I have lamented global responses to COVID-19’s Omicron tidal wave. Criticism is easy, suggesting other strategies more difficult. However, I did commit to putting forward ideas to turn chaos into order.
Short term crisis management generally works to the political advantage of the governing party. The crisis creates opportunity to demonstrate empathy and commitment. The public looks for engagement and action. Voters make allowances for mistakes because of unknowns.
However, long term crisis management seldom works to political advantage. The public starts to see inconsistencies. It recognizes failures to learn from earlier phases of the crisis. Talking heads lose credibility as the messaging defends errors and seeks popularity. General fatigue sets in from seeing the same political leaders almost every day.
We knew in March 2020 that the COVID-19 crisis would be with us for two or three years. To minimize the interference of politics with science and fact, I would favour an all-party “crisis” cabinet / committee. All political parties then share responsibility for strategies. Decisions become less political.
Public tolerance for “stringent” restrictions wanes with the passage of time. So, I would be very tough up front. And then, I would relax restrictions very slowly. Every tiny restriction lifted lessens oppressiveness. On the other hand, restrictions added are downers. The public loses patience with new or re-imposed restrictions. Civil disobedience increases.
Consider what happened in Québec at the outset of the Omicron surge. The prime-minister mused publicly about family parties of twenty-five and other seasonal celebrations. A couple of weeks later, he did an about-face and dashed family plans. Québec and other provinces contributed to reducing Canada’s Stringency Index! Just when they should have maintained measures already in place! Wilful stupidity for political gain! Then just a few weeks later, all these provincial governments reversed course. They did more than just reinstate previous measures.
Getting tough means setting out future expectations. The message around vaccines should have been clear from the outset:
“We are working on vaccines. Once approved, they will be mandated for all health-care and frontline workers plus educators. Expect a vaccine passport. It will be required to: travel, access restaurants (including pick-up and delivery), bars, gyms, cinemas, sports arenas, theatres, and all non-essential retailers. Additionally, government issued permits such as driver’s licenses will be suspended for the un-vaccinated.”
Mask mandates delayed? Caused by bad science or a shortage in masks? Probably the latter! So, be upfront. The message:
“We have a shortage of personal protective equipment (“PPE”). It is reserved for the healthcare sector. Make or purchase non-medical masks until we can ensure supplies of PPE for essential workers. They are not perfect but useful. They will be required in all indoor and crowds until further notice”.
Acknowledge that travel bans and advisories don’t work once a virus is circulating freely in a country. Instead, rely on tough travel rules based on vaccination status and rational testing regimens. Smart international travellers are ‘accident and health insured” travellers. The travel insurance industry will adjust insurance rates to compensate for increased risk.
Admit that curfews do not work. They only make for political posturing.
Focus on meaningful data presented with context. I would suggest:
I promised alternatives to turn chaos into order. Many will have different ideas. Send them to me at: email@example.com
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