COVID-19: Who’s In Charge? And Who Should Be in Charge?

 By   Shlomo Maital  


   OK – who’s in charge? Who is running the coronavirus pandemic show?

I think it’s pretty obvious – it’s the doctors, medical experts, epidemiologists and public health officials. As it should be. Right?

   No, I’m not so sure. Initially the focus worldwide was on stopping the spread of COVID-19 from China to the world. That pretty much failed, as expected – with millions of people travelling every week, and with some countries reluctant to share information, drastic quarantine measures came a bit too late. And now, COVID-19 is in some 70-80 countries. So – it has spread. Now what?

   Public health officials are in charge. And lacking medicine or vaccines, their tool is mainly that of quarantine. In Israel, a small country, with very few causes of new coronavirus, some 100,000 people are in self-imposed quarantine, for 2 weeks, largely because they have been in countries like France and Italy, where coronavirus existed.

     Quarantine may be rather ineffective in halting the infectious spread. And it is disastrous for the economy. You cannot simply shut down the world economy – people have to eat and drink and keep the wheels of commerce moving. It cannot really be done efficiently from home… the Internet is not yet up to it.

     So who is running the show? What we need is a small, powerful interdisciplinary team made up of political leaders, public health experts, epidemiologists, and yes, perhaps economists, and psychologists, and information experts, who will focus on the system – the big picture. How to deliver accurate information. (America gets a big ‘F’ on this one, largely due to its President, who brags that he is terrific at numbers and maybe should have been a doctor rather than an amateur politician). How to weigh cost-benefit in quarantine policies. How and when and whom to test for COVID-19. How to deal with public transportation and flights. How to run schools.

     You could in principle simply shut everything down and tell everyone to stay home. That would be disastrous, immensely costly, and harmful to the mental health of the nation. I don’t believe this is an option. So the question is, how to keep things running more or less smoothly, in the face of the coronavirus that is here to stay? For hat we need a systems approach.

     This is all new territory. We have not faced a real pandemic, post-1989 global economy. Each country needs an integrated team to make policy, and the world needs a similar integrated team to coordinate policies among nations.

       Perhaps, if something good will emerge from the COVID-19 crisis, it will be the understanding of how interdependent all of us are, everywhere, and how concrete and steel walls are not the answer.