Although China and South Korea were the original big victims of the coronavirus outbreak, they have now been overtaken by the West. Alarmingly, China, being the virus’ source, and having dominated the world in its number of coronavirus cases, has now been replaced by America. Western European countries have also followed a similar trajectory — Italy and Spain, no less, now sit with the highest rates of deaths.
Considering the myth of Western supremacy and the number of developed countries it has, why has it seen an exponential growth in the number of cases and deaths? New York Times reporter, Richard Pérez-Peña, suspects it’s to do with its open societies. I disagree. Unlike China, South Korea is an open society, and yet, both have so far flattened the curve, because of their mutual factor in being collectivist cultures.
While Italy is inundated with deaths in the hundreds; South Korea has had no more than eight cases per day and China reportedly has zero cases. These East Asian countries are the only nations so far to have successfully reduced cases, and, in spite of different approaches, with the former choosing not to implement severe restrictions on movement and speech like the latter, it is because citizens there have worked together to do what is best for the entire community.
In South Korea, 600 testing centres were assembled by officials without delay with citizens prepared to give up their privacy to trace the virus’ movements through security camera footage, or credit card transactions.
Singapore has also replicated this, by publicly sharing information of where confirmed patients live, and work.
Where westerners would be outraged by this breach of privacy, Singapore’s deputy director of the communicable diseases division, thinks: ‘Maybe it’s because of our Asian context, but our community is sort of primed for this‘.
That South Korea also has a nationalised healthcare system, with the ability to provide free testing, is certainly testimony to its shared, and successful, effort in combatting the virus.
Meanwhile, America has rejected this luxury time and time again — even now with calls for free healthcare by former 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders. Granted, Britain has the NHS, and yet the consequences of its severe lack of funding have been laid open with health professionals concerned over the ’lack of protection against the coronavirus.
Not so long ago, President Trump stated his intention of reopening the United States. Shortly afterwards, Japan (having since declared a ‘state of emergency’), along with the International Olympic Committee, released the decision to postpone this year’s Tokyo summer Olympics. America, in stark contrast, has shown a mercantile prioritisation of the economy’s welfare, over that of its citizens.
America’s individualism has always been closely tied with its capitalist ways. And its incumbent has loved touting the economy’s growth under his leadership. His former intention therefore, to shorten the economic shutdown is hardly surprising. But it is dangerous. Trump’s public defiance of the health experts (who insist on the continuation of social isolation) undermines their authority and exacerbates the lack of solidarity within the nation. As a result, some have doubted the effectiveness of isolation, while others went to extreme lengths in hoarding basic necessities.
Trump’s European travel ban, thinking that separation would be the best preventative measure against the virus, has backfired too. America leads in confirmed cases against the very countries it readily included in its travel ban. How come? Because of the prominence of its individualistic culture, long exemplified by its president,
When it comes to Continental Europe, five of its countries have the most cases in the world. Again, one explanation is the lack of community compliance. Despite the unravelling tragedy, 40,000 Italian citizens were reprimanded for thwarting quarantine rules, and thousands of people fled the north before a lockdown was properly instated. Now Italy is continuing to suffer the consequences of such independent actions. But there is a further breakdown in solidarity. Michele Geraci, former undersecretary of the Italian Ministry of Economic Development, has stated that the European Union have been resistant in providing aid. In fact, Italy is one of six members to have stopped exporting medical supplies, violating the single market, and indicating that there is a limit to unity within the Union. Yes, isolation is important in combatting the virus, but that shouldn’t mean abandonment.
China has been accused of its draconian containment measures. Yet Italy and France, amongst many others, have witnessed the effectiveness of such lockdowns and followed suit. Even Italian officials have gone so far as to threaten citizens with ‘flamethrowers’, for those that continue to flout quarantine rules.
I’m neither condoning nor praising authoritarian measures, such as those practised by China. But I am arguing that united support of the government’s containment policy, in a country already steeped in collectivist attitudes, was a weighty factor in helping it to flatten the curve. Unlike Trump, who has determinedly backed away from international cooperation, the East has turned outward in providing aid to others.
Jack Ma Foundation, the Chinese co-founder of Alibaba, which listed donations to many countries, stated:
‘This is no longer a challenge that a country can solve on its own, but it requires all of us to work together’.
The western world must shed its individualistic tendencies, band together, and take note of collectivist elements exemplified by East Asia if they are to combat what is now undeniably, a global pandemic.