Thousands of decisions have been made throughout the corona crisis. Some were wise - many were mistakes. Deaths, economic damage and the pace of economic return to pre-crisis levels are the three core criteria that governments will be graded upon.
The inquiries that will surely follow this global crisis will need to look at how the decisions made affected these core criteria. We will need to decide whether at the time of decision, with the information and alternatives at hand, those decisions were reasonable and how we can improve in the future. The rest is almost inconsequential.
Should synagogues and other places of prayer have been shut down earlier? Surely. Should separating the ill from the healthy within households been carried out earlier? Probably. Should social distancing and lockdown policies havebeen implemented prior to the escalation in infections? Perhaps.
Should soccer and other mass sporting events have been off limits to crowds from the outset? Could more beds, more ventilators, more testing, more masks and medical staff protection have been made available? Were flights from China canceled and borders blocked sufficiently early? Were mistakes or miscalculations corrected as quickly as possible or did decision makers disregard data and bunker down on their misperceptions?
In due time, these are questions national inquiries around the globe will diligently probe. The answers to those questions and the ramifications of those actions or omissions, should be evaluated in accordance with the core criteria of deaths, economic damage and economic return.
There is no certainty when this crisis will end but it is safe to say we are somewhere in the middle. After controlling the outbreak, nations will need to focus on minimizing economic hardship and kickstarting their economies as quickly as possible.
Finance professor Roger Stein of NYU and his wise work group have drafted a low-risk get-back-to-work action plan that should be considered by hard-hit, mega-city mayors and decision-makers. The American Enterprise Institute published a concise report detailing a national coronavirus response road map to reopening the nation’s economy a few days ago.
Notwithstanding criticism of the manner in which the crisis was initially identified and managed in the US, this report should be studied and considered by all national-level decision-makers. It details the actions required to slow the spread of the virus in phase 1, the case by case reopening of the economy in phase 2, and the lifting of physical distancing and rebuilding readiness in phases 3 and 4. It is designed for America and is not a one-size-fit-all report, but it can be tailored for most economies.
Israel, for example, ranked by the “Deep Knowledge Group” as the safest country vis a vis the corona virus, is expected to be on the verge of phase 2, and moving forward means that the government should alleviate economic hardship as much as possible by taking advantage of existing national reserves and increasing national debt if needed. Most importantly it can take advantage of the unique circumstances to put in place platforms for growth.
Great things can be achieved during times of crisis that under normal circumstances are practically impossible. A six-year subway line can be built in closer to six months in such a crisis, and there would be no need to bring in labor from China to do it. Work on roads and rails is much more effective when most commuters are at home. Unplugging the congested highways and expediting belated subway systems will help unleash the economy when people go back to the office.
With over 900 daily deaths in Italy and Spain, and with leading medical professionals predicting more than 100,000 corona-related deaths in the US alone, it is difficult to grasp for hope. Nevertheless, that is our anthem.
Most crises do have up sides. Humility and nature are the clear winners of this one. People, even the strongest of presidents, are now more mindful of mankind’s limitations and life cycles. There will surely be a surge in newborns with a global baby boom come November.
The air and waters are already cleaner, the grass is greener, and the trees are growing taller. Let’s save some of those trees by limiting the upcoming national inquiries, and the lengthy reports they inevitably produce, to the core principles of life, economic repair and economic acceleration; principles that can help promise people a safer livelihood and a better chance for health and prosperity in the future.
The writer taught crisis management at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya (IDC) and is a founder of Acumen Risk ltd. a firm that specializes in risk and crisis management platforms.