Post-COVID19: What Will a Successful Reopening of Economies Look Like?

By Isabel Wong

While it might not seem like the world has contained the spread of COVID-19 on a global scale, talks of reopening economies have already begun despite lockdown extensions still taking place in multiple countries.

Flattening the curve simply means keeping enough people out of circulation so hospital systems and intensive care units, in particular, do not get overwhelmed. Debates around precautions such as whether or not it’s actually effective to wear face masks might have kept the general public and experts busy for a while, but in public health terms, there is only one way to contain the virus outbreak. 

“It starts with getting yourself to near zero on the curve,” said Dr. Roy McGroarty, a COVID-19 public health outbreak senior technical advisor who is currently consulting multiple governments in Asia on pandemic responses, “if we are all following what we were doing at home when we go to the public: wearing a mask, keeping 1.8 meters between us and constantly washing our hands with soap or 70 per cent alcohol-based gels, those things coupled together are going to get us out of [COVID-19]”.

According to McGroarty, reopening the economy before the coronavirus is contained will backfire. A successful reopening could only be achieved when a global system that enables efficient surveillance, active case finding and contact tracing, and scalable virus testing is in place. (Photo: unsplash.com)

“Tread Carefully”

While surveillance technology could help target and trace cases more accurately and effectively, McGroarty warned that is an area governments and pandemic response experts have to tread carefully. South Korea might have its wide adoption of surveillance technology to thank for its effective management of the virus outbreak, the country’s heavy use of CCTV and tracking of bank cards and mobile phone usage to identify potential cases also raised concerns over privacy infringement, stigmatisation, and cyber bullying.

Road to a Vaccine?

To date, there are no specific vaccines or medicines for COVID-19. When asked about the prospects of a vaccine, McGroarty said it would take a few stages for the world to get there.

“The first thing that we do in any response to any new virus is to try and repurpose any drugs that currently exist to see if they will work against this particular virus. We had technologies that we were developing against SARS and its cousin MERS. And then in parallel, we’re developing all sorts of new drugs and new technologies,” said McGroarty, “there are more than 100 new drugs that are in various stages of testing at the moment, and there are almost the same number of vaccines out there that may go into trial”.

Normal vaccine production takes anywhere between 7 to 15 years. (Photo: unsplash.com)

While there are candidate vaccines in the pipeline that could potentially treat COVID-19, the world will still have to find solutions for roadblocks such as how to scale up the production and get enough doses to treat the planet as well as several rounds of virus resurgence.

“If you just take away the people that have already had this and recovered, we’re still looking at having to produce around 7.3 billion doses of this vaccine. We don’t know yet if it’s going to take one shot at a particular dose in one week, or if it’s going to take two shots at some dose over two weeks. Those things all still have to be worked out”.

Misinformation and Disinformation

The spread of misinformation and disinformation has frequently been attributed to the wide adoption of social media, but McGroarty said operators of major social media platforms have also been helping governments to take down false information about COVID-19. He added one of the biggest enemies in the battle against misinformation is the human brain. 

“We’d like to find patterns in things. In the absence of seeing a pattern, we’ll latch onto anything that comes along. That’s not saying something bad about us. It’s just the way that our brain works. I think we’ll get better on these platforms of being able to police bad information”.

The conversation took place in a recent Lynk Speaker Session. Lynk clients will be able to watch webinars on-demand and access transcripts on Lynk Enterprise.

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