The COVID-19 Global Response Index
From FP Analytics: A country-by-country assessment of government responses to the pandemic.
Updated: March 29, 2021 | Published: Aug. 5, 2020
As governments around the world continue to grapple with the pandemic, FP Analytics has developed the COVID-19 Global Response Index to track countries’ responses to the novel coronavirus according to key metrics. While country rankings have been published by other organizations and publications, the Index is the first effort to track national leaders’ responses in critical policy areas, including public health directives, financial responses, and fact-based public communications—and is doing so on an ongoing basis. Initially released on August 5th, 2020, the Index has been updated periodically. The latest update reflects country-level and vaccine data as of March 15, 2021.
FPA’s COVID-19 Global Response Index covers a set of 36 countries, including G20 nations as well as several other developing and middle-income countries that experts and epidemiologists have identified as having notable experiences with respect to COVID-19. This group represents a set of countries for which there is reasonably robust data availability as well as global geographic distribution and socio-economic and political diversity. While notable gaps in data and reporting remain, this Index endeavors to provide a framework to track government responses across multiple categories and will continue to be refined and expanded as more consistently tracked and disaggregated datasets become available and understanding of the virus can inform further Index weighting.
The Index and associated country profiles are based on global data tracked from December 31, 2019 through March 15, 2021. They are intended to illuminate major actions taken by governments to contain the spread of the virus, identify areas for improvement, and highlight promising practices to inform countries’ ongoing responses. The Index includes policy choices and actions across three (3) categories and produces a composite score that reflects more than containment of the virus, but also financial support for domestic economies amid the global economic shock and commitment to fact-based communication among leaders. Data availability and reporting continues to be a challenge; nonetheless, this project seeks to provide a more holistic view of countries’ responses to the pandemic across variables and inclusive of contextual information. FPA’s COVID-19 Global Response Index supplements The Global Race to Vaccinate report and FP’s international COVID-19 coverage, expert dialogues, and special events that are convening pre-eminent leaders in global health, policy, and security from around the world.
The Index was developed with insights from social scientists, public health experts, and leading epidemiologists working at the forefront of the pandemic response, including those from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the University of Oxford, the University of Michigan, the University of Maryland, the University of Massachusetts, UC-Irvine, and UC-Davis’ collaboration with USAID’s Emerging Pandemic Threats project, among others. We are grateful for their contributions.
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New Zealand has had very strong policy, particularly with regard to its reliance on science and facts and its relatively strong financial response.
Senegal’s COVID-19 policy response has been very strong across the board, buoyed by strong public health directives and a reliance on science and facts.
Iceland has a very strong score, owing heavily to its reliance on facts as well as generous debt and income support; its large improvement since January was keyed by significant improvements in public health policy and financial support.
Denmark's score is very strong, due to a robust healthcare system and to generous fiscal responses that safeguarded employment. Public health directives have improved substantially in recent months.
Ghana scores strongly on the Index, due primarily to its proactive public health policy, strong examples set by leadership, and reliance on facts; while consistently strong, it does have very weak testing, limited emergency healthcare spending, and a weak stimulus.
Australia is a strong performer, particularly due to a generous financial response by way of income support, but delayed implementation of its policies pulls down its score.
Clear, fact-based communications, a generous stimulus package, and substantial improvements in public health policy in the past few months have been instrumental factors in Finland's strong and much-improved COVID-19 response.
Saudi Arabia has a relatively strong policy response to COVID-19, with a reliance on facts and science, and tight restrictions on public gatherings, although its weak financial response brings its score down.
Taiwan has a relatively strong policy score, but its minimal stimulus and weak debt relief bring it down. However, the data does not accurately measure its advanced contact tracing, which may have diminished the need for more restrictions; this likely results in a score that underestimates Taiwan’s response.
Japan has a strong overall score, driven by its generous financial response and a reliance on facts, although its public health policy is very weak.
France maintained its improved public health policy from the early fall, keeping its score relatively strong, although poor contact tracing and a relatively small stimulus package kept it from being higher.
Kenya has a strong overall policy score, although down significantly from January. However, it is consistently scoring well in all areas, particularly its reliance with respect to facts and science on COVID-19.
Belgium has a relative strong score, with its generous income support and strong testing and contact tracing countered by limited public health directives.
Overall, South Africa's score is relatively strong with vigorous policy implementation—particularly with respect to lockdowns—offset by its relatively meager financial response.
Argentina’s strong policy score is mainly due to its strong political response, characterized by clear, fact-based communication and regular press briefings by President Fernandez.
Canada has a relatively strong score, with poor public health policy countered by a continued reliance on fact-based communication.
Despite having relatively weak pre-pandemic capacity, swift action and prevention-based messaging from the government helped mitigate spread early on in the crisis.
South Korea has a relatively strong score, brought down some by its very weak financial policy; its public health score is likely underestimated here, given the data’s limitations to adequately account for the impacts of the country’s advanced contact tracing.
Germany has improved its score a bit in the past few months, after a sharp decline in the fall. Its improvements in contact tracing, which are already likely underestimated in the data, and restrictions on public gatherings, have played important roles in this turnaround, although there has been a recent spike in cases, likely due to both recent restriction relaxations and vaccine rollout issues.
Despite being known for a relatively strong public healthcare system, Sweden has been hit hard with cases; the country’s lack of stay-at-home orders and school closures, limited testing, and few gathering restrictions overshadowed its financial support, reliance on facts, and accountability with an open press.
The U.K. scored near the median for overall policy, due to a relatively strong financial policy, although its weak initial lockdown hurt its score; the new strain is causing a huge uptick in cases, resulting in stricter lockdowns.
Hungary scores above the median, but limited testing, efforts to limit press freedom, and a very weak stimulus package have weakened its score over time.
India scores just above the median, a large drop-off in recent months, keyed by substantial weakening of restrictions and worsening financial support.
Switzerland's reliance on facts and an open media drove its score up to the median, helping to counter weak financial support and limited restrictions on social interactions.
The Netherlands’ overall policy is now near the median, a significant improvement from January, driven by a stronger financial response despite its low testing levels and limited lockdown.
While hit hard by COVID-19, Italy’s reliance on facts and improved contact tracing has helped slow the spread and slightly improved its overall score since January.
Norway scores just below the median, pulled down by its weak public health and financial response scores, despite a strong reliance on facts and a free press.
Mexico's score has deteriorated over time, due primarily to its extremely weak financial response and relatively weak public health policy, including very limited testing.
Indonesia scores relatively weakly, a big drop in the past few months, keyed by substantial weakening of travel restrictions, testing policy, and debt relief.
Brazil has a relatively weak score, primarily due to its poor public health policies, especially its very low levels of testing, coupled with President Bolsonaro’s spreading of misinformation about the virus.
Russia has a relatively weak score, with strong public health policy undone by weak financial support, limitations on press freedom, and spread of misinformation about the pandemic.
China’s aggressive lockdowns played a key role in controlling case and death rates. However, its low score is driven by multiple factors, including the country’s minimal financial response and lack of press freedom and fact-based communications. China’s failure to report testing obscures understanding of actual COVID-19 dynamics within the country.
Spain's score jumped since January to just over the median, having implemented stricter public health policies, but the country's minimal stimulus support still drags down its overall score.
Still battling widespread COVID-19 cases and deaths, which were exacerbated by the former administration's limited use of facts and science, limited emergency healthcare spending, and limited debt relief, the Biden administration, by contrast, is taking aggressive action to combat the virus, although it may take time for the score to reflect these changes.
Turkey has very weak policy, driven by little emergency spending, stimulus, or debt relief, and loosening restrictions. It also has limited press freedom and has conducted minimal testing.
Iran has a very weak policy score, due largely to very weak public health policy, driven by a severe lack of testing and substantial misinformation and press limitations by the national authorities.
Countries Combating Another Wave Of COVID-19 As Case Numbers Rise And Variants Spread
The latest round of data on COVID-19 cases and reopening of some economies illustrates a key point: the world is still facing challenges with COVID-19, and many countries have had to re-impose restrictions to contain further spread. As expected, cases rose in many of the pandemic’s worst-hit countries throughout the winter months as more people stayed indoors. Many countries, particularly in Europe, may have entered a third wave of the pandemic, as the new variants of the virus spread globally. While countries with higher Index scores continue to have generally managed cases more effectively, even they have seen increases in the virus within their borders. Several mutations of the virus—the three most prominent ones having emerged from the U.K. (B.1.1.7), South Africa (B.1.351), and Brazil (P.1)—have been complicating COVID-19 management just as vaccines are rolling out. And though more testing is needed, several of the vaccines appear to be less effective against these variants. The COVID-19 Global Response Index country scores do not incorporate vaccine rollout data as it is too preliminary; FPA’s analysis and comparative data on the vaccine rollout can be found here. While still in the early stages of vaccine deployments, the last year of COVID-19 has taught us that countries whose leaders take rapid action, target policies, and advance science-based communications are among those most effectively managing spread. This responsiveness remains critical as more contagious variants spread across the globe and push many healthcare systems closer to the brink.
Vaccine Rollout of Countries in the COVID-19 Index
(Colors are associated with each country's overall Index score)
Key Takeaways 1 Year Into The COVID-19 Pandemic
Findings from the Index and supplementary research indicate:
Crisis Preparation and Planning Enabled Rapid Response, Notably in Africa & Asia
Planning and preparation for health-related crises have enabled rapid response and COVID-19 containment. Notably, lessons learned from H1N1 and Ebola have informed crisis planning and preparedness in Australia, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, and Taiwan, among the highest performers in the Index.
Early Investment in Emergency Healthcare Cushioned Impact
Early investment and strategic stockpiles of medical supplies and personal protective equipment have helped enable healthcare response, notably in Iceland, New Zealand, and Russia.
Targeted & Comprehensive Policies Produced Better Outcomes
Strong health-care capacity pre-pandemic was not necessarily indicative of outcomes, but preparation, targeted testing, and quick action have had impacts. For example, Sweden and neighboring Denmark both have extremely strong health capacity, but Denmark’s public health and financial policies related to the pandemic resulted in COVID-19 having a much lower impact there than Sweden. Taken further, Senegal, with much weaker capacity, but much stronger policies in terms of health directives, financial support, and communication, as compared with Sweden, performed even better in limiting COVID-19’s impact in-country. Contextual information contained in each of the Index’s country profiles enriches our understanding of each of these countries and will continue to inform and augment our analysis as additional data becomes available.
Testing and Contact Tracing Have Been Game Changers
Contact tracing has been key to managing the crisis, notably in Taiwan and South Korea, though data regarding the degree of tracing and efficacy is not yet sufficient or differentiated to reflect the importance and positive impact of these measures. In the case of Taiwan, utilization of data and analytics has enabled the country to effectively manage the crisis and avoid strict lockdowns. Widespread availability of testing has also enabled countries to quickly identify new outbreak clusters and effectively implement quarantine protocols to prevent spread.
*Given data limitations with respect to contact tracing, Taiwan’s and South Korea’s successes are not adequately captured in the Index, but both are notable leaders in this regard and in overall management of the pandemic. Several countries that employed advanced and aggressive contact tracing or other measures mitigated their need to implement other major COVID-19-specific policies, as seen in their low case rates. The Index adjusts for these outliers. Please refer to the methodology for further detail.
Clear Policy Directives Matter
Countries’ socio-economic and health security—and investment to those ends—strengthen capacity to respond but are insufficient to manage the crisis. Clear healthcare and financial directives and early, targeted actions seem to have significantly impacted outcomes in many of the highest-scoring countries—notably Denmark, Iceland, New Zealand, Taiwan, Finland and Australia. Restrictions on gatherings have helped mitigate coronavirus spread. Seen notably in Belgium, Denmark, Japan, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United Kingdom, serious restrictions helped all these countries reverse skyrocketing case rates.
Close Coordination with State and Regional Governments Is Key
Smaller countries, notably island nations, have some natural advantages managing spread as compared with larger, more populous nations – and those with decentralized forms of government face exceptional challenges of policy coordination and execution. In these latter cases, close coordination and clear communication among federal, state, and regional entities have been critical to resource allocation and policy directive implementation, notably in Australia and Canada.
Overall Funding and the Structure of Financial Support Mechanisms Matter
Financial support to companies—enabling them to keep workers on the payroll—and relatively strong worker wage support have helped to mitigate COVID-19’s economic fallout, notably in Denmark, Iceland, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, and Switzerland. These countries took both assertive action on the public health response and also passed considerable economic support to mitigate economic shocks, elevating their scores overall.
Misinformation and Press Limitations are Associated with Poor COVID-19-related Outcomes
While not causal, the majority of countries whose leaders have engaged in the spread of misinformation and have limited press freedom with respect to COVID-19 were among those with the highest case rates, notably the U.S., Iran, Hungary, Brazil, Mexico, and the U.K.
Challenges with Data from China
While China scores near the top in terms of COVID-19 status, having relatively low case and death rates, as reported by the Central Government, it scores near the bottom in the Index in terms of policy. Failure of Chinese authorities to consistently report data on key metrics, such as testing, as compared with other countries, as well as limited transparency on other metrics, results in data gaps contributing to a low overall policy score. The gap is exacerbated by China scoring particularly low on the fact-based communications measure, which includes measuring press limitations on covering the pandemic. The Index policy score aims to evaluate a country’s range of policies. While that is often tied closely to the current status of COVID-19 in a country (the number of cases), it is not always so, as policy and capacity and other factors, including proximity to countries with major COVID-19 outbreaks, all impact the state of coronavirus in a country.
Disproportionate Socio-economic Impacts Warrant Further Study
Countries with significant shares of migrant workers and large informal economies—including India, Brazil, and Kenya—face unique challenges, due to workers’ limited access to healthcare and mechanisms for extending financial support, putting these populations at exceptional risk.
FPA would like to thank and acknowledge those working on the front lines of the pandemic and the public health and policy experts who contributed to this study. We would also like to thank all of those working to systematically track and report COVID-19-related data, including the University of Oxford, the Johns Hopkins University, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a range of international institutions, such as the IMF, the World Bank, and the United Nations. FPA’s COVID-19 Global Response Index will continue to be updated with the help of these and other globally available databases.
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Statistics and government response factors available on each country profile include:
- Debt to GDP ratio
- Infant mortality rates
- Hospital beds per 1,000 people
- Gini coefficients measuring inequality
- Health access and quality
COVID-19 Public Health Directives:
- Stay-at home orders
- School-closing policy
- Public-gathering restrictions
- Cancellation of public events
- Testing policy and rates per 1,000 people
- Emergency healthcare spending per capita
- Travel restrictions
- Contact tracing
COVID-19 Financial Response:
- Stimulus package as a share of GDP
- Income support
- Instances of misinformation by leadership
- Limitations on press freedom, censorship
Current/Historic In-Country COVID-19 Status:
- Death rates per 1 million
- Case rates per 1 million