Resilience in Times of Pandemics
The appearance of the COVID-19 pandemic is an interesting case to help understand resilience.
We have two main questions here: why this new virus emerged and what was/is the right response to it? In this post, I will focus on the second question — only mentioning that the emergence of the new virus is possibly strongly connected to the destruction of habitats.
Maybe it is not too early to think about successful responses to the pandemic at this point despite it is not over yet. We have seen a few strategies that let the virus go with minor restrictions and many more where the response was strong — but not equally efficient. One way to compare countries is to take a look at COVID related deaths per million inhabitants and see what kind of strategies the most successful countries followed.
In Asia, we can find multiple successful countries — with probably Taiwan being the leader: only 7 people died because of COVID from a population of more than 23 million. The success of many Asian countries is connected to the experience they have gained during an earlier SARS virus outbreak that happened in 2003 and did not evolve into a global pandemic, but the problem and the necessary response was similar from a local point of view. In Taiwan, 81 people died as a consequence of the outbreak — the virus was somewhat deadlier but was spreading slower and more visible as it caused symptoms in all patients — but the responsible public institutions gained much experience that was used during the current pandemic. There was no lockdown in 2020 in Taiwan, but testing, isolation and contact tracing was taken extremely seriously. The Taiwanese started to wear masks in large numbers even before it was made compulsory.
In Europe, maybe Finland is the success story — only 586 died of COVID out of 5.5 million inhabitants. The key to their success was the early reaction — the first restrictions were introduced even before the first case appeared — and a high level of trust in the public authorities that was reinforced by detailed information sharing. Trust leads to compliance with the rules, an extremely important factor in such a scenario. Finland could not avoid a national lockdown, but its high average standard of living and a well-developed education system made it easier to endure and probably also contributed to the relatively good economic results of the country.
What are the lessons from the two cases? If we look at the measures they have taken and the list of key ingredients of general resilience, we can see that (1) trust and leadership were indeed key, (2) monitoring and sharing data is also important: it not just improves trust in the government but also helps, (3) cooperation and drive, (4) bottom-up initiatives, such as voluntary mask-wearing in Taiwan, and (5) serious and meticulous contact tracing is important negative feedback on local outbreaks.
I would say, nevertheless, that trust is the most important among these factors: trust in the institutions and in the process leads to the realization for all people that their personal acts — being them just following regulations or doing some steps in the process of defence against the virus — do matter and doing them properly is truly important.