One virus. Two continents. Two very different responses.

I’ve been back in the UK for just over a week now, having spent the last 13 months predominantly in China, but post-Corona in Hong Kong, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Philippines.

Obviously I knew what I was flying back to, and I knew that soon after hastily returning, the country was going to go into full lockdown. But lockdown is a last resort, not an inevitability.

Many of the Asian countries I’ve been in over the last two months have been able to flatten the curve in their country without quite plunging into full lockdown and rapidly increasing (and ongoing) deaths-per-day.

Here are some of the reasons why that might be, based purely on what I’ve seen there, and haven’t seen here:

1.) Face masks, almost everywhere. In Shenzhen face masks have been compulsory since the outbreak began in Wuhan. Going out without one will get you a fine. In Hong Kong, they haven’t been compulsory, but when I was there six weeks ago I’d say 99% of the people were wearing one. In Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Philippines they’ve not been quite as widely worn, but still significantly more than i’m seeing over here.

I’m not scientifically clued-up enough to say how effective they are, but surely it is not a coincidence that the countries where they have been widely worn have been able to flatten the curve better than countries in Europe? A lot of people here seem to think they are useless. I don’t know. But I do know that by wearing one I am definitely more cautious of touching my face, which can only be a good thing.

2.) Temperature checks, in all busy places where social distances is difficult. Over the last two months I must have had my temperature checked at least 30 times, before entering airports, pubs, supermarkets, etc. Since returning I have not had my temperature checked once, not even on arrival. Does the UK not have any thermometers?

3.) Much better PPE for health workers. Obviously I didn’t see a great deal of this in person as I didn’t need to visit any hospitals, but when I flew into Shenzhen everyone on the flight was asked if they were showing any symptoms. One person said they had a bit of a cough, and so when we landed somebody came on in a hazmat suit to take them somewhere (I presume to be tested, though I don’t know for sure). Regardless, it was a sharp contrast to flying back here and not even having to fill out a form about symptoms.

4.) Just way more obedience. This has been especially evident in China, where people generally do what their government tells them. But it’s also been the case across the Asian countries I’ve visited, where the SARS outbreak of 2003 is still fresh in a lot of peoples memories. They have seen something like this before, whereas Europe hasn’t.

So yeah, maybe i’m wrong and we’re nailing it over here. But it has certainly been puzzling to see how two different continents, or at least a lot of Asia and the UK (I can only judge the rest of Europe based on what I’ve read, not what I’ve seen) can be treating the same virus so differently. As things stand, I think this lock-in will go on for a while.

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