On December 31st, 2019, Chinese officials reported a cluster of around 41 patients showing symptoms of pneumonia as a result of a novel coronavirus. Within three months, the novel coronavirus (now referred to as COVID-19) has led to a global pandemic, infecting over 1.5 million people around the world, and killing over 87,000 and counting. At this time, many schools have been suspended globally, with many countries on national lockdown and imposing travel restrictions on their citizens as well as citizens abroad.
Though the deadliness of COVID-19 and its rapid spread is a cause for the pandemic nature of the global outbreak, another cause in many areas is the lack of preparedness on the part of governments in responding to this crisis. In order to learn from this global pandemic and be better prepared to respond to any potential outbreaks of diseases in the future, government leaders around the world must actively implement measures that will set up a foundation for containing such diseases in the future.
The first step towards preparing a better response to future outbreaks lies in ensuring access to a network of trusted medical professionals, whose observations regarding the development of global diseases can directly and quickly influence policy decisions. Some policy suggestions for lawmakers to ensuring such access include:
- Encouraging the establishment of a designated office/agency within national governments whose purpose is to be activated during an outbreak of a disease in order to formulate policy making decisions directly to the head of government. This would ensure rapid and effective responses to a global pandemic such as the COVID-19 outbreak, even prior to growing in scale worldwide.
- Establishing a global pandemic committee through the World Health Organisation for the purpose of assembling a team of medical professionals designated to the monitoring of potentially dangerous diseases, with a summit/conference organised periodically to inform global leaders and citizens on the current state of global diseases and pandemic prevention procedures from national governments around the world.
The next step towards preparing a better response to future outbreaks lies in ensuring access to immediate resources for medical technology in the healthcare industry and monetary relief for civilians. Some policy suggestions for lawmakers to ensuring such access include:
- Encouraging the establishment of a designated pandemic response emergency fund through national governments for the purpose of investing early on in various technological and medical resources in case of a future pandemic. These may include:
- Research technology to identify a new disease prior to a possible outbreak that could be cause for global concern.
- Testing technology to allow widespread access to testing for a new disease or virus as soon as a potential outbreak begins.
- Health care services and policies to be initiated during a potential outbreak such as a waiver of copayments for testing and treatment; investment in the increased production of masks, gloves, and other medical attires; and any medical equipments such as hospital beds, ventilators, patient monitors, anesthesia machines, defibrillators etc., to maximise health care capacities.
- Encouraging the establishment of a designated pandemic social services program for the purpose of being activated during an outbreak of a disease to provide essential services to those affected by the outbreak. Some of these services may include:
- Nutritious food vouchers for lower income citizens and those without work as a result of a pandemic to feed their families.
- Tax relief in the form of credits and refunds for citizens affected by an outbreak.
- Temporary basic income for citizens as a way to provide economic relief during an outbreak.
- Temporary basic income for small businesses as a way to minimise the economic effects of a pandemic on family owned businesses and startup companies.
- Mortgage, rent, and student loan relief/suspension for citizens during a pandemic to minimise the financial disruptions of a pandemic on families around the world.
- Guaranteed paid leave of at least 70% of salary for all workers in every industry during quarantines and national lockdowns to minimise the economic impact of an outbreak on middle and low income workers.
- Guaranteed and universal health care services in the form of testing and treatment for those suspected of or directly infected with a new disease.
- Health care relief and resources for those suffering from long-term illnesses such as cancer and diabetes to receive the same kind of quality treatments they have been receiving without disruption from a possible pandemic.
The following step towards preparing a better response to future outbreaks lies in ensuring the creation of detailed and comprehensive pandemic response action plans in preparation of a future disease outbreak. Some policy suggestions for lawmakers to devise and implement such action plans include:
- Establishing national, state/provincial, and local pandemic response action plans to be updated and reviewed annually by the nation’s health department, all of which are encouraged to include the following provisions:
- Plans for economic relief for families in the form of direct cash payments and tax relief.
- Plans to gradually shift the labour force of a given area towards work-from-home initiatives.
- Plans to provide testing supplies of a virus or disease to a given population.
- Plans to guarantee education for all school-aged children during a potential outbreak either through online learning, remote learning, or otherwise.
- Plans to guarantee safety and security for first-responders and health care workers.
- Plans to guarantee safety and security for minority and vulnerable populations including, but not limited to, LGBTQ+ populations, homeless populations, racial minorities, immigrants, etc.
- Plans to guarantee relief for small and start-up businesses during a potential outbreak.
- Plans to regularly provide updated information to citizens during a potential outbreak.
- Plans to provide medical and essential supplies for citizens of a given area during a potential outbreak.
- Plans to communicate and coordinate with other levels of government to distribute and utilise resources during a potential outbreak, including military personnel and resources.
- Requirements and standards for testing of citizens for a virus or disease during an outbreak.
- Requirements and standards for domestic and international travel based upon the phases of a potential outbreak.
- Requirements and standards for government officials and government offices operating during a potential outbreak, including but not limited to, legislature and legislators, immigration services, international student services, welfare and health care services, ambassadors and diplomatic services, etc.
- Requirements and standards for proper sanitation of public buildings across all levels.
Similar to a boom and bust cycle of the economy, global outbreaks of diseases tend to happen in cycles over a period of time. It is impossible to completely prevent a forthcoming outbreak; however it is possible to make sure that every country in the world is prepared to respond adequately to the effects of these outbreaks on families and businesses. Here in the United States, where the number of confirmed cases of the COVID-19 has drastically outnumbered those of every other country at this time, policies like those outlined in this proposal hold even greater weight towards the resolution of this ongoing pandemic.
As the outbreak of this novel coronavirus continues to unfold, it is unfortunate that the US as a whole has been unable to formulate the kind of efficient and effective response which this proposal aims to achieve. From sustained inconsistencies in the public response to the outbreak to unequal distribution of resources to continuing delays of economic relief for families, the lack of willingness to implement swift and efficient responses to an outbreak like the COVID-19 will only weaken global efforts to combat the devastating effects of this pandemic. My proposal is by no means a perfect or complete plan for responding to future outbreaks similar to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, now is the time for countries, particularly major countries such as the United States, to consider how to formulate stronger, more efficient, and more effective responses to future disease outbreaks as opposed to the inconsistent and often contradicting responses we’re seeing today.
Todd Lu is a high school senior and a Next Generation Politics contributor for International News and Economics.Todd’s passion for storytelling and fostering a global perspective on critical issues of our time is at the centre of his written work, theatre performances, and leadership of his school’s ambassadors programme for international and exchange students.