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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 7 March 2021

New Zealand leads Covid-19 resilience rankings with UAE in top 20

A Bloomberg analysis measured the best and worst places to be in the coronavirus era

New Zealand led a study into how resilient each country is to the coronavirus pandemic, with UAE ranked in the top 20.

The Pacific nation topped a list of 53 nations into a Bloomberg report titled the 'Best and Worst Places to Ride Out Covid'.

Japan and Taiwan were close behind in second and third, followed by South Korea and Finland.

Languishing at the bottom of the chart was Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Belgium and Czech Republic.

The report's authors found advanced economies like the US and UK, ranked by pre-2020 measures as the most prepared for a pandemic, have "repeatedly been overwhelmed by infections and face a return to costly lockdowns".

They looked at cases, fatality rate, the severity of lockdown, GDP growth forecasts and healthcare coverage, among other metrics.

'Back to normal life'

New Zealand had just two cases per month per 100,000 population, and 5 deaths per million people.

"New Zealanders are basically living in a world without Covid," Bloomberg's authors wrote in the report, which is available in full here.

"The nation has seen just a handful of infections in the community in recent months and live music and large-scale social events are back on."

It noted that although its tourism industries have suffered, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's government already has two vaccine deals in place, including the ready-to-go Pfizer / BioNTech shot.

'Lightning fast' contact tracing teams

Japan was second best-placed having dealt with outbreaks of tuberculosis in recent years and already had a health centre staffed with contact tracers who were quickly redeployed. In contrast, many countries hired untrained personnel with often chaotic results.

Even as cases rise in the winter, the country of 120 million had just 330 seriously-ill patients when the study was released.

That compared to France, with half its population, which has about 5,000 in intensive care.

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Early on, Japan sewed up four vaccine deals for its huge and ageing population.

Taiwan's response was equally fast and the island nation of 23 million shut borders as cases spread from Wuhan on the mainland.

Apps advised its population which shops stocked masks and listed locations were cases had been reported.

As with New Zealand, it has gone more than 200 days without a single locally-transmitted case - but has so far failed to secure a deal for a far-along vaccine.

In South Korea, ranked no.4, contract tracers even combed through credit card records and CCTV footage to track down clusters. Experience of tackling Mers in 2015 and Sars in 2003 proved vital.

For the UAE, Bloomberg positively noted the current 'lockdown' measures are low compared to many countries. It had 371 cases per 100,000 people per month and 56 deaths per one million people, similar to Finland and Norway.

They also noted the Emirates already has access to one vaccine - China's Sinopharm shot that was trialled in Abu Dhabi.

As with many countries, the UAE faces a negative GDP growth of 6.6 per cent for 2020, similar to New Zealand at 6.1 per cent and Singapore at 6 per cent.

Does type of government matter in fight against pandemic?

Authors questioned whether the under-performance of some of the world's most prominent democracies - including the United States, UK and India, against major non-democracies such as China and Vietnam - meant different systems of government impacted how pandemics could be tackled.

But eight out of the top 10 in its list were democracies and success appeared to rely on gaining the trust and willing compliance of its people, not on the type of government a country had.

That said, Western Europe is now in the throes of a ferocious wave that’s forced governments to impose new lockdowns. The containment achieved in the spring was undone by the easing of restrictions, allowing the virus to be seeded again by summer vacationers.

Belgium has the worst overall mortality rate of the 53 economies after the virus ripped through aged-care homes.

The UK, Italy and France have all seen cases and fatalities soar over recent months, with France’s stricter lockdown pushing it down in the ranking. France’s positive test rate rose to more than 20 per cent at the start of November from around 1 per cent in July. After imposing a new lockdown on Oct. 30, the rate has fallen to below 12 per cent as of Nov. 23.

Pilloried initially for eschewing lockdowns, Sweden is now scored relatively highly on nearly all of Bloomberg’s metrics, ranking 16th overall.

Inequality matters

Alan Lopez, director of University of Melbourne's global burden of disease group, said countries with less inequality had fared best.

"If you look at Japanese society, the Scandinavian societies, there's very little inequality and a lot of discipline in them," he said in a note attached to the study.

"That would translate into a more cohesive response by the country and that's why they're up there at the top."

Bloomberg scored countries with economies valued at more than $200 billion.

The findings were a snapshot and not a final verdict.

"Still, the gap that has opened up between those economies at the top and those at the bottom is likely to endure, with potentially lasting consequences in the post-Covid world."

Updated: November 26, 2020 05:40 PM

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