At the beginning of the year, parts of East Asia were a somewhat scary place to be as the coronavirus rapidly spread across mainland China and its neighbors.
But now East Asian governments have reported a steady drop in new cases and are gradually beginning to relax lockdown measures. As the situation has grown increasingly dire in the West, Asia now feels like one of the safest places in the world.
But the West didn’t have to go through the same cycles as Asia, where governments and public health systems had little warning of the virus. Anger is growing in many countries over governments’ failure to respond when the situation was clear.
Someone else’s problem: While authorities were taken unaware by how quickly and widely the virus spread itself, multiple experts agreed there was also a general sense of complacency among governments in the West that the outbreak was a China — or an Asian — problem, and would not necessarily behave the same way inside their borders.
Failure to act: For all the blame laid at China’s door for its failure to act early in the pandemic, officials there did not know what they were dealing with. By comparison, officials in Europe and the US knew what they were facing once the outbreak reached their borders, but were often slow to react, wasting time as the virus spread through Asia and ignoring lessons learned by other countries.
The last war: From the get-go, the current pandemic was seen as a rerun of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), from its emergence in China, to that government’s apparent attempt at a coverup, to how it spread through Asia. In East Asia, which was badly affected by the 2003 outbreak, it put governments and the public on greater guard, with people faster to wear face masks and exercise social distancing.
But while SARS may have led to faster action in one part of the world, the 2003 outbreak may have led officials elsewhere to take the opposite approach.
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