1 Citation (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: The health, social and economic consequences of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2, henceforth COVID-19) pandemic have loomed large as every national government made decisions about how to respond. The 40 Health Systems, COVID-19 (40HS, C-19) study aimed to investigate relationships between governments' capacity to respond (CTR), their response stringency, scope of COVID-19 testing and COVID-19 outcomes.

METHODS: Data over March and April 2020 were extracted for 40 national health systems on prepandemic government CTR (Global Competitiveness Index), stringency measures (Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker Stringency Index), approach to COVID-19 testing and COVID-19 cases and deaths (Our-World-in-Data). Multidimensional scaling (MDS) and cluster analysis were applied to examine latent dimensions and visualize country similarities and dissimilarities. Outcomes were tested using multivariate and one-way analyses of variances and Kruskal-Wallis H tests.

RESULTS: The MDS model found three dimensions explaining 91% of the variance and cluster analysis identified five national groupings. There was no association between national governments' prepandemic CTR and the adoption of early stringent public health measures or approach to COVID-19 testing. Two national clusters applied early stringency measures and reported significantly lower cumulative deaths. The best performing national cluster (comprising Australia, South Korea, Iceland and Taiwan) adopted relatively early stringency measures but broader testing earlier than others, which was associated with a change in disease trajectory and the lowest COVID-19 death rates. Two clusters (one with high CTR and one low) both adopted late stringency measures and narrow testing and performed least well in COVID-19 outcomes.

CONCLUSION: Early stringency measures and intrinsic national capacities to deal with a pandemic are insufficient. Extended stringency measures, important in the short term, are not economically sustainable. Broad-based testing is key to managing COVID-19.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal for Quality in Health Care
Issue number1
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 30 Sep 2020


  • capacity to respond
  • COVID-19
  • global health
  • health systems
  • public health consequences
  • stringency of response

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