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It’s easy – don’t panic!
Written by Paul Gray, consulting partner
16 March 2020
The easy thing to do right now would be to institute a country-wide lockdown. Close the schools, close all non-essential retail outlets, ban almost all travel, close the borders. And of course, implement social isolation protocols for all but essential workers.
And then remind everyone not to panic.
I’m pretty sure there would be an overwhelming sigh of relief from many quarters. “At last, they’re listening” people would say.
But then what happens? How long should this lockdown last? Well, to be effective, it really needs to last until nobody within the lockdown area has coronavirus. Except that there’s twist. It actually needs to last until you’re certain that nobody has it, anywhere in the world, unless you retain a complete travel ban, forever. Or you wait until there’s a 100% effective vaccine, available on demand, for everyone. So, lockdown until when, precisely (or even approximately)?
Of course, it would be important when announcing the lockdown to tell people not to panic. Everything they need will be readily available – food, medicines, fuel. But it won’t.
Some of the people who might have delivered the food, or the medicines, or the fuel, won’t be available to do so because they are sick. Some of them will be looking after the children who are not at school. And some of them will have no work, and no income. So, “don’t panic” is a very unhelpful message – and probably unrealistic.
What if, instead of taking the easy decision, leaders did what leaders have to do? What if they made unpopular decisions, based on the evidence, because they cared enough to take the criticism, rather than make a bad decision and take the praise? What if they took decisions, knowing that they might have to change them later, in light of further evidence, even though they might be criticised for that too? What if they were honest about not knowing everything, rather than giving false hope, and false certainty?
The latest government guidance has just been issued. Further restrictions have been announced, and more will almost certainly come soon; some form of enforced lockdown may come before long. But I hope that these are not implemented until the evidence supports these decisions, however hard it may be not to take them sooner.
People are afraid. Not because they are stupid, but because coronavirus is spreading, because it has never happened before, and because some will die from it. We need to acknowledge that: it’s a perfectly rational reaction to the unknown. But there are people working all day every day to ensure that the response is as comprehensive and effective as it can be. They actually care about the people they serve. They want to serve them well. They don’t have all of the answers, but they are gathering data all the time, refining their proposals, adjusting them as needed – and they are doing it for you, not for themselves.
So, we need to keep together on this. It’s been said many times before – if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.