Coronavirus: How are other countries coping?

Irish Times correspondents around the world report on measures to contain the spread of the virus

The Republic’s second confirmed case of coronavirus, announced on Tuesday night, has focused minds on the measures that might have to be taken to limit the spread of the disease here. The refusal of public health officials to identify the school affected by the first case has also sparked debate over the levels of transparency that should apply during an epidemic.

While Ireland is wrestling with the challenges of dealing with its few cases, many other countries are dealing with large-scale outbreaks and person-to-person transmission in their communities, as opposed to imported cases.

So how are other countries coping with this challenge? What can Ireland learn from their experience? A selection of Irish Times correspondents around the world report:


The French public are kept abreast of developments in the coronavirus epidemic by a government website and a toll-free telephone number.


An hourly radio announcement from the ministry of health tells inhabitants to wash their hands often, avoid shaking hands or kissing cheeks and cough or sneeze into their elbow or a disposable tissue.

If they believe they have been contaminated, the French are advised to stay at home and wear a surgical mask when in the presence of other people.

If people need medical care, they are told not to go their doctor’s office, or hospital but to call the ambulance.

The director general of health Jérôme Salomon holds a daily briefing. There are no restrictions on press coverage. Figures and locations of coronavirus cases are updated daily on the government website.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 212 cases of Covid-19 had been confirmed. There are three principal clusters. In these areas, classified as epidemic level 2, all schools have closed, open air markets, public meetings, including church services, rallies for the March 15th-22nd municipal elections, cinemas, swimming pools, sports clubs, employment agencies have been shut down for at least 14 days. Pensioners are not allowed to leave nursing homes.

People who have been in direct contact with a contaminated person are asked to stay at home.

Each infected person is asked to supply a list of people they have been in contact with in recent days.

There was widespread criticism when the February 26th Lyon-Turin football match was allowed to go ahead in Lyon, with the presence of 3,000 Italian supporters, despite the fact that northern Italy was a contaminated zone.

Passengers are allowed to board trains leaving contaminated zones without restriction. On Wednesday the Louvre in Paris opened again, having been closed since Sunday, after employees worried about catching Covid-19 agreed to return to work.


In Belgium, where coronavirus cases have risen to 23, health authorities have a website for advice and live updates.

When new cases are announced, the authorities state the region and often the hospital where the patient is being treated. (Local press sometimes report additional details like age and specific location.) Doctors trace what contacts the patient had and test them “if necessary”.

People who fear they might be infected are advised to phone their doctor, and to wash their hands frequently. If someone is experiencing symptoms after travelling to an affected region, they are told to isolate themselves, contact their doctor, and not to visit the emergency room. Hospitals in the city of Liège are installing temporary buildings to keep coronavirus cases separate from other patients.

There have been two cases connected to European Union institutions. As with infections in company workplaces, spokespeople for the organisations have confirmed details to media.

In cases connected to schools, the name of the school has been released to media by school management or local government. The schools remained open, close contacts were tested, and classmates were told to monitor their temperatures.

Authorities have told staff and students were told they must continue to attend school if they do not have symptoms, and that any healthy students kept at home would be “unlawfully absent”.

“If you close down a school, you cause a chain reaction. Parents cannot go to work, there is an economic impact,” public health spokesman Jan Eyckmans told local press.

Since the weekend Belgium has been in “phase 2” of its emergency plan, which means a focus on containing the spread of the virus (phase 1 is keeping it out of the country). Schools, cinemas and public events would only be closed down if the situation moved to “phase 3”, in which it is no longer possible to keep track of the spread of the virus and focus shifts to saving lives.


Chinese officials seriously downplayed the extent of the outbreak for several weeks but around January 20th the official policy suddenly shifted to declaring “all-out war”. Within a week at least 760 million people were put under some form of quarantine, schools and businesses were shuttered, transport systems halted and public gatherings banned.

Since then there have been daily briefings, information is posted online detailing the number of new infections, suspected cases, fatalities and recoveries. The online data gives regional breakdowns and lists the addresses of housing compounds, hotels etc where cases have been found.

There are designated hospitals and temporary centres set up for the infected. If people think they might have contracted the virus they are advised to call a hotline and medics in hazmat suits come to their homes. In the worst-affected areas, these centres have been overwhelmed and are often unable to cope .

Given that some people with symptoms are afraid to go to the designated hospitals, local officials go door to door each day in some cities checking everyone’s temperature. Chemists are closed in some areas to stop people with symptoms self-medicating instead of reporting.

Schools and colleges are still closed indefinitely across the country. With the recent slowdown in infections in China, businesses in many regions are being encouraged to reopen, but most need to obtain written permission. Moreover, many workers are still stuck in their hometowns as the lockdowns came during lunar new year. An estimated 70 per cent of businesses remain closed.

Most cities are still insisting on a 14-day self-isolation period for anyone arriving from out of town. Hubei and other seriously affected areas are still sealed off.

With regard to media coverage and online discussions , the domestic press, the internet and social media platforms are rigidly controlled by censors and content critical of the government or that strays far from the official narrative is quickly scrubbed.


Europe’s worst-hit country, Italy closed all schools and universities and prepared other emergency measures on Wednesday to try to slow the spread. Twenty-eight people have died in recent days bringing the total number of dead to 107 and the number of cases at 3,089.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the government was preparing a decree to try to slow infections. A draft of the decree orders “the suspension of events of any nature ... that entail the concentration of people and do not allow for a safety distance of at least one metre [yard] to be respected”. It calls for the closure of cinemas and theatres, and tells Italians not to shake hands or hug each other and to avoid “direct physical contact with all people”. It also orders all major sporting events to be played in empty stadiums.


In the UK the government published an action plan on Tuesday hoping to contain the spread, as cases jumped to 87. The plan includes increased publicity about good hygiene and ill workers staying at home. It includes population distancing strategies such as school closures, encouraging homeworking, and reducing the number of large-scale gatherings. New powers were introduced in England to allow people to be quarantined


Brazil’s federal health ministry and state governments are issuing updates with officials giving regular briefings to media and posting bulletins and advice online. The focus is on the number of confirmed and suspected cases in the country and their location. Authorities are also providing information on prevention and advice on travel. It has also set up a service to combat fake news .

People who suspect they might have contracted Covid-19 are obliged to inform authorities within 24 hours. Brazil so far has only two cases confirmed, both imported by travellers returning from Italy. The names of the two people have not been divulged but authorities have identified the São Paulo hospital handling treatment.

Brazil’s congress last month passed a new law allowing the health ministry to submit people with suspected cases to compulsory testing, order compulsory quarantine and administer vaccines and other medical treatments. It also allows for restrictions on people entering and leaving the country.


Hungary on Wednesday confirmed its first two cases of the new coronavirus, both Iranian students in the country.

Last week, 11 secondary school students, two teachers and two drivers who had returned from a trip to northern Italy were placed in quarantine for a fortnight in a hospital in Budapest.

Several other Hungarians who have returned from affected areas and cruise ships are also in quarantine.

Hungarian officials say anyone with coronavirus symptoms or who has returned from badly affected areas should call rather than visit their doctor. If possible infection is suspected, they will be transferred by ambulance to a clinic for testing.

The public has been urged to keep calm after reports last week of panic buying, and hundreds of thousands of facemasks are being made available.

Gyorgy Bakondi, chief security adviser to Hungary's anti-immigration prime minister Viktor Orban, announced on Sunday that for an indefinite period asylum seekers would not be admitted to the controversial "transit zone" on the Hungary-Serbia border.

He claimed there was "a link" between migration and the coronavirus, and said many of the migrants arriving at Hungary's southern frontier were from or had travelled through Iran, a Covid-19 hotspot.


Twenty-eight people have tested positive in India to the coronavirus, with a sharp rise in cases on Wednesday after 15 Italian tourists and their driver tested positive, while at least six other locals contracted the virus from a person returning from Italy. The tourists are in quarantine in Delhi. Another Italian national is presently under observation in the tourist city of Jaipur in western Rajasthan state.

According to the government's Press Information Bureau (PIB) more than 500,000 passengers had been screened at several of the country's airports.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times