March 2020. Covid-19 cases are proliferating at an alarming rate in New York City. In the absence of images about what is happening to covid-19 patients in hospitals, filmmaker Matthew Heineman decides to get into the eye of the hurricane and begins to document the first wave of the pandemic in the Intensive Care Unit of the Center Jewish physician from Long Island, New York. that’s how it’s born The First Wavethe first documentary on the covid-19 pandemic.
It is not a Hollywood movie with fictitious actors, but a real documentary of National Geographic of what was experienced in New York the first four months of the pandemic. A very hard documentary that reflects the work and dedication of health personnel, their frustration and exhaustion. Look death in the face, its devastating trail, despair. The First Wave it is a testament to the strength of the human spirit that captures the emotional and social impacts of the pandemic.
Lack of coordination and insufficient tracking, among other errors
During its screening as a finalist at the scientific film festival #LabMeCrazy that we organize at the University of Navarra Science Museum, the spectators remember how, at that moment, life stopped for all of us. And still, three years later, its “collateral effects” continue.
what it shows The First Wave not only lived in New York. What’s more, if we compare the first wave (deaths in the first months) in the US and in Spain, the difference is surprising. Because Spain was, precisely, one of the countries with the highest number of cases of deaths from covid-19 in proportion to the number of inhabitants. For months, Spain led the number of infected and registered deaths in Europe.
In September 2020, Juan Ignacio Pérez Iglesias and I wrote an article titled Covid-19: ten reasons to explain how we got to this situation. The lack of leadership, the lack of coordination, the lack of data and the equivocal role of science, the political anger, the lack of pedagogy and transparency in communication, a slow response to the crisis followed by a hasty de-escalation, a system of insufficient diagnosis, tracking and isolation and, above all, a very weak health system, led us to a great collective failure. Until the arrival of vaccines, we became one of the countries in which the pandemic had the greatest impact.
Taiwan set an example
Among all the countries, there was one that escaped that first wave: the island of taiwan. With just over 35,000 km², a population of more than 23 million inhabitants, a density of 668 inhabitants/km² and only 130 km from China, Taiwan only reported rates of 0.3 deaths from covid-19 per million inhabitants, one of the lowest numbers in the world. To put it in context, in August 2020 Belgium had rates of 861 deaths per million, and the United Kingdom of 621.
In Spain, with more than 47 million inhabitants, we have a population density of 93 inhabitants/Km², seven times less than Taiwan. If we compare the number of deaths from covid-19 throughout the entire pandemic, Taiwan has had 18,425 and Spain 119,618. This represents a cumulative 800 deaths per million in Taiwan compared to 2,545 in Spain.
What did Taiwan do to resist that first wave?
The most surprising thing is that he did not carry out a strict lockdown as we did in Europe. simply, Taiwan was prepared for a pandemic because I had already experienced the threat of the SARS pandemic in 2003.
He announced his first case of covid-19 on January 21, 2020: a 50-year-old woman returning to Taiwan from the city of Wuhan. The authorities’ response was immediate and forceful, starting with a diagnostic test on all passengers from Wuhan.
As of mid-March, they added a restriction on the entry of foreigners into the country, quarantine (14 days at home) and control of all citizens who came from high-risk countries, distribution and use of masks in the population, in addition to a ban of meetings of more than 100 people indoors and more than 500 outdoors.
As in other Asian countries, in Taiwan this culture of wearing a mask in public (social acceptance) already existed since 2004 and there was universal access to it. In addition, there was a national health agency capable of effectively coordinating decision-making and preventing and controlling this type of emergency situation, forcefully and quickly, and without legal impediments. They also had a quick access digital system to identify and isolate cases.
In short, a rapid and coordinated response based on the detection of cases, control of entry into the country, effective methods of isolation and quarantine, digital technologies to identify possible cases and the massive use of masks.
And all without the need for confinements or movement restrictions within the country. This has allowed them to overcome the pandemic without devastating economic effects and without other side effects such as deterioration in the mental health of citizens.
We still haven’t learned from the pandemic
It is surprising to think that three years ago we went out to the balconies to applaud and pay homage to our toilets and now they are the ones demonstrating throughout Spain to request help. It is outrageous that none of our rulers (national and regional) have addressed a reform and improvement of the health system.
This is what we wrote in September 2020:
This may be the most important thing: to strengthen the health system, because in this we risk our lives.
The original version of this article was published on the author’s blog, microBIO.
Ignacio López-GoñiMember of the SEM (Spanish Society of Microbiology) and Professor of Microbiology, university of Navarra
This article was originally published on The Conversation. read the original.