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COVID-19 response - "We have won the quarter final"

Although I try to keep the content of this site exclusively connected to the life and health insurance sector, COVID-19 is inevitably connected with the sector strongly: if uncontrolled it has the potential to wreak havoc. Our scenario modelling in March suggested that whole-of-pandemic numbers of deaths for New Zealand could range from a little under 2,000 to as many as 80,000. Fortunately, government policy, combined with some inherent advantages, have meant we may beat the lowest of those forecasts. Although it is early to congratulate ourselves - there is some way to go in this challenge. The purpose of this post is to illustrate: 

  1. Acknowledge how good the response has been,
  2. Identify which countries are leading, and what we can learn from that
  3. Provide a model for comparing epidemic response and share our preferred sites for tracking that
  4. Link to the next pieces of work that are of interest to insurers

The guide for the review is the chart below. Produced by the clever folks at Our World In Data, by Max Roser and his team (link is in the top left-hand corner of the table below). A few things to note about the chart. This is showing confirmed cases, daily rates, shown in proportion to population, using days since the start of outbreak (rather than dates) as the time measurement, and a seven-day rolling average to smooth out reporting spikes. Compared to most charts reported in our media the difference is to show data in proportion to population. It makes comparisons a lot more sensible. The chart is interactive. 

Nevertheless NZ's fortunate position - due to both policy response and some advantages from being a remote island nation, is evident when you change the change the frequency of reporting from daily to total in the selector at the top of the table. NZ's position as a leader in response has been highlighted by general media. It is worth being pleased with - after all, it is one of the most expensive public policy victories in our history. It would be a damn shame if we couldn't enjoy it. It is often contrasted with the UK or the USA in media, however in pandemic response, that's a bit like celebrating a big win over Namibia in the football. They still seem to be working out how to play the game. 

Our peer group at the top of the table is Australia, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan. These are the leaders in pandemic response. South Korea and Taiwan earn special mentions because control measures there enabled them to avoid a full lock-down. Australia has done remarkably well too. Un-tick all the other countries if you want the scale to change so you can explore fine detail differences between each. 

There does not appear to be an ideological divide. Some right of centre governments have done well (Australia, Japan) some have done badly (UK, US). Some left of centre governments have done well (South Korea, ours), some have done badly (Sweden). But it is early days for all, of course. What was the difference? a willingness to take advice, and take action early. Having reasonably well organised pandemic plans helped - the UK has a scandal over PPE, but has found that it did not need the capacity of the vast Nightingale hospitals that they were able to deploy fast due to long-made plans.

Singapore, unlike the UK, the US, and much of Europe, is a cautionary tale of a different nature. It managed the crisis very well early on, but when the disease infected the dormitories of migrant construction and factory workers, it took off. It is early days, current control measures are needed to ensure that a few asymptomatic cases don't touch off a runaway outbreak among the overcrowded homes of poor families.

So what about that title? It is a direct quote from a health-care worker in Kerala, India, quoted in a BBC World article. While they were talking about how well they had managed too, they highlighted that it is early days, hence: 'we have won the quarter final'.



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