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Learning to Live with COVID-19

Leaders in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul have devised a strategy for living with the virus, based on key indicators, expert consultations, and enforceable processes. And it has done so in full public view. There are lessons here for governments in richer countries that have yet to develop such a plan.

OXFORD/PORTO ALEGRE – One of COVID-19’s paradoxes has been the way in which some wealthy, high-capacity countries (particularly the United States and the United Kingdom) failed to contain the virus, while some poorer countries and regions with less capacity (including Vietnam, Greece, and the Indian state of Kerala) swiftly brought it under control. Now that countries must plan beyond their lockdowns, an equally stark contrast has emerged.

In the US and the UK, ambiguous containment regimes without clear exit plans have resulted in a policy stalemate between maintaining unsustainable lockdowns and recklessly opening up the economy. By contrast, policymakers in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul have used careful planning to learn to live with the virus.

The state began preparing on March 2, when Governor Eduardo Leite tasked his secretary of planning, budget, and management with assembling a data committee to develop and implement a plan for keeping the state’s economy going while combating the spread of the virus. In many other parts of Brazil, the virus remains unchecked, and the country now has the world’s second highest number of COVID-19 cases and the sixth-highest death toll. Yet, its fifth-most populous state has responded in a way that many rich countries would do well to emulate.