Policies to address the worldwide crisis brought about by COVID-19 must satisfy three criteria:
- They must aim to minimise the loss of life directly resulting from the disease, while recognising that there remain deep uncertainties about its true nature.
- They must restore the elements of economic and social life as soon as possible, so as to avoid disastrous and lasting consequences, including for other aspects of health, schooling, food security and livelihood.
- They must aim at a glide path out of the crisis, that can reasonably be projected to end it once and for all — not merely to manage it indefinitely through, for instance, periodic lockdowns.
An effective health system
Three directions for policy are suggested by these three criteria:
- Infections which do not lead to fatalities or lasting illness must be treated as on balance desirable, when determining the right policies. Widespread testing and contact-tracing can help to manage the flow of infections and reduce the danger to those especially at risk, but would have to be continued indefinitely until a vaccine is developed, and demands adequate public health infrastructure, severely neglected in many countries.
- Policies must make a link between restoration of economic output and adequate investment in containing, indeed ending, the disease. This means that costs of vaccine development, mass testing and other measures attacking the disease must be viewed as enjoying a healthy societal return.
- ‘Smart’ design of policies can permit restoration of economic and social life. Such policies should be designed and targeted to allow lower-risk segments of the population to return to daily activities, while protecting higher-risk ones. Systematic collection of test results and other data can be used to manage restrictions so that they are local and temporary. Technology can play an assistive role but is no substitute for public understanding and voluntary choices, fostered by supportive public policies that remove obstacles and enhance benefits of the behaviours being sought. Smart policies can include resumption of contacts across nations, as it is more feasible to bring the disease under control in one’s own society through internal measures than to ensure its control everywhere.