orders (‘lockdowns’) prevent local transmission through public and social gathering and restrict the spread of the disease.
- They slow down the spread of the pandemic and help reduce peak healthcare demand while simultaneously protecting those most at risk from infection.
- They are the easiest, fastest and most effective measure a government can put in place to ensure all citizens are safe from exposure.
4. Easing Restrictions
- After a period of lockdown, easing restrictions leads to responsible, controlled and gradual transition of individuals and businesses back into activity, without compromising safety.
- It prevents a second wave of infections through clear SOPs and regulations enforced by the government.
- It ensures citizens are protected from potential new infections on the basis of analysis of active cases, infection rates and other risks involved.
5. Risk Communication and Community Engagement
- The establishment of a single and trustworthy platform for government leadership to communicate its strategies and implementation plans is a vital component of any successful strategy to contain COVID-19.
- Consistent, regular, scheduled and transparent public communication enables the public to understand the severity of the existing situation and remain informed of measures being undertaken by the government to ensure cooperation and compliance.
- Effective communication and engagement minimises ambiguity, confusion and panic among citizens, which might otherwise lead to public unrest and non-compliance with critical advice.