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Reflections on a Plague Year

It may be too soon to draw firm conclusions about which pandemic-induced changes are likely to prove long-lasting. But some of the most significant could include enhanced vaccine development, increased government spending, accelerated digitalization, and the continued rise of China.

LONDON – It is probably premature to offer an assessment of the COVID-19 pandemic’s possible consequences, not least because there may well be many more twists and turns to come. And once we defeat the coronavirus, some of the pandemic-induced changes to our lives might turn out to have been temporary. But with these caveats in mind, it is possible to begin drawing some conclusions.

First, it seems reasonably clear that once a new, highly infectious and dangerous virus appears, it pays to act aggressively to stamp it out as soon as possible, rather than wait and hope that we learn more. More than a year after the initial COVID-19 outbreak in China, many of the (mostly Asia-Pacific) countries that took the most aggressive steps to tackle the coronavirus seem to be in a much stronger position than the West.

Recently, for example, Western Australia reacted to a single COVID-19 case by locking down the city of Perth for five days. Here in the United Kingdom, by contrast, the clamor to reopen resurfaces as soon as there is evidence that current hospital admissions and reported deaths have passed a peak, even though the daily rate of new infections is well above 15,000. Ending lockdown is obviously desirable, but as the UK has learned, any easing of restrictions will be temporary unless the number of active cases declines dramatically.