We are amidst a crisis that even the oldest living generations have never seen. Governments across the world have imposed restrictions on living a life with the usual free motions. Whether it is called a lockdown, staying ‘safer at home’ or ‘sheltering in place’, these restrictions are extraordinary.
But lockdowns will not eradicate COVID-19. There is already a possibility of having COVID-20 and COVID-21 strains. Large swathes of population cannot afford to be in a lockdown for too long. It will impair their quality of life to unacceptable levels.
So, the key question here is this: how do we resume a normal or a newly-normalized life without the certainty of a prevention or cure?
I feel the answer lies within the word ‘trust’.
See, the fact is that there are several infectious diseases that are active in the world. But we still lead a normal life because we trust our healthcare system to take care of us if we get infected. The system offers preventive or curative medicine, and even if the system doesn’t offer that we still feel assured that we will be taken care of through palliative care. This fundamental trust in the healthcare system is being put to the test—and the trust in the system is fraying.
So, how should the governments build back this trust specifically for COVID? The below seven actions will strongly enhance my trust in the system, and I wonder if they may be true for others:
1.Develop remote test methods rapidly
Start with the ability of individuals to send samples from the comfort of their home either without assistance or with a home visit. It would be ideal if we can move from lab-based testing to home-based testing equipment.
2.Enact law that requires infected individuals to self-isolate and end isolation only after authorized approval
Like with any law, the trust is compounded only with enforcement.
3.Acquire sufficient inventory of PPEs and critical life support equipment
Governments should publicly confirm that they have the required stockpiles of PPEs for healthcare personnel and equipment required for supporting infected individuals whose condition turns critical; and in the future such reporting should be a routine matter.
4.Reconfigure hospital facilities to have isolation areas
This will give confidence to people with other conditions to continue with their hospital visits.
5.Financially support infected individuals and caregivers
Make it mandatory for employers to pay for sick leave for infected individuals and their supporting caregivers. Find other ways to support unemployed individuals.
6.Build COVID registries for research
Registries should track vital information such as infected individuals for effective disease surveillance, and also make this available for advancement of research towards prevention and cure. This can be done very effectively in a public-private partnership.
7.Develop pandemic-time sanitization standards for public facilities like parks, hotels, restaurants, airlines and employer offices
Like with any standard, the enforcement is what matters here. Rate these facilities by frequent inspection and public reporting.
The world has now experienced a pandemic of a massive scale. It is safe to assume that we will never be the same again. The governments will be well-advised to use the time of lockdown to rapidly make advancements in each of the above areas. Otherwise, the announcement by any government that it is safe to resume normal life will mean little to the general public.
The ‘new normal’ must be founded on consumers’ trust in the system.