Governance, technology and citizen behavior in pandemic: Lessons from COVID-19 in East Asia

While countries have different governance mechanism, it was found that a few governance decisions in respective countries made a difference, along with strong community solidarity and community behavior. Extensive use of emerging technologies is made along with medical/health care treatment to make the response more effective and reduce the risk of the spread of the disease. Although the pandemic was a global one, its responses were local, depending on the local governance, socio-economic and cultural context.

1. Introduction

It is now widely acknowledged that the Corona virus (COVID-19, as formally known) was first reported in Wuhan, China in December 2019, and was recognized by Chinese authorities as a new virus in January 2020. WHO (World Health Organization) declared this as a PHEIC (Public Health Emergency of International Concern) in the end of January 2020. After the initial delay in the source point (Wuhan), Chinese authorities took utmost efforts to control the spread of the disease, however, it has already started impacting other parts of China as well as other countries during mid to end of January. A term “infodemic” has been used by the WHO Director General at the initial stage of the spread of the disease (during mid-January 2020: [1] in Lancet), which seems to be still valid while writing the paper in the end of March 2020. WHO colleagues have warned the tsunami of information, especially with social media, which many times call for panic situation. We have observed this in several countries, as well as fake news spreading through social media. On 11th of March 2020, WHO has declared this as a global pandemic, and as of 23rd of March 2020, the virus has affected 172 out of 195 countries.

While the statistics of infected people, casualties changing rapidly overtime, it is very difficult to put a number. As of 29th of March, there are more than 30,000 death reported, while more than 23,000 people are in critical conditions globally. More than 650,000 people are affected. Although it is early to make any comment on the nature of its spread, a few characteristics can define this new virus as follow:

- High rate of spread: Within three months the virus has spread globally and is considered as a global pandemic. The rate of its spread is high, which happened due to higher mobility of people in a globally interconnected world. It can be said that people to people transmission rate of very high.
- Aged and low immune people more vulnerable: Data shows that the aged population [2] and people with low immunity (with diabetes or other chronic disease) are more vulnerable to this virus.
- Differential recovery rate: While the global average of recovery rate is relatively low (like 28 to 30%), different countries have differential recovery rate. While China, Korea, Japan has relatively high recovery rate, Europe, Iran, USA showed relatively lower recovery rate. Of course, this is constantly changing, and hopefully gets better soon.

Over last few weeks, there are several words which got significant attention like: “community spreading”, “social distancing (physical distancing)”, “self-isolation”, “14 days quarantine”, “lockdown,” “break the chain” etc. All these are used for one purpose, which is to stop spreading the virus. Although there are reported use of medicines from different countries (without proper confirmation); there is no confirmed medicines used to cure this virus, or no vaccine available for COVID-19 as of March 23, 2020. Thus, the only way to stop the spread is to isolate us from social gathering or masses, and isolate confirmed people for quarantine. This process needs a combination of strong governance, use of existing and next technologies in innovative ways, and strong community participation and solidarity. Anderson et al. [3] made interesting analysis on how the country-based mitigation measures influence the course of epidemic (while they wrote the paper, the COVID-19 status was not a pandemic).

While acknowledging that governance, citizen participation/awareness, penetration of technology varies from country to country, this paper makes a modest effort to analyze the experiences of China, Japan and Korea as East Asian cluster. Time series analysis of the key governance decision is made and its correlation with the spread of the virus within these three countries are observed. A few common lessons are drawn, which have larger implications to the society in this critical phase of COVID-19 global pandemic.

Read the full paper at Elsevier Science Direct