The COVID-19 pandemic has affected most, if not all, countries in the world. But, the magnitude of these impacts has varied a lot between countries depending on the policies put into place by their governments, as well as the collective ideology of the population.
Generally, the more government response to the pandemic, though policies, information dissemination, public health measures, and restrictions in a country or region the fewer number of cases and deaths. The less policies and restrictions tended to lead to higher numbers of cases and deaths. However, as the response increases in severity of restrictions, many other social and economic aspects are inversely affected. There are several models to describe the broad range of responses and their impacts.
The "Zero COVID" model is the strictest government response to the pandemic, a long-term public health policy with the goal of elimination. These strategies included full-scale "lockdowns" where citizens were not allowed to leave their homes, mandatory quarantines, mandatory contact tracing, and various other mechanisms that would be virtually impossible outside of the most severely oppressed countries. This was most notable in China, where President Xi's policy, while successful in the short term, failed to account for long-term priorities. The "Zero COVID" model was also used in various other Asian countries and territories, such as North Korea, Singapore, and Vietnam. China's elimination strategy only worked when restrictions were in place. Once the strictest restrictions were loosened, cases and deaths began to rise, and without adequate vaccination programs and access to healthcare, as well as clear policies and infrastructure in place, the failure of China's "reopening" lead to over one billion infections, and millions of deaths in the winter of 2022.
Australia and New Zealand took a hybrid approach to the pandemic, implementing strict short-term restrictions that were characteristic of the "Zero COVID" strategy including multiple full-scale "lockdowns", quarantines, and mandatory contact tracing, but also understood the need to look to the future and ensure that their citizens were vaccinated with the most effective vaccines with the eye toward reopening. This strategy was also used in certain Canadian provinces, South Korea, and several European countries. However, even this hybrid strategy was unable to balance elimination strategy and mitigation strategy. The biggest benefit to this hybrid strategy was that countries and regions that implemented these policies tend to have significantly lower acute COVID-19 mortality rates. This is primarily due to the extensive restrictions in place during the initial waves in 2020 and 2021, which included the most deadly variants (original strain and Delta). By the time these countries eased restrictions and vaccinated their citizens, COVID had evolved to a much more mild acute infection.
The Western Model was the most common clear government response to the pandemic. The United States and most of Europe fell into this category. This model included targeted restrictions such as stay-at-home orders (not true "lockdowns" as were seen in the Zero Covid and Down Under models), school and business closures, and restrictions on gatherings and travel, as well as certain mask mandates. This strategy was an attempt to balance mitigation of the virus with economic and societal needs. However, by the time most countries finally implemented these strategies, it was far too late to contain the virus and mitigate the fallout. This was due to a variety of failures at the international, national, and local levels that led to governments, countries, and individuals being mislead, public health measures became political, and misinformation was everywhere.
This lack of government policies and restrictions model, is different than countries where the government was completely absent and unresponsive. This model, most notably seen in Sweden, took the purposeful action of not imposing large scale restrictions on their citizens, instead allowing for full personal freedom to decide for ones self. Instead Swedes were asked (as opposed to legally required) to work from home when possible, limit travel, social distancing, and self-isolate if symptomatic. This model led to excessive mortality across the board, including in young children, and large numbers of the population suffering from effects of Long COVID. Later in the pandemic Sweden attempted to implement restrictions, but these failed to protect the collapsing healthcare system and the health of the population.