3 April 2020
With Mette Mikkelsen, Senior Consultant. Based in London, Mette works remotely for MartinJenkins’ New Zealand and international clients.
The COVID-19 pandemic is one of very few developments in recent history that have required governments across the world to respond to the same policy challenge, at largely the same time, using a similar mix of policy measures and tools.
Many of these tools will now be familiar to Kiwis: school and workplace closures; cancellations of public events; restrictions on internal movement, public transport and international travel; fiscal and monetary measures; emergency investments in healthcare and vaccines; and public information campaigns.
The breadth, depth, scope and timing of these policy tools has differed from country to country. Policymakers have selected dialled-up or dialled-down versions of these measures, or chosen to deploy them earlier or later. COVID-19 is uncharted territory — as commentators in the Harvard Business Review observed: ‘Policy responses will be uneven, delayed, and, unavoidably, there will be missteps.’
Do we know what works?
So, what has worked so far? In short, it’s too early to tell, as policy tools to contain COVID-19 take some time to show up in the statistics. Policymakers also need to be mindful that comparing country responses is like comparing apples to pears — New Zealand, with its free public healthcare system, has a different starting point from, say, Afghanistan, or even from the United States, which lacks universal health care coverage.
However, there are a few lessons learned starting to emerge around the globe.
Acting quickly may be one measure of success. Denmark is similar in size to New Zealand and, like New Zealand, was swift to deploy its policy measures. On 11 March, Denmark closed its schools and public institutions, and required people to work from home. Three weeks later, figures from 31 March show that Denmark is starting to see a flattening of the now-famous Coronavirus Curve.
South Korea — starting to emerge from the epidemic
We can also look to countries that are slowly starting to emerge from the epidemic, such as South Korea. Here, a key policy tool has been widespread testing. Six hundred testing sites have been set up nationwide, with capacity to test up to 20,000 people per day. Six hours after a test, you receive a text message with your results.
South Korea has also used data from surveillance cameras, mobile phones and credit card transactions to map the social connections of suspected cases. The government used a GPS-tracking app to oversee and publicise patients’ movements, and penalised those who broke quarantine.
Companies have also been encouraged to develop apps that visualise infected patients’ anonymised location data and make them publicly accessible. For example, the popular app Corona 100m alerts users when they come within 100 metres of a recent coronavirus patient’s location.
A global policy plan?
In this new world, fundamental questions emerge. How much privacy and freedom of movement would people be willing to give up to avoid another pandemic? And what policy measures might government employ in the post-COVID era to avoid another outbreak?
Author Yuval Noah Hariri has called on governments to develop a global policy plan to fight COVID-19. This would include sharing information, producing and distributing medical equipment (especially testing kits and respiratory machines), pooling medical personnel, fostering economic co-operation, and developing an agreement on pre-screening travellers.
This raises other questions. Who, if anyone, is positioned to lead an international effort on COVID-19? And for us in New Zealand, what part could our country play in such a global initiative?
A new, much-changed world
Predictions in the COVID-19 era are often futile. In a matter of days, COVID-19 went from being the centre of memes to causing a global lockdown. When it comes to the policy implications of the disease, the only thing we know for certain is that policymakers will face a new, much-changed world in the post-COVID era, both in New Zealand and internationally.
MartinJenkins is also publishing an insights series on regional economic development responses to COVID-19. You can read the introduction to that series here: COVID-19 and our regions: Responding to the urgent, planning for the long term.
For more resources
Data — All figures are from the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Centre.
Policy tools — For a global overview of policy tool deployment, Oxford University has launched a COVID-19 government response tracker, comparing government responses to COVID-19 across 73 countries. The goal is to help governments and researchers understand how these measures affect the rate of infection, looking across a range of policy tools.
Economic tools — The International Monetary Fund has also launched a Policy Tracker tool, which lists the key economic responses that 186 governments are taking to limit the impact of COVID-19.
About the author
Mette Mikkelsen is a policy expert with rich experience working for the United Nations, government agencies and not-for-profits, Mette is adept at providing strategic advice to policymakers and managing and evaluating complex programmes. Mette works remotely for MartinJenkins from London.