Mongolia has been affected by the virus, but its response ranks as one of the best in the world in my opinion. To date, we have had no deaths and no local transmissions within the country.
An opinion piece by Rich Beal who is currently living in Mongolia and has been there since the beginning of the outbreak.
Many people may ask when was the last time Mongolia led the world in something, your reply may well be not since the 13th Century; much of Europe was busy with the crusades, Scotland began its first battle for independence, and the Magna Carta signed at Runnymede.
So not for some time. That is until I began to read a little more about Mongolia's COVID-19 response.
I am writing this now from Ulaanbaatar, from where I have been since February 20th. I arrived from London expecting to be here a couple of weeks before heading home to Beijing. As with many millions of people, my plan didn't go quite as I wanted it to, as the global situation evolved so quickly.
All links with China through Mongolia were closed, and Mongolia was to make some controversial decisions.
We know that there are countries completely unaffected by COVID-19. Mongolia has been affected by coronavirus, but its response ranks as one of the best in the world in my opinion. To date, we have had no deaths and no local transmissions within the country. Many people may argue that we were just lucky, or that we are too sparsely populated, etc.
From the very beginning, Mongolia put into action what appears to be a perfectly executed plan which has been followed pretty much since its start. For Mongolian citizens, its implementation wasn't as difficult as some may believe. As a developing country, many people are fully aware here that the health system is underfunded and in dire need of modernisation.
"There is no COVID 19 in Mongolia as it is too remote people don't meet"
I have heard this statement from my own family. This may be true in the countryside although, the capital Ulaanbaatar is home to almost half of the country's three million population with a density at just over 300 people per square kilometre.
Mongolia also lays sandwiched between China and Russia with the capital Ulaanbaatar a junction on the main rail route between these vast countries. During standard service, at least six international passenger trains pass through the country each week and far more freight services.
So how did Outer Mongolia keep the virus at bay?
As it happened!
Throughout late January, Mongolia had several meetings with the WHO, the Mongolian Minister for health Davaajantsan Sarangerel was to meet with the WHO representative Sergey Diorditsa.
Mongolia took the information and advice given very seriously on January 22nd; the Mongolian Health Ministry held a press briefing along with the WHO.
During the televised affair, it was announced that there was indeed human to human transmission. It was further stated that Coronavirus did poss a severe threat and measures were to be taken. Mongolia was to begin screening overseas visitors at ports of entry as well as checking temperatures at all public buildings.
Today's announcement stated that all kindergartens and public areas were too close to children from January 27th.
Citizens advised to wash hands and wear masks which would cut down the transference of any virus. Posters and warning signs start to appear across the city along with hand-sanitiser points.
Admittedly, these measures may have been made a little easier as the country was preparing for another Flu season (experienced 2019).
At these time schools and kindergartens for the young close.
Still, with no COVID cases, Mongolia keeps an eye on the developing worldwide situation. The Mongolian government decide to take further steps.
After several high profile meetings, it is agreed that the following measures are to be enacted:
No Vehicles to cross into Mongolia
All public events prohibited
Release funds for protective medical equipment
With all schools, colleges, universities and public meetings stopped, Mongolia starts to repatriate its citizens (mostly students), from the Chinese city of Wuhan.
February sees Mongolia a nation in preparation. It has begun to stockpile medical supplies. Facemasks and sanitisers brought in from abroad, as well as manufactured within the country. Posters and public information leaflets are posted in all apartments, shops and business offering advice on washing hands as well as reporting any illness.
None essential shops are closed even within supermarkets the toy and electrical sections tapped off. Daily public information texts are to be sent (these continue until today), informing citizens of the recent COVID events.
All Mongolian students that have been studying in the city of Wuhan are repatriated to Mongolia.
Along with the flight crew that was present on the flight, all have to observe a fourteen-day quarantine.
In a huge step, it is announced that Mongolia will not celebrate Lunar new year for 2020. Mongolian lunar new year (Tsagaan Sar), is one of the biggest holidays in the country and sees thousands of citizens visiting each other's homes.
This year festivities were scheduled for February 24 – 26 February.
Bizarrely, a gift of 30,000 sheep is given from Mongolia to their neighbour China during a meeting in Beijing attended by the Mongolian President Battulga.
After the meeting upon his return to Ulaanbaatar, President Battulga and his advisors all observed the 14 days quarantine (not as bad if you live in a giant mansion but still significant).
After all of the preparations, restrictions and cancelled holidays in Mongolia the virus arrives.
The government's full plan has to be enacted as the virus as with every other country it has effected refuses to ignore borders and schemes to prevent it. There is some anger as many Mongolians see the first case a foreigner carrying the virus. The agitation soon melts away; however, as most people begin to learn more about COVID-19.
Mongolia has its first confirmed case of COVID-19 a French national returning from Moscow on March 2nd brought the virus into the country. The reaction is swift and rapid the office staff he had interacted with in Ulaanbaatar are all placed in quarantine. Passengers on the train he used are all quarantined. All travel between Mongolian counties is blocked, restrictions on shops and businesses tightened. Most local transportation cancelled and streets, public areas and institutions areas disinfected.
All international borders, whether crossed by a road, rail or air are now also closed no one can leave, and no one comes in:
Not entirely accurate as repatriation flights are running in and out of the country on set dates. They carry those that want to leave to set destination and bring back a few of the thousands of Mongolians trapped outside.
For those returning there is a quarantine period of three weeks two weeks in a set facility and an extra one week at home.
At the current time, Mongolia has 195 confirmed cases of COVID 19 zero deaths and zero local transmissions. These cases are all occurrences that have been brought into the country, detected upon arrival or during quartine. The people suffering are taken to and looked after in a centralised hospital until they are well enough to leave.
Still, the government keeps planning. On May 7th, there was a mock lockdown in the heart of Ulaanbaatar the drill involved over 150,000 citizens and 3,500 officials. A warning was given days in advance; the event lasted for two days.
All though educational facilities remain closed life continues, shops and restaurants are open, and people are free to travel in the country.
We met our friends and family moan about the economy, but for now, Mongolia is one of those rare countries little affected by the COVID 19 virus.
The borders are still to be closed during June, although at the end of the month Mongolia has its elections after this no one knows. If the country opens up, there may be anger as local people have sacrificed so much. The countries economy is suffering as it does rely so heavily on its exports of mineral and crop.
On the other, hand the there are still so many citizens trapped abroad unable to board one of the charter flights due to price or not holding a Mongolian passport this leaves families divided.
I asked a Mongolian taxi driver his thoughts yesterday as I was writing this, his reply was simple:
"Our children are safe from this awful virus, and they are our future. If every country had done the same as us maybe there would be no virus now?"