Several months ago, when news of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, began to emerge, few people could have foreseen the scale of the catastrophe to come, with the virus spreading across every corner of the earth, creating a global pandemic, and resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths. This unprecedented crisis has led governments around the world to ussher in a plethora of emergency measures intended to slow the spread of the virus. However, these measures vary greatly in terms of both their effectiveness and their risk of bringing about negative social and economic consequences.
Government Monopolies Have Slowed Down the Race for Solutions
Extensive testing is arguably the single most important factor in any successful response to the pandemic. As such, it is worth noting that the countries where testing has been most widely available are those which have allowed private sector involvement in the development and production of COVID-19 tests. This can be seen in countries like Germany or South Korea, where high levels of testing have been instrumental in monitoring and mitigating the spread of the virus.
By contrast, the response in the U.S. throughout the crucial early stages of the crisis was entirely monopolized by government agencies. During January and February, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was particularly intent on barring the private sector from having any involvement in researching, developing or producing COVID-19 tests. The agency insisted that only the tests they had developed could be used. However, the issues with their own tests, coupled with their efforts to stifle the private sector, served only to waste valuable time in the bid to tackle the growing crisis.
It is clear that competition and private sector innovation represent the most time-efficient means to finding some long-term solutions to the pandemic, including treatments and vaccines. However, commercial laboratories eager to join the race for solutions have also been subject to counterproductive government regulations.
Similar problems were experienced in many other countries due to governments rejecting the idea of a competitive market for solutions, thereby reducing the capacity for testing and eliminating the prospect of an effective early response. Although the private sector has slowly since been permitted to participate in response efforts, it is too late to counteract the damage caused by catastrophic levels of government inefficiency at the most important stage of the pandemic.
Government policies causing more harm than necessary to individuals and businesses
At present, with much of the world’s population subject to government-mandated quarantine, it is increasingly evident that this crisis will have a devastating social and economic impact. The scale of this disaster depends on how soon economic activity is allowed to resume. If government policies lead to an economic collapse of an unprecedented scale, this will ultimately pose an even greater threat to our well-being. As it is likely that the virus will not disappear any time soon, this means that a sustained medical effort will be required to mitigate suffering, which requires funds. This would become increasingly difficult in the event of such a global economic catastrophe.
It is vitally important that any long-term solution involves finding a balance that gives businesses, and the economy, a chance at survival. In the interest of pleasing their customers, many businesses are willing to implement a range of safety measures and change their methods of operating. However, in most cases, governments have been reluctant to afford them this opportunity, insisting that only the businesses they deem essential are allowed to continue operating in any form.
Where businesses have tried to find innovative solutions in order to survive and continue to serve their customers, they have often fallen foul of stringent government regulations. This lack of flexibility could cost many people their livelihood and contribute to making this crisis worse than it needs to be. Even in cases where businesses have attempted to reinvent themselves by contributing to the response efforts by, for instance, looking to produce essential personal protective equipment, bureaucratic red tape has been a major barrier.
In addition to this, many of the guidelines and restrictions implemented as part of governments’ lockdown policies have often been vague and confusing, meaning that they are particularly open to abuse.
Finally, when considering government inefficiency and lack of adaptability in the face of this crisis, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the extent to which the situation has been exacerbated by rigid bureaucracy. This needlessly slow and often counterproductive response to the pandemic highlights the importance of holding governments accountable. Important questions must be asked surrounding the stifling of private sector innovation and rejection of businesses’ attempts to help the situation.
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