As policymakers across the world are still grappling with the unprecedented coronavirus outbreak, we can learn valuable lessons from our mistakes. A recent study, published in the Harvard Business Review provides us valuable lessons from Italy’s response to the pandemic. The authors studied how the country responded, the difficulties in taking critical decisions and how we could overcome these.
The four critical lessons they found were:
Recognize cognitive bias: This relates to common misconceptions among people and leaders that led them to ignore expert warnings on the virus. They refused to see how quickly the outbreak could escalate and did not take adequate action in time. It is important to leave such prejudices and listen to expert advice.
Avoid partial solutions: Instead of enforcing a total lockdown, Italy went about partial clampdowns, slowly expanding them to cover the whole country. The partial restrictions could have worsened the situation as it triggered an exodus. The authors suggest an overthink of the entire health system to avoid this. Contact tracing, testing, and communication is just one part. From a patient-centric approach, we have to move to community-centered solutions.
Learning is critical: The authors compared the responses of Lombardi and Veneto to show how quick learning can help in minimizing the outbreak. Despite similar policies on social distancing and clampdown, Veneto was far more effective in containing the outbreak. This was because of extensive testing, proactive tracing, monitoring healthcare and putting a strong emphasis on home diagnosis and care. Veneto was able to learn from its experiences and implement new policies quickly.
Collecting and disseminating data: There were two data-related problems that policymakers faced in Italy, data paucity and lack of data precision. Lack of data resulted in late action, while the issues with data precision have impeded policymakers in deriving correct figures and then take action. They noted that good data could be critical in the allocation of resources and in overall pandemic management.
The authors concluded by emphasizing the need for a systematic approach that gives preference to learning. It should be flexible enough to quickly scale up successful solutions and shut down any solution that looks ineffective.