23 Mar 2020

Chronicle of a Pandemic Foretold

Andrea Renda / Rosa J. Castro

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In just a few weeks, COVID-19 appeared in China and quickly spread to the rest of the world, including Europe and the United States. Many have rushed to describe the outbreak as a ‘black swan’ – an unpredictable event with extremely severe consequences. However, COVID-19 was not only predictable ex post: it was amply predicted ex ante. This allows us to draw some preliminary lessons:

  • First, economic policy will need to shift from its current focus on efficiency, towards a greater emphasis on resilience and sustainability.
  • Second, a more centralised governance to address health emergencies is needed.
  • Third, Europe should create a centre for the prevention of large-scale risks.
  • Fourth, digital technologies, if handled with care, can be an important part of both a mitigation and a response strategy.
  • Fifth, Europe should improve its science advice and communication functions.

Finally, there are many ways to pursue enhanced resilience and responsiveness, but not all of them are compatible with sustainability and democratic values. The challenge is to find an adequate policy mix, which safeguards individual rights and liberties, protects the economy, and at the same time strengthens government preparedness for cases of epidemics and pandemics.

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