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Reopening economies: Eliminate or contain Covid-19?

The world will soon begin to slowly reopen and recover from COVID-19. As it does, countries will need to implement measures to handle the last of the COVID-19 cases. With some countries choosing to focus on containment and others on elimination, Southeast Asian nations need to decide which path they will take.

To discuss these two strategies and their possible success for Southeast Asia, SCMP hosted a discussion panel during the annual China Conference: Southeast Asia held as a regional virtual event, moderated by SCMP Deputy China Editor Zhou Xin. The panelists were Tan Sri Andrew Sheng, Distinguished Fellow at the Asia Global Institute, University of Hong Kong, and Professor Dale Fisher, Professor of Medicine at the National University of Singapore and Chair of the WHO Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network.

As one of the first regions to face COVID-19, Asia-Pacific has found effective methods for handling the pandemic, with the number of confirmed cases and deaths lower than many other regions. Some nations have been successful enough to allow their citizens to return to normal activities.

The two primary methods they used were containing and eliminating COVID-19. Some governments focused on containing the virus, accepting that some level of COVID-19 would remain so they could reopen their economies. Others had public health experts and researchers pushing for a strict ‘COVID-zero’ approach, which would completely rid their country of the virus.

Tan Sri Andrew Sheng, Distinguished Fellow at the Asia Global Institute, University of Hong Kong

A country’s approach depended upon their population’s willingness to accept the containment or elimination measures. If citizens are willing to listen to their government and follow COVID-19 protocol, a zero-tolerance policy is much more viable. Governments who do not have a good relationship with or control over their citizens have to find ways to contain the virus, as their citizens will likely not accept a strict lockdown.

Additionally, while a COVID-zero approach seems like the safest option, when borders begin to reopen, visitors from countries with less stringent policies will cause a new outbreak of cases. Even if a government chooses to eliminate the virus, they must have containment procedures in place should new cases appear.

On the other hand, the problem with a containment policy is giving the virus permission to exist. Governments have to admit that their citizens may be hospitalized or die, and they must accept those consequences.

Each nation has to examine their likelihood of success with either strategy. Southeast Asian countries can look towards countries that are already re-opening, like China, Australia, Vietnam, and Singapore. With careful examination of how other governments handled the virus and their own abilities, countries can decide whether they will contain or eliminate COVID-19.

The full conference is available as on-demand videos on our conference platform to LEARN ticket holders. Click here to obtain your ticket now.

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