COVID-19: Complex reasons for different country responses

Our hope is that, by offering insight into how the pandemic is being dealt with in various countries, people may become better informed.
- Dr Adam Oliver
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There are many complex reasons why countries have reacted differently to the COVID-19 outbreak and these should be fully understood before any judgment is passed about a certain response.

This is the key finding emerging from a collection of COVID-19 response blogs written by health experts from over 40 different countries and regions around the world.

These have been organised and collated by LSE’s Dr Adam Oliver on the Cambridge Core blog site with the objective of sharing information and providing insight on policy responses to COVID-19. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has used the blogs to inform their work.

In the blogs, the experts provide factual detail on how their country or region has dealt with the outbreak, alongside a balanced reflection of this response.

There has been widespread criticism of countries perceived to have acted slower than others in implementing stricter measures like lockdowns. However, the blogs highlight the complex range of factors considered by governments when introducing policy. These include: health and financial concerns, public willingness to comply with strict measures, culture and values.

For some countries, such as Japan and Sweden, the quick introduction of strong interventionist policies is restricted by their constitutions.

Likewise, although some countries have implemented aggressive contact tracing and tracking measures, the blogs highlight how the rule of law in other countries may restrict their ability to do this due to concerns about privacy and freedoms.

Key differences in who leads the COVID-19 response within countries has also been highlighted by the blogs.  In Sweden - often seen as an outlier for its ‘softer approach’ to COVID-19 - the country’s constitution dictates that the response be led by experts rather than politicians. In stark contrast to many countries, it is the Chief Epidemiologist in Sweden who communicates policy through press conferences rather than the Prime Minister, who has taken a more withdrawn public role.

The blogs also reveal how levels of devolved decision-making vary widely between countries, impacting their response.  Countries with substantial devolution (such as the US, Spain and Italy) have faced tensions between national and local levels, hindering the co-ordination of a response.

At a time when there is widespread commentary and criticism of the way some countries have reacted to COVID-19, the blogs offer a consolidated platform of national responses, providing considered and balanced insight.

Commenting on the project, Dr Adam Oliver from the Department of Social Policy at LSE said: “With these blogs, we wanted to offer short, timely reports on how various countries and regions are responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Our hope is that, by offering insight into how the pandemic is being dealt with in various countries, people may become better informed about the response to the pandemic internationally, which might be particularly useful to policy makers in countries in which the threat has not yet been fully realised.”

The blogs have been written by members of the European Health Policy Group and the Anglo-American Health Policy Network. They will be updated every month until the pandemic has subsided to reflect the changing situation and evolving policy response in each participating country and region.

To read the blogs and accompanying commentary by Dr Adam Oliver, please visit: