Carlos Alvarado Costa Rica President   /   New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
 - A.M. Costa Rica wire services photo.

Published Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Two countries take opposite
paths to fight virus

By James Brodell

Many in the health industry are cheering the country of New Zealand because strict quarantine measures there allowed the population to go for 100 days without a single new case of the COVID-19 virus.

Costa Rica has not been as successful despite similar draconian measures. Still the Tico death toll is a scant 235, which is much lower than many other countries. There are believed to still be more than 15,000 active cases in the country.

Both countries have demolished their vital tourism industries.

Yet, some observers consider New Zealand a time bomb. What happens, they ask, when the country again allows foreigners to enter.  The population has not developed any immunity to the current virus.

Costa Rica is not in exactly the same situation, but the current health rules and the sometimes excessive fines do not seem to contribute to building population immunity.

By contrast, Sweden did not enforce a lockdown in the face of the virus. Elementary schools were not closed, borders remained open and nightlife continued. Health officials there took steps to protect the older, vulnerable populations. This was called in the U.S. media Sweden's soft approach. The concept drew condemnation from many quarters, including the World Health Organization. The impact on the Swedish economy still has not been calculated, although the effects most likely are less severe than the European average.

Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s state epidemiologist, was the author of the country's approach to the virus. The Financial times reported this weekend that:

“Sweden’s death rate has also fallen steadily in recent months, dropping from more than 100 a day in mid-April to about 1 each day in the past week. At one stage in the pandemic in mid to late May, Sweden had more deaths relative to the size of its population than any other country but has since been overtaken in Europe by the UK and by several South American countries as well as the U.S.”

The country's neighbor, Norway, did institute a lockdown and registered a much lower death rate.

The strategy remains controversial even in Swedish public health circles, even as the country expects to see a new virus wave in the fall season. The Swedish theory is based on the belief that those under 60 are unlikely to experience a serious virus illness.

A lot of the theories in handling the virus are speculative because there is no long-term data. There also are many theories promoted via internet postings. Some clearly are incorrect.

As the epidemic continues to play out, both New Zealand and Sweden will be worth watching because of their very difference public health approaches.

Editor's note: Mr. Brodell, founder and long-time editor of A.M. Costa Rica, can be reached at: