18 Aug Government and the pandemic: structures and response
With the COVID-19 outbreak, humanity had to adapt to a new era. New laws, rules and measures have been adopted for a fast and effective response towards the worldwide and multisectoral impact of the pandemic. However, even though all stakeholders have been engaged in assessing a well-rounded preparedness and response plan to the pandemic, national governments are considered the official leaders for the proper coordination in each country (WHO, 2009). According to OECD (2021) governments can play a massively important role to the proper management and the establishment of an efficient response plan to the battle of COVID-19 pandemic, with a clear balance among public health and respect to the legal ethical and human rights standards inside democratic societies (World Bank, 2020; World Justice program, 2020).
Desktop research conducted by the COVINFORM consortium among fifteen European countries revealed some key outcomes regarding governmental structures, social, economic, cultural, and legal factors that influenced specific governmental responses, communication measures and specific adaptations each country took towards specific vulnerable groups.
To begin with, almost all countries have adopted a central-government approach, appointing further administrative powers to central points of authority in addition to regional administrative entities. Nevertheless, since the pandemic is a health-related emergency, it required scientific expert advice. Since the initial outburst of the pandemic, in early 2020, advice from global official sources (WHO, UN, EU, OECD) was disseminated, and guidelines were implemented. However, as the pandemic continued to spread, governments decided to establish specific scientific advisory boards to adopt efficient measures and better assess the virus evolution.
From the start of the pandemic, WHO has urged governments to implement official measures for curbing the COVID-19 transmission. Those measures were referred mainly on surveillance, detection, isolation, treatment, and contact tracing (PreventionWeb, 2020). Further measures settled by governments in multiple countries around the world can be categorized under:
- Measures regarding physical distancing & movement restrictions
- Measures to support the economy
- Public health measures
More specifically, multiple countries issued lockdowns, movement restrictions and suspension of business and education. During the pandemic, multiple bans in non-essential air travel (or travel in general) have been observed, with a sequential decrease of social events, an uprise of tele-working and tele-schooling and a shift to digitization of a plethora of everyday services. In addition to that, public health measures including testing, quarantine guidelines, infection tracing, over the subsequent waves, with self-testing and vaccines being included at a later stage.
Addressing the vulnerabilities
The physical distancing measures and the lockdowns have substantially affected the economy, businesses, and individuals’ incomes. Governments tried to relieve the economic shortages by implementing economic support programs and financial incentives, both short and long term. Turning to vulnerabilities adaptation, governments across the countries have adopted specific measures to protect people with social, health and economic vulnerabilities. Elderly population, people with disabilities, people with mental health issues and chronic illnesses, children, minor and teenagers, minorities, and migrant populations as well as health care workers – these were the groups taken into consideration for specific policy implementation by the governments.
Finally, the importance of the governmental communication strategy should be highlighted. In times of uncertainty, people need to rely on and receive accurate information, especially when the emergency is about their health. The governmental communication campaigns have a principal role to assist in the regulations imposition by informing and instructing the county’s population to comply with the implemented measures (e.g., from keeping the hygiene protocols to respect the provisions of lockdown and physical distancing). Effective communication can assist in the increase of public trust and engagement with the related policies, and it is fundamental against disinformation and misinformation (OECD, 2020).
Authors: Marva Arabatzi, Ioannis Bagkazounis, Isaak Eliezer & Theoni Spathi