woods50_ Christopher FurlongGetty Images_covid uk Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Best Practices for Calamity-Ready Governments

Over the next few decades, climate disasters, pandemics, and violent conflicts will stretch government agencies to the limit. To develop crisis-management mechanisms able to withstand the coming shocks, policymakers must seek long-term, trust-based partnerships with local officials and business leaders.

OXFORD – To the dismay of immunologists, virologists, and public-health experts, governments are done with learning the lessons of COVID-19. Policymakers around the world, faced with a cost-of-living crisis, are balking at spending enormous amounts of money on pandemic preparedness. But some of the key lessons concern the workings of government, and even cash-strapped countries should take basic steps to improve their crisis-management capabilities. These measures could also help them prepare for climate change and other potential emergencies.

The United Kingdom’s experience offers some important insights. Just before the emergence of COVID-19, the UK ranked second on the Global Health Security Index, which rated countries’ capacity to detect, prevent, and report epidemics. In 2016, the British government ran a three-day simulation to estimate the impact of a potential flu pandemic, creating a risk-management playbook that it could use in the event of a contagious outbreak. Even so, the UK struggled to control COVID-19 more than it should have. As a recent report by Ciaran Martin and his co-authors shows, the likely culprit behind the country’s messy pandemic response was not a lack of preparedness, but rather a dysfunctional political system.

During the pandemic, some countries managed effective coordination between central and subnational governments. In Germany, for example, national and state-level policymakers came together during the first few months of COVID-19 to forge a unified approach that allowed for diverse local responses. Similarly, Australian decision-makers joined forces during the initial outbreak to develop a coherent national strategy that integrated local expertise.

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