International responses

See also: December 2019 – January 2020February 2020March 2020, and Criticism of response to the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic

An analysis of air travel patterns was used to map out and predict patterns of spread and was published in The Journal of Travel Medicine in mid-January 2020. Based on information from the International Air Transport Association (2018), Bangkok, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Taipei had the largest volume of travellers from Wuhan. Dubai, Sydney and Melbourne were also reported as popular destinations for people travelling from Wuhan. Bali was reported as least able in terms of preparedness, while cities in Australia were considered most able.[532][533]

Australia released its Emergency Response Plan for Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) on 7 February. It states that much is yet to be discovered about COVID-19, and that Australia will emphasise border control and communication in its response to the pandemic.[534] On 21 March 2020, a human biosecurity emergency was declared.[535]

A worker disinfects an ambulance in Daegu, South Korea

Announcement on a television screen at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, advising students not to travel to China (19 February 2020)

Travel restrictions

Main article: Travel restrictions related to the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic

Countries that have implemented a global travel ban in response to the COVID-19 pandemic (red)

As a result of the outbreak, many countries and regions have imposed quarantines or entry bans for citizens or visitors of the most affected areas of the pandemic.[citation needed]

The European Union rejected the idea of suspending the Schengen free travel zone and introducing border controls with Italy,[536][537][538] which has been criticized by some European politicians.[539][540] After some EU member states announced complete closure of their national borders to foreign nationals,[541] the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that “Certain controls may be justified, but general travel bans are not seen as being the most effective by the World Health Organization.”[542] The United States suspended travel from the Schengen Area and later the Common Travel Area.[543]

Evacuation of foreign citizens

See also: Evacuations related to the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic

Ukraine evacuates Ukrainian and foreign citizens from Wuhan

Owing to the effective quarantine of public transport in Wuhan and Hubei, several countries have planned to evacuate their citizens and diplomatic staff from the area, primarily through chartered flights of the home nation, with Chinese authorities providing clearance. Canada, the United States, Japan, India, France, Australia, Sri Lanka, Germany and Thailand were among the first to plan the evacuation of their citizens.[544] Pakistan has said that it will not be evacuating any citizens from China.[545] On 7 February, Brazil evacuated 34 Brazilians or family members in addition to four Poles, a Chinese person and an Indian citizen. The citizens of Poland, China and India deplaned in Poland, where the Brazilian plane made a stopover before following its route to Brazil. Brazilian citizens who went to Wuhan were quarantined at a military base near Brasília.[546][547][548] On the same day, 215 Canadians (176 from the first plane, and 39 from a second plane chartered by the US government) were evacuated from Wuhan to CFB Trenton to be quarantined for two weeks.[citation needed]

On 11 February, another plane of 185 Canadians from Wuhan landed at CFB Trenton. Australian authorities evacuated 277 citizens on 3 and 4 February to the Christmas Island Detention Centre, which had been repurposed as a quarantine facility, where they remained for 14 days.[549][550][551] A New Zealand evacuation flight arrived in Auckland on 5 February; its passengers (including some from Australia and the Pacific) were quarantined at a naval base in Whangaparoa, north of Auckland.[552] The United States announced that it would evacuate Americans aboard the cruise ship Diamond Princess.[553] On 21 February, a plane carrying 129 Canadian passengers who had been evacuated from Diamond Princess landed in Trenton, Ontario.[554] The Indian government has scheduled its air force to evacuate its citizens from Iran.[555]

On 14 March a South African Airways aircraft chartered by the South African Government repatriated 114 South African citizens. Medical screening was performed prior to departure, four South Africans who were showing signs of coronavirus were left behind to mitigate risk. Only South Africans who tested negative were repatriated. Test results cleared all the South Africans, including the flight crew, pilots, hotel staff, police and soldiers involved in the humanitarian mission who, as a precautionary measure, all remained under observation and in quarantine for the 21 day period at The Ranch Resort.[556][557][558] [559][560][561]

International aid

Digital billboard conveying support with the words “Be Strong China” in various languages at Shibuya in Tokyo on 10 February

On 5 February, the Chinese foreign ministry stated that 21 countries (including Belarus, Pakistan, Trinidad and Tobago, Egypt and Iran) had sent aid to China.[562] Some Chinese students at American universities joined together to help send aid to virus-stricken parts of China, with a joint group in the greater Chicago area reportedly managing to send 50,000 N95 masks to hospitals in the Hubei province on 30 January.[563]

The humanitarian aid organization Direct Relief, in coordination with FedEx, sent 200,000 face masks along with other personal protective equipment, including gloves and gowns, by emergency airlift to the Wuhan Union Hospital by 30 January.[564] On 5 February, Bill and Melinda Gates announced a US$100 million donation to the WHO to fund vaccine research and treatment efforts along with protecting “at-risk populations in Africa and South Asia”.[565]

Tehran‘s Azadi Tower lights in the colours of the Flag of China to show support

Japan donated one million face masks to Wuhan.[566] Other countries have also announced aid efforts. Turkey dispatched medical equipment,[567] Russia sent more than 13 tonnes of medical supplies to Wuhan,[568] Malaysia announced a donation of 18 million medical gloves to China,[569] and Germany delivered various medical supplies including 10,000 Hazmat suits.[570] On 19 February, the Singapore Red Cross announced that it would send $2.26 million worth of aid to China.[571]

In March 2020, China, Cuba and Russia sent medical supplies and experts to help Italy deal with its coronavirus outbreak.[572][573] Businessman Jack Ma sent 1.1 million testing kits, 6 million face masks and 60,000 protective suits to Addis Ababa for distribution by the African Union.[574] He later sent 5,000 testing kits, 100,000 facemasks and 5 ventilators to Panama.[575]

WHO response measures

The WHO has commended the efforts of Chinese authorities in managing and containing the epidemic.[576] The WHO noted the contrast between the 2003 epidemic, where Chinese authorities were accused of secrecy that impeded prevention and containment efforts, and the current crisis where the central government “has provided regular updates to avoid panic ahead of Lunar New Year holidays”.[577]

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom

On 23 January, in reaction to the central authorities’ decision to implement a transportation ban in Wuhan, WHO representative Gauden Galea remarked that while it was “certainly not a recommendation the WHO has made”, it was also “a very important indication of the commitment to contain the epidemic in the place where it is most concentrated” and called it “unprecedented in public health history”.[577]

On 30 January, following confirmation of human-to-human transmission outside China and the increase in the number of cases in other countries, the WHO declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), the sixth PHEIC since the measure was first invoked during the 2009 swine flu pandemic. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom said that the PHEIC was due to “the risk of global spread, especially to low- and middle-income countries without robust health systems.[372][578] In response to the implementations of travel restrictions, Tedros stated that “there is no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade” and that “WHO doesn’t recommend limiting trade and movement.”[579]

On 5 February, the WHO appealed to the global community for a $675 million contribution to fund strategic preparedness in low-income countries, citing the urgency to support those countries which “do not have the systems in place to detect people who have contracted the virus, even if it were to emerge”. Tedros further made statements declaring that “We are only as strong as our weakest link” and urged the international community to “invest today or pay more later”.[580][581]

On 11 February, the WHO in a press conference established COVID-19 as the name of the disease. On the same day, Tedros stated that UN Secretary-General António Guterres had agreed to provide the “power of the entire UN system in the response”. A UN Crisis Management Team was activated as a result, allowing coordination of the entire United Nations response, which the WHO states will allow them to “focus on the health response while the other agencies can bring their expertise to bear on the wider social, economic and developmental implications of the outbreak”.[582]

WHO representatives holding joint meeting with Tehran administrators

On 14 February, a WHO-led Joint Mission Team with China was activated to provide international and WHO experts to touch ground in China to assist in the domestic management and evaluate “the severity and the transmissibility of the disease” by hosting workshops and meetings with key national-level institutions to conduct field visits to assess the “impact of response activities at provincial and county levels, including urban and rural settings”.[583]

On 25 February, the WHO declared that “the world should do more to prepare for a possible coronavirus pandemic,” stating that while it was still too early to call it a pandemic, countries should nonetheless be “in a phase of preparedness”.[584] In response to a developing outbreak in Iran, the WHO sent a Joint Mission Team there on the same day to assess the situation.[585]

On 28 February, WHO officials said that the coronavirus threat assessment at the global level would be raised from “high” to “very high”, its highest level of alert and risk assessment. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s health emergencies program, warned in a statement that “This is a reality check for every government on the planet: Wake up. Get ready. This virus may be on its way and you need to be ready,” urging that the right response measures could help the world avoid “the worst of it”. Ryan further stated that the current data did not warrant public health officials to declare a global pandemic, saying that such a declaration would mean “we’re essentially accepting that every human on the planet will be exposed to that virus.”[586]

On 11 March, the WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak an official pandemic.[587] The Director-General said that WHO was “deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction”.[588]

UN Demands Ease of Sanction

With a rapid increase observed in the number of active COVID-19 cases, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, demanded sanctions to be eased for nations that have become an epicenter of the pandemic. The move is demanded to provide the countries a chance to fight back the disease and limit its impact globally.[589] Iran is one of the nations named in the appeal, which as per a statistical website, has a total 27,017 COVID-19 cases, out of which 2,077 have died 9,625 have been recovered, 15,315 are active, while zero new cases have emerged.[590]