Health Management

A series of reflections on COVID-19, healthcare and economics.

Making sense of the Covid-19 pandemic

Dr Jacques Bughin, UN consultant, Solvay Business School ULB, Portulans Institute and G20Y, former Director McKinsey Global Institute, and senior partner McKinsey & Company.

Note: this series of articles is a compilation of multiple reflective investigations I made regarding the Covid-19 as it evolves through times, since March 2020. By design, this has been work-in-progress, with inevitable shortcomings, errors of mine, but with a purpose of “80-20”, with a view to share possibly important insights as long as the crisis evolves. I am grateful to a long list of people who provided feedbacks as well encouragements along the way. I hope that some of the ideas expressed herein are useful to the current debate on how to control this pandemic.

  • After the great lockdown: five uncomfortable truths to work out

    The narrative around ther Covid-19 has evolved drastically across time. It was first "a bug that has no evidence to spread to humans" and "it is like another flu", to, "the Covid-19 pandemic is real"; "social shutdown is the only way to flatten the curve of diffusion of the disease", and now: "we have managed it, it is time to exit and to look forward".

  • The case for more digitization at Covid time

    The Covid-19 pandemic has officially taken the life of hundred thousands people worldwide. It has put the economies in standstill, with about a 5% decline in GDP for this year, as a result of the lockdown imposed to crush the diffusion of the disease. While we are at progressive exit now, the challenge remains large to prevent a "L-scenario" of economic recovery. We make the case here for including a digital toolbox to government stimulus plans, so as to maximize a more promising recovery emerging out of the Covid-19 outbreak.

  • We badly need a dynamic dashboard of behavioral changes to best navigate our way out of Covid-19

    What if some susceptible people feel that the outbreak of Covid-19 is controlled, and they start now to over-compensate with more social contacts? What if people feel that economic risks are too high versus the cost of being infected, and decide to go back to work without many protections (not necessarily that they wil not try to self-protect, but the availability of masks may remain limited, etc)?

  • Why our social future is changing and how Covid-19 will accelerate the pace of change

    The social norms of the past which led to a long period of enlightenment and happiness growth, have become challenged, due to the combination of three forces: digitization, globalisation, and sustainability. While we are at the point of crisis leading to large social divide, we believe that the Covid-19 crisis may well be the case in point for an acceleration of changes, and for a new solution space. Here is why.

  • What to do after the 1st wave of the COVID-19? A 10 points roadmap

    In a recent article regarding the impact on COVID-19 on our economies, I have used a more broader "economic welfare" approach than GDP alone to compute the size of the challenge we face. The insight is that fighting the COVID-19 by "all for one, one for all' containment or letting it go, will be generating a welfare loss with an impact for the total curse above 10 percent decline. This is a major hit - any way we look at and react to COVID-19.

  • COVID-19 requires a massive recovery plan to stay on our welfare growth trajectory

    The current coronavirus outbreak has already claimed more than 160,000 lives worldwide, according to recorded statistics. As a result of the pandemic, a significant lockdown has been put in place worldwide, especially in order to flatten the curve of the pandemic in compliance with hospital capacity. The consequence of the containment actions has been already been made clear by many economists that this would lead to an economic reduction in the range of more than 10% of worldwide output in first semester of the year, or close to 3% for the full 2020, under an optimistic? "V"-like rebound.

  • What to do after the curve has been flattened? Shifting the focus to building a large and speedy recovery

    No doubt that the socio-economic effect of the COVID-19 pandemic might have a significant effect on our economies, and more broadly on our life. The question raised by many is how big the effect might be, and how quickly one can one recover. After each pandemic, a literature has emerged on the topic, trying to estimate the negative effect of a pandemic, on one side, and attempting on the other side to see how the shocks may be absorbed to return to a new normal, if anything.

  • Selectivity versus Reach: Flattening the curve of COVID-19 for joint health and economic prosperity

    By April 14th, the number of recorded infections by the COVID-19 is being close to pass the bar of 2 million individuals worldwide. The death toll is just below 120,000 deaths, according to Worldometer’s compiled statistics (2020). The current virus, which originated in China, has now spread to more than 200 countries worldwide, leaving virtual no one safe.

  • A (Belgian, and other countries’) mandate to fight the COVID-19

    The COVID-19 is likely to pass the bar of 1.3 million recorded infected cases worldwide, and likely 70,000 deaths today, while driving a twin health and economic crisis feared to be like "no other,” as recently conceded by the Head of the IMF. In effect, while many countries are in standstill, in the hope to flatten the curve, the tension has been building between « saving life » and «saving the economy». There is however a place where the two challenges meet, that is, social spotting and distancing of the infected, and relaunch of major investment in healthcare and technology.

  • Fighting the virus requires to know its habits better and for us to rethink our social interactions

    COVID-19 has passed 1 million recorded cases and is driving a crisis feared to be like "no other,” - with many countries in economic standstill. The tension is clearly building between saving lives and saving the economy. Yet both can be reconciled if we adapt our model of social connections, and we kill a large set of remaining unknowns about the COVID-19 virus, that drives a lot of excessive protection to date.

  • Beyond the recorded figures: How the COVID-19 pandemic might actually be playing out

    Since March 3, I started to study the COVID-19 outbreak, and related some of my key findings in more than 10 articles during the month of March. This article stands back on what was written in that first month anniversary article, and especially aims to comment on the measurement challenges linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Alert. We will only remain in control of the COVID-19 outbreak by more testing and a culture of social protection

    I made clear that successful examples existed, especially when it comes to (some, not all), Asian countries. While procastrinating for a while during the Lunar New Year, China aggressively scaled measures after it was recognized by Jan 20 that COVID-19 was a major human to human transmission disease. Those measures included limiting mobility, remarkably, no public transport and no car in Wuhan were imposed in 5 days, an aggressive tracing of even mild cases via technology based predictions, a strict imposition of quarantines regarding any suspected case, and an enforced policy of protection via masks in public, etc.

  • Better be Singapore than Brazil: Measuring country resilience to the COVID-19 pandemic

    How different are countries able to handling the COVID-19? We see major differences in the way COVID-19 spreads and takes life of citizens, worldwide. While the number of COVID-19 fatalities has doubled in the last 5, 7 days worldwide, countries such as Belgium have witnessed a doubling in fatalities in just 2, 4 days only (or twice faster than the world), while in Japan fatalities only double after 11 days.

  • The Western world should urgently play the "Asian smart" route to control COVID-19

    The COVID-19 spread continues, passing the recorded number of 330,000 contaminations worldwide, and about 15,000 deaths. We are twice the SARS outbreak of 2003, and just hitting the level of the 1976 Ebola outbreak. If the most hit countries suffering just below 1 to 1,000 in the case of Italy (0.9 per 1,000), Switzerland (0.8 per 1,000) and the Hubei region (0.8 per 1,000), the current figures are still in their phase of explosion. Traditional flu Asian countries, which have a longer experience of pandemics may teach Europe a few proven management lessons in order to curb the outbreak.

  • Why we must protect the healthcare workforce during COVID-19

    The COVID-19 pandemic continues its world expansion, affecting now more than 200,000 citizens, and leading many countries in the midst of the turmoil to launch aggressive social distancing plans, constraining multiple business closures, and further adding economic stress, on top of health risks.

  • Nowcasting the Bear with Google Trends

    The stock market has taken a major downbeat again on this day, possibly as the result from fear mounting that COVID-19 is more difficult than imagine to contain in short time, further leading to inevitable sanitary risks, and breakdown of aggregate demand.

  • People do react to the COVID-19 pandemic: nowcasting behavioural changes through Google searches

    From recorded data collected by the CDC, we are in an inflexion point in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since 5 days ago , we have surpassed the positive linear trend of new daily cases, and even we got up to 10,000 new cases in one day yesterday, as the virus extended its spread across the globe, and accelerated its diffusion in Europe, including Spain, Italy, but also Germany, France, Benelux and Scandinavia.

  • Do the right things that experts say: killing three (wrong) arguments heard in mainstreet

    Europe is in the middle of the pandemic, and governments are now scaling measures to significantly limit social contacts. Here and there, measures of quarantines and restrictions are often not very welcome. Not only do they lead to socioeconomic disruptions, but also because they may hurt the democratic feeling of freedom and choic or simply because people believe that the crisis is limited. They are however clearly wrong, at this time of the outbreak, and given large uncertainty on how the virus behaves, the measures launched are necessary and of the right scale.

  • Each of us doing five easy actions might cut the risk and size of the COVID-19 pandemic by more than half

    The risk of a viral outbreak turning into a pandemic has become a reality for COVID-19, affecting to date more than hundred countries, and with a large concentration of known contaminated people in China, Italy, Iran and South Korea among others. People stress might remain imminent, as pharmaceutical responses, (be it an antiviral method for infected individuals, or be it a new type of vaccines), are largerly absent, or will take months to be developed.

  • Time to use effective tricks to limit social contagion of the Covid-19

    While I have estimated the reproduction rate for the coronavirus looks to be just above 2.7 for the Hubei region in China (60 million inhabitants), that is, one contaminated person infects 2.7 others, when fitted to daily confirmed cases across the last 10 weeks, we are just at the time when the exponential play may materially affect the time spread of the infectious disease for the region.

  • We might be winning the battle of the COVID-19 epidemic in China: a dynamic R(t) perspective

    COVID-19 went recognized at the end of December 2019, when a Wuhan hospital admitted four individuals from the Seafood Market. Given the exponential contagion during the outbreak as it was also discovered at the start of the epidemic at Hunan for the COVID-19, there has been an absolute case that warrants to act fast (that is, before the take off of the exponential), as well as at scale, (so that the contagion becomes non self-reproducing). The good news is that the world has been facing many epidemics, and has learned a set of critical actions to curb the diffusion of many diseases, such as Ebola, SARS and others.

  • The Return on Investment of curbing the COVID-19 pandemic

    At current, the stock markets have given a first high level data point. They have been under large pressure – and may be continue their drop, when they came to realize that contamination was not confined to Asia but was moving quickly into the Western world. They lost an estimate of US 6 to 7 trillion by end of February in the worst week since the 2008.

  • A “20 million lives” pay off: how to curb the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic

    I have mixed the ranges of values of three key fundamental drivers of pandemic development, based on data collected from academic studies and international health organizations such as the WHO, to derive a possible distribution of global fatalities arising from the diffusion of COVID-19 virus. The outcome is that the potential of fatalities has a mode at 20 million people worldwide, with a standard deviation of 5 million, or a pandemic more than tenfold the severity of a flu pandemic, if COVID-19 is able to continue its curse freely.

  • Three key COVID-19 indicators to curb a potential of 20 million human fatality

    Today’s major headline across the globe is the spread of the new coronavirus, COVID-19, soon to affect 100,000s of individual in the coming weeks since its start by December 2019, presumably from a market in the Hubei province, China. There is large concern among the population as to how COVID-19 will unfold, given health and economic consequences. The number of Google searches increased 100-fold in the last six weeks across the planet, and many stock marketplaces went down significantly with losses of more than 10% from their peak during the last week of February, as a likely fear that the COVID-19 may become a major pandemic.

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Learning from the curve

An open source research project on COVID19 and economics. A collaboration between academics to reach out to policy makers and the general public.

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