How well did governments across the world respond to the COVID-19 outbreak?

It’s been over three years since COVID-19 emerged in the world. While we are slowly recovering from the pandemic, its important to reflect on how governments across the globe responded to the crisis, and how well prepared we now are to cope with future threats.

A massive new global dataset, published in Scientific Data, has compiled information from across 82 countries, spread across North, Central and South America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia, looking at how political institutions responded in different ways to the global crisis, spanning January to December 2020.

“The dataset tracks the origins and stringency of COVID-19 public health policies in the period of the pandemic when policies were the only way to reduce the virus spread (before the vaccines and effective treatments came into play),” says lead author Professor Olga Shvetsova of Binghamton University, US.

Policies were identified and coded into several categories, including:

  • the introduction of the state of emergency
  • border closures (international and domestic)
  • school closures
  • closure/restriction of businesses and services (closure of nonessential businesses, restaurants, entertainment venues, government offices, public transport, work-from-home requirements)
  • social gathering and social distancing limitations
  • home-bound policies (curfew, stay-at-home, lockdown)
  • medical isolation policies (self-isolation and mandatory quarantine)
  • the requirement of mandatory personal protection equipment and physical distancing

Based on these categories, countries were assigned Protective Policy Index (PPI), including subsets of national and subnational policy efforts (National ad Regional PPI), which were scored each day.

“Commonly, we attribute policies to the government’,” says Shvetsova. “But governments consist of many parts: there are governments at national, state and municipal levels. Within governments, there are different branches and offices, and then there is also professional bureaucracy – very important in health-related matters.”

Because the World Health Organization (WHO) initially recommended against mask-wearing mandates in early stages of the pandemic, but then made formal recommendations to wear masks on June 5, 2020, these two phases were also analysed separately, reflecting initial understanding (Method 1) versus effective mitigation (Method 2).

The research group has begun preliminary analyses on the data, and from comparing subnational policies within the US, the data shows that Democratic states scored higher PPI than Republican states.

This database is now publicly available, including on an interactive arcGIS map that offers cartographic, textual and graphical visualisations of daily PPI data at both national and subnational levels. This invaluable resource will provide medical practitioners and scholars of public health and policy the ability to assess the efficacy of different governments in a health crisis, and help ensure adequate measures are in place for future events. 

“We are motivated by events to figure out what happened and is happening, and develop new understandings of how government works and politicians function and respond to crises,” says Shvetsova.

Covid19, usa, covid response, pandemic, isolation, lockdown
COVID-19 outbreak USA stay-at-home orders across states, where darker blue came into effect before March 22, while lightest blue before April 12, 2020. Credit: Minh Nguyen

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