COVID-19 is a virus on the march. China has shown that while it may not be stopped, this is a march that can be controlled.
Lessons from the coronavirus – COVID 19 – outbreak are being learned daily if not hourly. A key lesson is that the successful outcomes require transparency.
First China, Japan, Italy, Iran, South Korea and now, every day it spreads to new places. The coronavirus is affecting everyone. Well over half of countries worldwide have reported cases, with additional countries are reporting cases everyday.
In the US which is still struggling to provide an adequate supply of testing kits, commentators believe the number of cases is significantly under-estimated.
As of this writing, over 6,800 now have died worldwide with positive cases globally growing towards 200,000.
Responses to contain the virus require speed, resources and political courage. It requires getting out in front and being transparent with people.
So far this transparency has been effective in New Zealand’s case. There have been 8 confirmed cases here. Of these, one has been discharged, with the other seven self isolating. The MoH reports over 9,000 New Zealanders have self isolated.
COVID-19 has created economic uncertainty. Financial markets have plunged so deeply, trading has been stopped on Wall Street several time. Central banks dropping interest rates have had little impact because the effects of COVID-19 are primarily economic, not monetary.
The difference about this virus-related economic uncertainty is that it is spreading around the world. The impact on developed economies is already worse than anticipated.
The response is different from a recession where people stop spending because of declining incomes. Even those people who are currently healthy and who have money are bunkering in and not spending.
When you get into a crisis, the only asset you have is your credibility.
People want to know the truth. This is where transparency comes in.
The worst thing a government can do is not test whether there is an infection. The second worse thing is to fail to openly report the results, so as to demonstrate it is testing and monitoring the virus.
What has made this a perfect storm is that as the virus creates economic uncertainty, central banks were already struggling to generate consumer spending. Consumer spending remained stagnant even before the virus, as interest rates were adjusted further and further down.
Meanwhile, with people staying at home and social gatherings cancelled, consumer spending on the services - restaurants, movies, holidays, sporting events - is falling off a cliff.
Chinese response: containment looks effective
Two months from the first formal Chinese reporting of numbers with the disease, new cases have dropped from thousands per day down to less than a hundred per day. This has allowed China to shut down some of its field hospitals and its leader to visit Wuhan, the apparent source of COVID-19.
China has shown if you move early and fast, you can stay ahead of the coronavirus.
It’s important for testing for the virus to work. It is equally important that the results to be reported openly by place and with a profile - age, gender, location - of the infected cases.
China’s 31 provinces outside Wuhan applied these lessons based on the fundamentals of public health. They quarantined 60 million people, equal to the current lockdown of the whole country of Italy. This is based on international practice (ironically originated in the United States) to manage communicable disease.
Viruses only survive in people and they have to get from one person to the other. COVID-19 is a virus on the march. China has shown that while it may not be stopped, this is a march that can be controlled.
A silver lining perhaps is that meantime with everyone staying inside, factories closed and cars being used less, the level of carbon emissions in China have dropped dramatically and air quality has improved.
New Zealand’s challenges
New Zealand’s Ministry of Health (MoH) has shown a strong leadership role here, being quick to isolate and quarantine possible cases and to make test kits available.
Companies like Air New Zealand and Fonterra were quick to develop responses to COVID-19. As well as keeping their tens of thousands of employees free of the virus, they have developed strategies to support their staff through continuity and scenario planning. Even so, there will be staff layoffs.
The challenge is that while MoH policy has to date prevented the spread of the virus beyond 8 positive cases, New Zealand hasn’t been immune from the impact of global economics. The New Zealand Government is introducing new policy aimed at assisting businesses impacted.
TINZ has designed a pandemic policy that can be implemented by smaller organisations. This policy is available on our website. When it comes to public health everyone has a role to play, including our country’s over 100,000 NGOs and over 300,000 enterprises that employ five or fewer people. They too will need a policy.
With transparency and accountability, the COVID-19 virus can be controlled here.
On the anniversary of the 15th March Christchurch attack, we welcome first time Transparency Times Author, Dr Zainab Radhi. See Intransigence, opaqueness for the Culturally and Linguistically Diverse.
Suzanne Snively, ONZM
Transparency International New Zealand Inc.