Governments must work together, ahead of the next pandemic or second wave of COVID-19, to develop policies that protect the interconnectivity of the global economy, said business professor
As COVID-19 spread across the world, governments have turned to epidemiologists to slow its transmission.
Without a vaccine, large-scale testing capacity, and sufficient intensive care beds, epidemiologists have pushed countries to adopt social distancing measures and lock in economies. These policies have saved lives and gained time to better understand the virus.
Since the start of the pandemic, however, significant social and economic costs have resulted from extended lockdowns. Comprehensive policies were adopted that did not take into account the social and economic costs and the ability of companies to adapt their operations to mitigate risk.
While the uncertainty arising from this unprecedented situation makes additional caution understandable, it is important to revisit lessons learned ahead of a second wave of COVID-19 or the next viral pandemic so that we can better manage future crises in a way that limits medical, social and economic costs.
Lesson 1: Simple behaviors are the most effective response.
The spread of COVID-19 can be reduced with simple actions, as Bonnie Henry, now British Columbia’s medical officer of health, noted in her 2009 book Soap and Water and Common Sense: The Definitive Guide to Viruses, Bacteria, Parasites and Diseases. Hand washing, regular surface disinfection, wearing face masks and social distancing can lower R0 below 1 and limit the community spread of the virus.
Lesson 2: Testing and monitoring identifies hot spots.
Open access to COVID-19 tests allows communities to identify and limit the rate of transmission. It also makes it possible to assess the impact of public health measures on transmission rates.
Tracking technologies can identify outbreak hot spots or locations of high transmission. Once identified, these hot spots can be managed (and closed if necessary) while allowing others to remain open. In addition, the tracking data enables analytical modeling to understand current and projected transmission paths.
Lecon 3: Consistency shapes standards.
Regions that effectively managed transmission of the virus received consistent messages from different levels of government, encouraging the simple behaviors needed to reduce transmission. Messages that also provide a rationale for necessary behavior changes are most effective.
Lesson 4: Businesses adapt quickly.
Companies constantly adapt and manage behavior using simple, technological solutions. In response to COVID-19, retail stores have cut hours to increase sanitization time, eliminated promotions to reduce in-store congestion, and installed Plexiglas screens at checkouts.
Digital technologies have led to contactless options, reducing the potential for physical transmission in the workplace. When viral outbreaks occurred, many businesses closed, adjusted, and reopened.
Lesson 5: Social costs must be taken into account.
Since the start of the pandemic, cases of domestic violence have increased dramatically and suicide rates are expected to rise by 20 to 30 percent. The loss of health insurance due to unemployment has increased health inequalities in countries without public systems.
In addition, the pandemic has resulted in an increase in non-coronavirus-related deaths from acute and chronic medical conditions that are untreated or undertreated due to fear and inability to access medical care.
Models that only included COVID-related deaths overestimated the number of lives saved and underestimated the costs to society.
Lesson 6: No economy is immune.
The prolonged foreclosure of economies has resulted in an estimated loss of over US $ 12 trillion in global GDP, and about a third of the world’s population has experienced unemployment. Over 95% of countries are expected to experience negative per capita income growth in 2020.
The closure of businesses has had a global ripple effect. The countries that allowed businesses to operate during their epidemics are still experiencing economic downturns resulting from the global recession.
These lessons support two conclusions.
First, virus transmission can be reduced through simple steps of constantly reinforcing appropriate behaviors and widespread testing and monitoring of the virus.
Second, governments need to prepare for other potential viruses by creating different scenarios of transmission routes and identifying the best measures to limit the spread of these routes while managing the economic and social consequences.
Delays in implementing appropriate policies have led to higher healthcare costs, and advance planning can reduce delays at the onset of a pandemic.
Governments must work together, ahead of the next pandemic or second wave of COVID-19, to develop policies that protect the interconnectivity of the global economy. They must coordinate with trading partners to protect critical assets and supply chain networks in the event of a pandemic.
Lives can be saved while stabilizing business; it is not a decision either / or. Incorporating human and economic factors into predictive models can both minimize the spread of the virus and reduce the economic impact.
Loren Falkenberg, Senior Associate Dean, Business, University of Calgary and Jillian Walsh, Graduate Student, Health Economics, University of York
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.