Countries taking a flexible outlook will have a better exit route | Sunday Observer

Countries taking a flexible outlook will have a better exit route

26 April, 2020

People haven’t yet heard the last word on the Covid 19 pandemic, and the reason is simple. The virus and its progression are extremely unpredictable, and this means many different things.

On the one hand, it infers that people have to adjust to the fact that there are changing parameters in sizing up the contagion and its repercussions.

There shouldn’t be anything cut and dried about assessing the future in terms of how the germ would behave. On the one hand there is a perception that it could linger on for months, wreaking all kinds of havoc. But on the other, there is also much talk about second waves and other damaging outcomes.

What does all of this entail? It should mean that the problem of facing this disaster should not be confined to one or two assessments, and resulting courses of action. The variables are complex. People and policy makers should be able to have the benefit of a multiplicity of viewpoints from distinctly multi-disciplinary backgrounds.

It’s never good policy to listen to a particular group of experts when faced with an ever changing issue of this magnitude. For instance, in Israel there have been mathematical models that predict the outcome of virus progression, advanced by mathematicians who analyze numbers associated with viral progression patterns. The predictions of these people may sometimes be at odds with those of the medical community for example, but it’s never good policy to dismiss their prognoses out of hand.


If people are unwilling to listen to top tier experts from multi disciplinary backgrounds, they will be destined to have a restricted, purblind view of issues. Also, the experiences of various countries in the face of the crisis have been vastly different.

Before any nation, and this means any country in any continent or any particular geographical zone makes policies connected to the pandemic, a close scrutiny of the experiences and outcomes of other nations would be a necessary imperative.

There are countries which have started well but have had a hard time keeping to the early gains in disease containment. There are others that have started badly but have not fared too poorly on the long run, which have consolidated after the initial damage had been done.

So, all policy has to be made with reference to all these different situations and different outcomes and the last thing that’s viable is to have one dimensional thinking that would cause countries to sustain long term damage, both in terms of containment and sustaining economic losses.

The major issue facing various governments, is the continuing lockdown situations, and dealing with economic and societal fallout.

There are countries such as Pakistan which rejected the policy of strict lockdowns but are not faring badly in terms of casualties as far as the death rate is concerned, given their population numbers.

Other nations such as Singapore have started well, with no real lockdowns but have tightened up their restrictions in the face of a second wave, so called. But yet, in Singapore the people get about and buy their provisions from the markets and the supermarkets, and the 7-Eleven Convenience stores are open during the day.


In Sweden on the other hand restrictions have been minimal, and people have been asked rather than forced to social distance and adjust their lifestyles. The policy has resulted in many thousands being infected and a rather steep death rate — but it is still not as bad as that of Italy for instance.

These trends are being studied by multi disciplinary experts all over the world, but there is no consensus on how exactly governments should react, or organize their responses.

But there have been enough people warning of economic calamity to any number of countries as a result of the pandemic, and to take that factor out of any risk assessment would be suicidal.

Systematic easing of the lockdowns is expected in most governing jurisdictions globally in the very near term, and this is mostly on economic considerations. In Sweden on the other hand, the experts are expecting that the country’s population would be 20 to 30 per cent immune by the time a second wave of the virus hits, which they believe would make them far better placed to face such a repeat occurrence of infections when it spreads to the European continent.

In Singapore, the lockdowns may have been made stricter recently in what is called a ‘circuit breaker’ operation, but even so people are allowed to step out of their houses to purchase essentials, or visit the optician. This leeway too probably builds up some level of the so called herd immunity even though it may not be enough to make a significant difference when a third or subsequent wave hits.

But the country has managed extremely well in terms of its death rate and for a nation of over a five million people packed into a very small land area, the death count that’s just a few more in number than ours is phenomenally good.

It does indicate that there are several ways of skinning this Coronavirus cat. There are countries that are going down the extremely strict lockdown route, and that’s at considerable costs to their economies. It’s also theorized that some countries are more susceptible than others based on climatological reasons, and there is a great deal of merit to this argument as well. All these considerations that vary are veritable shifting sands, the backdrop on which careful decisions have to be made.


It’s also not just economics and disease containment but other considerations that matter, such as whether relatively healthy people should be detained at home for prolonged periods running the risk of making them susceptible to other disease as well. There is no doubt that most countries that experienced the ravages of the virus imposed some sort of so called social distancing measures, but even China for the most part did not have total and absolute lockdowns.

This brings us to the question of what is rather poorly described as herd immunity. This description is rather wanting though, for the simple reason that nobody knows yet if there is any ‘community-immunity’ that’s guaranteed if the virus spreads among a large part of the population.

But, it stands to reason that the basic mathematical models are right and that the rate of spread slows down eventually for one reason or the other, to put that across in very minimalistic terms. So a nation can on the one hand ratiocinate between at least three variables, the death toll, the economy and the ability of the country’s health sector to withstand the pressure of hospital admissions at the worst phase of the disease spread.

Singapore with its superior medical facilities has an advantage in this regard, but Pakistan has so far not done badly without any of those attributes. The point is also that the economic considerations between Singapore, Pakistan and Sri Lanka say, for argument’s sake, are all different.

Pakistan’s Imran Khan has already said that he doesn’t want lockdowns because his people are too poor to withstand those closures economically. There is a great deal of truth in what he says.

Sri Lanka is no Singapore but even though the country may not be in the extreme as Pakistan in per capita earnings terms, there can be no economic complacency here either.

So, to go back to where this article began, in these shifting sands there cannot be any decision making in any country that’s based on purely one set of considerations and that alone, such as ‘we are going g to minimize infections no matter what.’ Decisions have to be ideally revised by multi disciplinary people at varying intervals, and as in Pakistan perhaps, the economic concern in our country should be one among other paramount considerations.

There are elements in all societies that are in denial of all these home truths. That’s a pity because mindsets don’t solve problems such as the Covid calamity — but strategic, multi-dimensional and flexible decision making does.