Southeast Asia: Few covid cases in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, but not Myanmar. (ABC, 12/2020)
How did some countries manage to achieve a very low covid-19 prevalence?
Non-African countries with at least one million inhabitants but less than 1000 covid cases per one million inhabitants include, notably: Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Taiwan, Thailand, China (ex. Wuhan), New Zealand, South Korea, Cuba, Hong Kong and Australia (ex. Victoria). Other major countries with a low covid incidence per population include Japan, Finland and Norway.
The typical ‘reactive’ measures cannot explain this: It cannot be masks, as most of the worst affected countries introduced mandatory masks, too. It also cannot be national lockdowns, as most of the worst affected countries have had lockdowns, too. And it cannot be mass PCR testing, as many of the worst affected countries have pretty high test rates, too.
Instead, the single most important factor has been early border control (as of January or February), something all of the above countries did. This is easiest for islands, which several of the above countries indeed are. The second group of rapidly responding countries consists of countries directly bordering China, most of which have had experience with the 2003 SARS–1 epidemic.
(Overall, most major islands did well: besides Taiwan, New Zealand, Cuba and Australia, this also includes Iceland, Greenland, Sri Lanka, Madagaskar, Mauritius and Haiti.)
Even with early border control, however, a few infected people may already have entered the country. These people need to be identified and isolated very quickly. This can be done in a high-tech way (by rapid PCR testing, as in China, Taiwan, South Korea) or in a low-tech way (by batch isolation, as in Vietnam and Thailand. Vietnam isolated up to 200,000 people).
Moreover, potentially infected people should be isolated not at home – where they may infect their family and neighbors –, but in dedicated isolation facilities, something most of the above countries indeed did. This is easiest for authoritarian countries (such as China,