The Need for National Strategies and International Cooperation to Deal with the Coronavirus Pandemic

The Need for National Strategies and International Cooperation to Deal with the Coronavirus Pandemic

A Dutch version of this article you can find here.

It is imperative that national governments formulate a national strategy as soon as possible to tackle the corona virus pandemic and its consequences in an integrated manner, with a long (er) long-term vision.

In this article, I explain the need for such an approach, what could be the objective of such a strategy, and I will discuss a few additional.

I am focusing on a Dutch national strategy to combat the corona pandemic and its consequences. However, such an approach should not be unique to this country. International cooperation is crucial for the success of national strategies, for tackling this pandemic and its consequences.

Harmonization of national strategies contributes to effectiveness and efficiency: A Dutch strategy – like other national strategies – must be an integral part of a European strategy and approach.

A strategy also offers societies a clear perspective and a concrete prospect that can and must be worked on jointly.

The objective of this strategic approach is to formulate an integral long-term approach for the control of the corona virus pandemic and its consequences. Negative consequences and damage must be minimized, and normalization of Dutch society must be streamlined and accelerated. That does not happen automatically. If that is not done correctly, things will go wrong.

The main objective of the strategy for the Netherlands is to normalize society as soon as possible, while adequate medical care must be and will continue to be guaranteed, in order to (continue to) minimize the number of victims of the pandemic. Guaranteeing that care and limiting risks are preconditions; there is no question about this objective.

It is possible to distinguish three phases:

I. First response. Fighting the immediate effects of the pandemic. The focus is on organizing (upscaling) medical care and combating the direct effects thereof, including financial and economic distress for citizens and companies. The respons is (should be) based on an emergency plan. A national strategy and accompanying plan must be drawn up as soon as possible. This initial response is now taking shape; an element of trial and error is inevitable at this stage. As long as we learn and adapt, things are going in the right direction. We are now in this phase. But the next step must be taken.

II. Transitional phase. Until the population is fully vaccinated, there is a transitional phase. Medical care and its organization are increasingly stabilized during this phase. But the coast is not yet clear, so to speak; this is only the case if everyone has been vaccinated. With due observance of the main objective, society can already (at least partly) be normalized. Where possible and useful, social and economic activities must be resumed. That must also be pursued. Normalization must be carried out in a controlled manner. This transition phase, in which a part of the population is still vulnerable to infection, can last more than a year.
It is crucial that (new) infections are identified and are accurately mapped; continuous monitoring is necessary. This requires continuous testing and a track and trace system may be necessary; a possible risk of an outbreak can then be identified and controlled through rapid action. The approach of Taiwan and South Korea can serve as examples, at least to some extent.

III. Full recovery. Depending on the availability of a vaccine, this situation could be reached in the second half of 2021 at the earliest. That’s what it looks like now.

Such a national strategy is not only about the long (er) term, but also about an integrated approach. All sectors of government, business and society are part of and involved in this plan. This is necessary in order to be able to quickly achieve results and create support. There should be a national task force responsible for strategy formulation and monitoring its implementation. The results and consequences must be evaluated frequently, and adjustments can be made if necessary.

A distinction can be made between a strategic plan (long-term, three years), medium-term (sub) plans (1-3 years), and concrete operational plans (up to one year).

With a view to effectiveness and efficiency, these plans must be embedded in existing (government) structures, such as central government, provincial and municipal governments and services. Red tape must be avoided. There are also opportunities for governments here.

The cause of the pandemic and its consequences must be evaluated. There is a lot to learn. This crisis also shows what our vulnerabilities are, for example when it comes to critical resources in the event of a crisis (for example in this crisis, respiratory equipment and face masks), where we have no (longer) control over production and distribution. This “thinking” should also be introduced to address other crises that may arise. I can name a few crisis that could occur.

I have already mentioned the international dimension of this crisis and the need for international cooperation. There are other and more international aspects that we have to deal with, such as the great vulnerability of refugees. There is also a responsibility for us.

Furthermore, it will become clear that this pandemic can also have a number of far-reaching consequences, which must be taken into account: probably a worldwide recession (even depression), and more international political tensions, especially now that the international system is so fragile.

This crisis also offers opportunities, let’s use them.

A separate study group should consider how the standardization and transformation process (Phase II) currently taking place, can be used to accelerate other necessary developments, such as the transformation to a much greener society and economy.