Foresight for Practical Strategy in the COVID-19 Pandemic June 2019

Paul presented to a CEO Institute Syndicate on how to think about what the next 12-18 months might look like and how to use that to craft a different strategy

Note: These points are focused on the situation in Australia

The key points were:

  1. We still have circulating virus with are very susceptible population and hardly any immunity.
  2. The government policy has been to suppress the virus in order to prepare testing capacity, contact tracing capacity and health care capacity.
  3. Now the policy is to relax restrictions to allow the economy to get going. That will result in more infections and larger clusters as more people interact with more people.
  4. Therefore the next 12-18 months (timing dependent on vaccine development and production timelines) is about uncertainty and volatility.
  5. As we have seen in other countries and at home, we will see clusters and outbreaks. Where they will occur and when they will occur and how big they will be remains to be seen.
  6. Therefore every business and every organisation needs to be prepared for an individual shutdown, a local shutdown, and at worst reimposition of restrictions on a regional or state basis.
  7. So strategy needs to be more towards navigation and less towards grand plans, although the balance this is contextual for each organisation.
  8. In particular, organisations need to be aware of the social factors that might drive change beyond pandemic issues and government strategy. These include:
  • People generally become complacent when a threat they have been warned about has not really materialised in a concrete way for them. This may mean that if we have a few weeks with little happening the outbreak that occurs will be worse because of people getting lax on distancing and hygiene.
  • Demographic differences given the high mortality rate in people above 80 in particular, but also the evidence that younger people have been the cause of many of the cluster outbreaks that have occurred.
  • The likelihood that things will snap back to “normal” in a large number of cases but a few changes will stick
  • That there will be 3rd and 4th order consequences that many people have not thought about.
  • That confidence may wax and wane as outbreaks and clusters change people’s perceptions

So stay flexible out there, unless you can identify a really low-risk thing to do, and then hit for the fences.