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The East-West Divide in COVID-19 Control

The public health response will be decisive in stopping the COVID-19 coronavirus before it devastates entire populations in the West and around the world. And the right approach requires that the United States and Europe learn what we can from East Asia as rapidly as possible.

NEW YORK – East Asian countries are outperforming the United States and Europe in controlling the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the fact that the outbreak began in China, to which the rest of East Asia is very closely bound by trade and travel. The US and Europe should be learning as rapidly as possible about the East Asian approaches, which could still save vast numbers of lives in the West and the rest of the world.

An important starting point for comparison is the number of confirmed cases and COVID-19 deaths per million population, shown in the first columns of the accompanying table for April 7. It is as if the two regions are in different worlds. Europe and the US are engulfed in the pandemic: confirmed cases per million range from 814 (UK) to 3,036 (Spain), and deaths per million range from 24 to 300. In the East Asian countries, confirmed cases per million range from three (Vietnam) to 253 (Singapore), and deaths per million from 0 to four.

East Asian countries are not systematically undercounting either cases or deaths relative to their Western counterparts. Both regions have tested a similar proportion of their populations, as shown in the third column of the table.