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A New Tool Tracks Government Policies Responding to the Pandemic

New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo providing a coronavirus update at the capital, in Albany, March 31, 2020. Right now, the state has the highest number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the United States, with 76,049 as of April 1. The country is currently No. 1 globally for the most confirmed cases, 190,740. MIKE GROLL/OFFICE OF GOVERNOR ANDREW M. CUOMO

As the novel coronavirus, Covid-19, plagues the world, a new tool to track and compare how government policies are contending with the pandemic has been introduced by the University of Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government, in England.

Called the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker, it is available online at no cost and will be continuously updated “throughout the crisis,” the press release introducing the tracker said. It launched on March 24, and now has data from 93 countries, including Britain, Canada, China, South Korea, Italy and the United States, some of the world’s hardest-hit nations by the pandemic.

The tracker provides data that can help with analysis but the Oxford team is not able to provide analysis of its own at this stage.

The Oxford tool complements a tracker already available from the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine, which continuously tracks Covid-19 cases globally by country, region and sovereignty.

For the US, as an example, on April 1, 12:02 p.m. (EST), the tracker recorded the total number of cases at 190,740, but it did not give a total number of deaths for the country. Worldometer, another tracker, said that as of April 1, there were 4,482 deaths in the US.

In New York City, according to the Johns Hopkins tracker, the number of deaths is currently 1,096. By comparison, in all of France as of April 1, the number of deaths is 3,523. Spain, 9,053; Italy, 12, 428. The world total of confirmed Covid-19 cases was 887,067 on April 1.

Thomas Hale, associate professor of Global Public Policy at the Blavatnik School and lead for the Oxford project, said: “Our index cannot, of course, tell the full story, but we believe the data we have collected can help decision makers and public health professionals examine the robustness of government responses and provide a first step into understanding exactly what measures have been effective in certain contexts, and why.”

The tracker systematically records government responses worldwide and aggregates the scores into a common Stringency Index. The index allows users to explore variations in government responses and can help specialists and the general public understand whether increasingly strict measures affect the rate of infection and identify what compels governments to carry out stricter or less-strict measures — and whether a government’s response is actually helping to fight the pandemic.

Data is collected from public sources — news articles and government press releases and briefings — by a team of Oxford University students and staff members based across the world. The tracker collects publicly available information on 11 indicators of government responses for comparative purposes and not measures of the effectiveness of a country’s response.

The first seven indicators (S1-S7) are recorded on an ordinal scale; the remainder (S8-S11) are financial indicators, such as fiscal or monetary measures. S1-S6 are also classified as either “targeted” (meaning they apply only in a geographically concentrated area) or “general” (they apply throughout the entire jurisdiction).

The tracker is evolving as data changes from country to country; so far, it is focusing on:

•  school closures

• workplace closures

• public event cancellation

• public transport closures

• public information campaigns

• restrictions on internal movements

• international travel controls

• fiscal measures

• monetary measures

• emergency investments in health care

• investments in vaccines

For example, data for school closings show that in some places, all schools have closed; in other places, universities closed on a different time scale than primary schools. While in other countries, schools remain open only for children of “essential workers,” the tracker said.

Generally, countries increase their level of stringency as their number of confirmed Covid-19 cases rise, yet there is significant variation in the rate and timing of this relationship. The chart below compares this relationship for six countries:

 

 

 

 

Dulcie Leimbach is the founder of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, she has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal) as well as from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, NHK’s English channel and Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles.

Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. She has also worked as an editorial consultant to various UN agencies. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver before she worked in New York at Esquire magazine and Adweek. In between, she was a Wall Street foreign-exchange dealer. Leimbach has been a fellow at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and was a guest lecturer at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina.

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