Public Affairs & Government Relations

COVID-19: The Policy Response to a Global Pandemic

Lessons from Around the World

Proactive, preventive measures are crucial in driving the necessary changes to slow the spread of COVID-19, the first global pandemic since the 2009 H1N1 outbreak. In the U.S., policymakers and the private sector are increasing efforts to combat COVID-19 domestically and mitigate the negative impact on public health and the economy. As the number of cases grows in the U.S., business leaders and policymakers alike are ramping up nationwide initiatives to reduce the impact of COVID-19 and to avoid the catastrophe that countries such as Italy are experiencing. While social distancing, widespread testing, ensuring access to medical supplies, and providing citizens with accurate, updated information are primarily the responsibility of the government, this moment calls for cooperation and innovation by businesses and nonprofit leaders in concert with Washington lawmakers.

While political systems and health systems vary widely across countries and can influence how different governments approach the fight against COVID-19, we can draw lessons from countries that have begun to effectively contain the outbreak. The review of the effective, and ineffective, measures across different nations, along with investments in our health care infrastructure and collaboration, will play a crucial role in helping save lives and ultimately setting the U.S. on a path toward containment.

Models for Effective Containment

Effective cooperation and innovation have been demonstrated by countries that experienced similar disease outbreaks in the past and are now seeing lower incidence rates of COVID-19.

  • Rapid test kit development and aggressive testing strategy

Consider South Korea, one of the countries that experienced numerous deaths during the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) epidemic in 2015 and has now been cited by the World Health Organization as a nation to learn from as other countries take on the fight against COVID-19. Based on previous experience with MERS, the Korean government worked with in-vitro diagnostics companies to develop testing kits when COVID-19 broke out in neighboring countries – even before the first case was confirmed in South Korea. Test kits were developed and approved in just three weeks, and health officials rolled out an aggressive plan to test as many as possible. South Korea launched “drive-through testing” systems and “contact tracing” to actively track movements of every person who tested positive, and identified people who may have been in contact with the infected to ensure everyone at risk is tested and treated early. In addition, testing is free for those with physician recommendations. South Korea, testing about 20,000 a day, has tested the highest number of people in the world and is beginning to settle down.


  • Proactive social distancing and self-quarantine

“Social distancing” and self-quarantining are also critical public health measures that are being adopted by the government with cooperation from the business community and the public. China, for example, saw significant results from implementing these types of policies. Though China still has the second-highest number of cases globally, it has seen a decrease in incidence rate, leading to the closure of the temporary mobile clinics that were built to treat infected patients. As China works on bringing its economy and society back to normality, the country remains a “quarantine economy” and the pandemic is far from over. A single person or group can spark an outbreak and countries must be cautious in relaxing restrictions in order to avoid a spike in cases.

We're All in This Together

At a time of such uncertainty, communication, coordination and cooperation are critical. As lawmakers in the U.S. grapple with the appropriate response in the days and weeks ahead, U.S. businesses will be asked to adapt to a rapidly changing policy landscape. The public relies heavily on the government and the private sector, while the virus continues to spread rapidly across the world, calling for a need to find the most efficient response strategies. In the U.S., reviewing effective measures in countries that experienced similar outbreaks in the past and have made efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 for longer than the U.S. can serve as models to improve the ongoing efforts for containment. While political tension between countries persist or grow for some, the focus now needs to be on taking lessons from where containment is working and collaborating to help save lives in the interest of public health and supporting the ongoing efforts to combat COVID-19 together.

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