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Hindsight: Reflections on COVID-19

Posted by Gcobani Tunyiswa Thursday, 25 March 2021

COVID-19 has revealed key lessons about how the global community responds to crisis. Despite some remarkable examples of determination, cooperation and innovation, most countries struggled with at least some aspects of crisis management— and the world has not yet come together to mitigate the fallout. While it is too early to draw definitive takeaways, the lessons drawn from this crisis inform decision-makers only how to better prepare for the next pandemic—rather than enhancing the processes, capabilities, and culture for galvanizing effort around other major concerns—the world will have fallen into the familiar risk management trap of planning for the last crisis rather than anticipating the next.

Lockdown management

National lockdowns had some successes: for example, the shielding of vulnerable individuals often worked well in advanced economies, with public-private collaboration ensuring delivery of food supplies. After the gradual opening up of economies caused cases to rise again, many governments were reluctant to revert to extended nationwide lockdowns, instead trying short (two-to four-week) “circuit breakers” or more nuanced local restrictions (such as curfews, hospitality closures, bans on inter-household mixing, and travel constraints).

National-level responses

Experience with infectious diseases meant health professionals and political leaders in Africa were on high alert and coordinating as soon as the region’s first cases were reported. Relatively swift policy responses to limit spread and the benefits of a younger age profile compensated for health system weaknesses and kept mortality rates lower than they might have been in the initial wave, although infection and mortality rates were rising. In 2020, an estimated loss of $69 billion occurred since the lockdown started, according to the executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) which led to more “targeted country-wide confinement” rather than blanket lockdowns.


Vaccine development progressed rapidly through collaboration among private companies and universities facilitated by government funding, although it is still unclear how concerns about intellectual property rights, pricing and procurement will be handled. Other implementation challenges for vaccine programs still require resolution—for example, distribution (cold chain requirements, global glass vial availability and supply logistics for low density areas) and application (defining priority groups, recording doses given and countering vaccine hesitancy). As vaccine rollouts begin, rapid dissemination of challenges and best practices will be key for successful iteration across economies. Experts warn that South Africa is heading towards a third Covid-19 wave with no concrete vaccine rollout plan and some way off its target of vaccinating healthcare workers. Projections indicate that South Africa will need to ramp up to 250,000 vaccinations each day over a three to four month period to meet its targets. However, the country currently does not have the sufficient number of vaccines required to do this, despite government deals to secure them.

In fact, the country faces more travel restrictions than any other in the world and ranks very low globally in terms of daily COVID-19 vaccine doses administered per 100 people. For the latest information on vaccine rollout by region, you can access our complimentary COVID-19 Insights Dashboard which offers data and analysis in real time.


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