A myriad of lessons from COVID19

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by Matthew Bugeja

This is an ambitious exercise. One which will take a while to complete. But I am committed to providing different items which could serve as interesting discussion points for how we manage our societies, governments and businesses after COVID19.

In no particular order.

  1. The World Health Organisation should be given complete jurisdiction in any pandemic, drafting in local authorities for help.
  2. The World Health Organisation should have two medical professionals from every country on standby to respond to a pandemic, acting as a rapid reaction force, deployable within 72 hours of notification.
  3. Every individual’s health information should be stored on biometric passports, including immunisations, with particular emphasis on previous COVID19 infection and/or immunity.
  4. Upon booking a flight, passengers should be screened two days before travel by medical professionals engaged by the airlines for COVID19.
  5. Upon arrival at a destination, travellers should be further screened by local authorities, and housed in an area close to the airport, awaiting their COVID19 screening test results. Should they test negative for the virus, they will be allowed to continue on their trip. If they test positive for the virus, they will be quarantined by the receiving country, but reimbursed for the cost of care by the traveller’s country of residence.
  6. International financial institutions, such as the IMF and the World Bank, should have a separate pool of resources specifically allocated to pandemic outbreaks, with very loose conditionality.
  7. National militaries should be trained for response to pandemics more specifically, including in civil assistance, national policing and reacting to civil disobedience, including but not limited to the protection of essential establishments, such as grocery stores, supermarkets and pharmacies.
  8. Those dependent on tourism should plan for future outbreaks by making their establishments available to the authorities for other uses. For instance, hotel chains should consider housing quarantine patients and medical personnel, or essential government personnel who cannot work from home. Hotel staff should be allocated hazard pay, and trained in dealing with clients from suitable distances, whilst cleaning staff should be particularly protected.
  9. Governments should establish suitable contingency funds as a matter of course, simply as a good practice, whereby between 0.1-1% of GDP is allocated each year to crisis response and management.
  10. National Health Services should have fully fledged contagion plans to better prepare for a COVID19-like outbreak in the future, which includes access to emergency funding, the identification and requisitioning of locations as back up medical facilities, and training which allows for response to floods of cases.
  11. Governments should provide all available statistics, analysis and forecasting on the outbreak, including when a crisis is expected to peak, in order to manage expectations from their citizens.
  12. In the case of outbreaks in Western countries, governments should not hesitate to immediately lock down areas as is necessary, including employing the use of means and methods that would be considered as infringing upon key freedoms in peacetime. This includes lockdowns of individuals in towns with considerable outbreaks through the use of law enforcement and military personnel to prevent the spread to other areas.
  13. To follow up on the previous point, governments should employ individual tracing methods during pandemic outbreaks in order to quickly identify individuals, through the use of mobile technology and GPS systems, even if through the use of anonymised data. Any one who would have been within a several metre radius of an infected individual could be identified, traced and tested.
  14. Upon identification of an outbreak in a country, that country must be immediately and irrevocably quarantined until the outbreak has been contained, and eliminated. Flights to and from the country should be cut off, if not by the country in question, then by those participating in trade, travel and commerce with it.
  15. In a time of crisis similar to that of COVID19, countries should seek to reallocate workers from industries that were hard hit, to those with a dire need of supply on a form of lend-lease programme. For example, in the case of the COVID19 outbreak, those from the hospitality industry could have been allocated to the transportation, logistics and supermarket outlets. The government would pay for 25% of the employee’s wage, the hospitality employer would pay 25% of the wage, and the new & temporary employer, e.g. the logistician, would pay for 50% of the wage. Once this demand subsides, and the worker is no longer needed at the logistics company, they would be reassigned to their original employer.
  16. Economic growth for the sake of economic growth has not been a sustainable model for years. Governments should consider what they want that economic growth to provide – and it should be to provide better living conditions for their citizens. That includes investment in the environment, a drive to cleaner energy, and the achievement of carbon neutrality by 2050 to tackle climate change.
  17. Globalisation is not over, not by any means. We will still need global supply chains to manufacture, service and deliver products. However, countries should seek to consider prioritising security of supply over economic considerations when it comes to certain products which are deemed to be essential for national security, such as certain materials and manufacturing. This is not to say that countries should not continue importing from developing countries, but just like you would diversify your investment portfolio, you should also diversify your sources of supply.
  18. Companies have grown lax in their risk assessment, and have found themselves incredibly exposed to the damaging effects of COVID19. The damage could not have been fully prevented, but to some extent, it could have been mitigated. Once the coronavirus made it to European shores, in late January 2020, companies should have been more aware of the danger, particularly as the virus began to tear through Italy’s health care system.
  19. Most meetings could just be an e-mail. Let’s be honest, too many meetings could be done through video conferencing and e-mail exchanges. Physical meetings are still important, in order to establish a personal relationship with the other individual, or to evaluate their intentions in a face to face setting. But we need to consider using technology more, which will save a lot of time and energy for everyone involved.
  20. Remote working – I am a parent, so I understand the importance of flexibility on working schedules. A lot of companies relied on teleworking in order to continue operating during COVID, where it was possible. Obviously, plumbers, plasterers and electricians would have some problems working from home. But other professionals in industries such as finance, IT, and administration have no such issues. Providing remote working opportunities provides flexibility to employees, and shows that you care about their well-being at least as much as your bottom line.
  21. More money needs to be invested by governments into the scientific community as a whole. Healthcare professionals are trying their best to avoid becoming overwhelmed, but they all pray every single day for a vaccine. That comes from scientists working in laboratories, working day and night trying to find a treatment that will save millions of lives. There was no way a vaccine could have been developed before the coronavirus struck, but they should have every resource available, no questions asked, and a global infrastructure put in place to harness their efforts into a single, cohesive unit for the betterment of mankind as a whole. This would involve harnessing the power of both the private and public sectors.
  22. The aviation industry has been hit hard by this virus, but they were also, unwittingly, the carriers of the disease for months. In line with improving detection of diseases before travel, aviation companies should consider speaking to scientists and engineers to put in place air filtration systems that might reduce the risk of transmission onboard with something as highly infectious as COVID19.
  23. Every country should have stockpiles in place of the key equipment that was so sorely lacking in dealing COVID19. It was apparent that countries would hoard supplies, particularly if they manufactured them to begin with. Once realism begins to creep in, and cooperation is more limited, it is highly contingent on countries to ensure that they have a stockpile which would provide enough medical supplies, such as PPEs, to last their healthcare service through a minimum of 4-6 weeks. +
  24. Financial and investment managers will need to consider the implications of future outbreaks on their investments to no small degree. They ought to consider pricing in medical risks on their investments, where this is both possible and applicable.
  25. The EU must create a bailout fund with little or no conditionality attached to them to respond in times of absolute crisis, particularly when the crisis is not of the fund recipient’s making. In cases such as natural disaster, war, terror attack or pandemic, the EU needs to decide whether it seeks to be a force for all of its members, or simply a club which has similar interests and goals, but little in the way of friendship and solidarity when disaster hits. A balance must be found.

Matthew Bugeja – CiConsulta – Diplomatique.Expert