In this context, Australian virologist Ian McKay’s “mis-information mouse” is well-fed by a constant diet of bad COVID takes. Keen observers have noted that despite low vaccination levels, South Africa recently delayed additional deliveries of Pfizer vaccines, citing low demand. Even in the developing world, vaccine hesitancy is emerging as a more potent barrier to better outcomes than lack of vaccines.
In our scenario work, we also saw a vaccine-evasive variant as most likely to feed into ambient geopolitical tensions, heightening self-interested and non-cooperative behaviours, escalating blame and recrimination, and reigniting vaccine nationalism and favouritism.
For example, in countries experiencing a collapse of trust in government (exacerbated by pandemic-related measures), the sense of a secure and common future for all (a marker of civil stability) is eroded. The “fantastically broad” set of future scenarios that emerge could open yet wider, including the prospect of foreign-policy adventurism, to distract domestic audiences from their plight.
Robust strategies for right now
In our scenario work, we identified six robust strategies for business leaders. The new threat of Omicron underlines the first of these – helping to defeat COVID. This begins with ensuring protection for employees, customers and other stakeholders. Until we have clarity about Omicron’s exact risks, leaders must operate with an abundance of caution.
Travel restrictions of the sort introduced over the weekend are an attempt to apply this precautionary principle but largely fail because the virus moves faster than they can. Businesses can do better, by supporting proven public health measures like mask-wearing, regular testing and other distancing measures as appropriate.
Beyond direct stakeholders, we’ve seen that better short and longer-term outcomes begin with more collaboration and solidarity to vaccinate the entire global population and reduce opportunity for repeat waves of the virus.
Now is also the time for organizations to dust off contingency plans for downside scenarios discussed. With the possibility of a new period of exponential spread, they must heed the WHO’s guidance to react quickly – “speed trumps perfection”. To be able to operate at speed in the context of crisis, scenarios must be simulated and decisions rehearsed.
Omicron is undoubtedly a new crisis phase in the long pandemic. It is easy, and even forgivable for anyone to take a passive approach faced with yet another negative surprise. And yet, through proactivity, collaboration and decisiveness, courageous leaders can tilt the scale towards better outcomes.
This article was originally published in the World Economic Forum.
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