This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders — from around the world and all parts of society — address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future. Aiming to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge, opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.
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COVID-19 is the great revealer. The virus combines transmissibility and pathogenicity, making it exceptionally dangerous. Where systems are fragile, they are ruthlessly exposed and exploited, impacting economies, food systems and supply chains alongside devastating consequences for people’s health. Wherever there is weakness or a gap in the working of systems, the virus finds opportunities to proliferate; once established, it is capable of exponential growth whereby a few cases can rapidly multiply by thousands to produce explosive outbreaks. These stop people in communities and cities from going about their normal lives.
Humanity is learning to live with this new virus, quickly changing to safer behaviours, ways of living and ways of working. As we do this together, we are better able to live our lives safely and establish some pattern of normality. We call this being “Covid-Ready”.
In becoming Covid-Ready, we are adopting a different quality of connectedness. Different places adopt different approaches, adapting virus control strategies to circumstance and need, but doing so in ways that are connected to the world around them. Each one of us learns that as the disease becomes endemic, outbreaks can occur anywhere in the world at any time. They are more likely to occur as people are moving more freely around their communities, and venturing beyond them, to go about their lives and earn their incomes.
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Living and moving around in Covid-Ready societies becomes easier if people everywhere have access to what they need to help them stay safe. This includes COVID diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines. For there to be universal access, active co-operation between leaders is essential. They need to be able to share information on the disease openly, evolving their understanding together, collating and comparing the efficacy of different protocols (for example around hygiene or prevention) and doing this in different settings globally.
Being Covid-Ready means systematically and consistently advancing connectedness
This focus on connecting recognises that there really is little to be gained by acting alone, competing with others and trying to be the best in class. Being first to introduce new advances may bring kudos to those seeking popular support and help scientists secure their careers. But it does not enable citizens to be secure because no individual is safe until we are all safe. Division and competition among responders just create more opportunity for the virus to spread. As long as the disease is present, we are all at risk unless we benefit from strong defences: being Covid-Ready means systematically and consistently advancing connectedness. Humanity benefits massively if decision-makers can find ways to work together, and as the pandemic advances there is much shared effort underway. But there is also non-cooperation, and this constantly undermines connected and effective responses. Quite simply, the response could be so much better.
Also on the Forum Network: The only way to beat the COVID-19 crisis is if we come together and commit to science by Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust
What is true globally is also true nationally. Many countries are now becoming COVID-ready and not lurching back into lockdowns as soon as case numbers rise. Governments and employers are connecting with people and improving the performance of local public health services. They are working out how to keep economies open and respond to the needs of the most vulnerable while preventing the appearance of explosive outbreaks. They maintain this Covid-Ready state by co-ordinating national capability with local intelligence. They enable local jurisdictions (cities, townships or communes) to access high quality information on where the virus is. They work out where hospital capacity needs to be strengthened and sharpen their protocols for responsibility, strategy or funding. They recognise that with well-organized and rigorous responses, driven by data, humanity will gain the upper hand and prevent the virus from causing more distress.
To be Covid-Ready there are four leadership activities that matter everywhere and at every level.
First, disseminate the strategic principles. The understanding of COVID-19 will continue to evolve, but the strategic principles for combating outbreaks and living safely with the risk of fresh infections are now well established. Leaders must ensure that these strategic principles are used in framing the narrative about how everyone, everywhere, can live in a Covid-Ready environment.
Second, adapt and implement at local level. COVID-19 is characterised by repeated and ongoing spikes of disease that can quickly turn into outbreaks. As circumstances vary by nation, city or local jurisdiction, local leadership must adapt the strategic principles to match what is being observed. The actions of local leaders are critical for containing outbreaks and ensuring that the strategic principles are followed.
Third, communicate clearly and consistently. People everywhere are trying to make sense of the change that COVID-19 has brought to their lives and what life will be like in a Covid-Ready world. Through returning repeatedly to the strategic principles, and the values of compassion and equity that must underpin them, leaders enable people to appreciate the risks of COVID-19 and work out and how to live amidst those risks.
Fourth, monitor performance with full accountability. We all learn as we go. In fighting COVID-19 speed and rigour are essential, yet when decisions are made rapidly they sometimes have to be revised. With hindsight, we see that different judgements could have been made. To become Covid-Ready we must become wiser, analysing what works and what does not and being prepared to welcome better methods as they emerge.
Leaders recognise that adopting and adapting the strategic principles is a vital for establishing a Covid-Ready world. As they share, explore and apply the principles, they find that they are useful for setting agendas and accountability, for aligning efforts to best effect and for fostering viable connections between practitioners — working across countries, jurisdictions, and peoples. As leaders think through how best to apply the principles in ways that are consistent, enduring and impactful, they also see an urgent need to communicate them widely and interpret them for all who can make good use of them.
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