Misc 05/12/2020

Destined for the third wave

The return of the virus in countries such as South Corea or Japan anticipates a hard European winter

Mónica García Prieto
3 min
Manifestació de suport al personal sanitari a Tòquio

While in the West we talk about Christmas restrictions and curfews in the midst of the pandemic, the Asian mirror (in which we often avoid to look) shows us a worrying version of the immediate future that awaits us, on a local scale. There, the third wave is a reality and the authorities of some countries warn that the worst, in terms of the number of deaths and infections, is yet to come, if exceptional measures are not applied. This is within the regional limits, which continue to account for a tiny fraction of the infections and deaths recorded here. Asia is the reduced and limited version of the health disaster that has to come. Its populations have not suffered the health, economic, social or psychological toll that the United States or Europe are suffering, so we can expect that, if the terrible prediction is fulfilled and the third wave sets in our countries with the same virulence - added to the exhaustion of health workers who bear the full brunt of the pandemic -, its consequences will be much more serious than they will be in the Far East.

South Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong, which were exemplary in their management of the first and second waves, have resumed restrictions in the face of a surge in cases attributed to mismanagement, lower temperatures, and a certain social relaxation fuelled by their governments' economic policies. The data are the worst on record since the spring, although they are still a minimal expression of the West, and are arousing strong internal management criticism.

Japan, for instance, has counted 2,000 new infections per day nationwide, South Korea more than 400, and Hong Kong less than a hundred. The figures seem derisory compared to the 150,000 daily infections a day in the United States - the U.S. administration has warned that the country will go through the worst winter in its history in terms of public health -, but countries that managed to have days with no reported cases warn of what is yet to come.

Hong Kong, which went through weeks of a zero-contagious streak, has ordered the closure of bars and nightclubs, as has South Korea, which has also limited restaurant service that had been relaxed during previous days. In Japan, where ten days ago domestic tourism and consumption in the hotel sector were encouraged - and subsidized - to revive the economy, these subsidies, which reimbursed consumers for up to half of their expenses in hotels, restaurants and airlines, will be reduced. The Autonomous Territory of Hong Kong has also decided to postpone an unquarantined travel programme in Singapore designed before the third wave, which will be discarded for the time being.

In the case of South Korea, which has a model management for which it had won the praise of the entire scientific community, the new figures have cooled any enthusiasm. In the last two weeks, 60 new outbreaks have been recorded in places such as schools, churches, and military bases, attributed to the relaxation of social distance once recommended by the authorities. And experts warn: the first and second waves were caused by a few very large outbreaks, while the current one involves many very small - and therefore very difficult to control - outbreaks.

One wonders what has allowed the vigorous return of the covid in the disciplined Asian society - where the control of the first and second wave was based on a voluntary act of social responsibility. According to the health authorities, the key lies in the concept of "pandemic fatigue", the exhaustion of a population that has been suffering from restrictions for months and has progressively decided to take risks out of sheer exhaustion. Experts also denounce political errors that sought to revive the economy, such as the promotion of tourism by the Tokyo government, which resulted in mobility. And mobility, as the summer in Spain showed, is key to taking the pandemic to places where it had never been before. If Far East Asia has not managed to escape the third wave, Europe must prepare itself for a harsh pandemic winter.