Externalities of a pandemic-Nuances of a decision tree in the midst of COVID-19

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By   Gershon  P.  ANUMU-crop

Pandemic! COVID-19! You will agree with me that the virus was first detected in Wuhan, China in December 2019.

The World Health Organization (WHO) led by its Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus initially declared it a public health emergency of international concern on 30 January, 2020 and later, declared it pandemic on 11 March, 2020.

The sudden emergence of the pandemic stoked up brazen threats to global health and economies.

Then arose the need for situational leadership to navigate through the turbulent times to save lives and prevent economies from declining.

Indeed, authorities have taken many emergency decisions from the onset and at different times.

The immediate measures included lockdowns and quarantines, school and business closures and travel restrictions.

Though no potent vaccine has been discovered at the moment to cure the infectious COVID-19, many countries including Ghana have relaxed the restrictions in the face of new cases.

This article explains further and narrates the externalities of the COVID-19 health crisis in relation to the management science concept of a decision tree.

 Externalities

The outbreak of the virus, the increasing number of infections and deaths and the related effects (which are largely negative) on public health and economies clearly define the externalities of the pandemic. Also, [the] policy responses, cost implications, and alternative decisions that authorities take to manage the pandemic until a vaccine is eventually discovered, all point to the externalities of the novel coronavirus.

The consequences have been grimmer than beneficial! As at September 17, 2020, the Coronavirus Resource Centre of the John Hopkins University & Medicines reported total cases of the world in 188 countries with over 29 million (29,910,816) infections and 941,541 deaths. In Ghana, the Ghana Health Authority on 17 September, 2020 put out 45,714 total confirmed cases of infections and 294 deaths.

The economic downturns are unimaginable and bare on our faces! The world has witnessed effects of the pandemic by way of sharp disruptions in the global supply chains with widespread shortages in pharmaceuticals and other goods and services leading to price hikes.

Tourism and international travels took a nosedive due to the restrictions and caused revenue losses. Owing to the interdependence of the global economy, other sectors continue to feel the brunt of the pandemic. Alas! Job creation and its sustainability hit a snag more than ever due to the incident of business closures.

Decision Analytic

 Mr. Edward Olowo-Okere, the Global Director, Governance, World Bank Group recently said, the nature of the pandemic requires speedy response from [the] government. In the process of providing that speedy response things can go wrong. This insightful statement was made at a time the world has also found itself in the web of “infodemic” and hovering uncertainties with no clear directions to follow. Information has become imperfect and seen the world inundated with conspiracy theories which make it difficult to take clear decisions or win full public support to contain the pandemic.

That said, decision-makers could not afford to play fiddle in the midst of the evolving pandemic.

They have a cardinal responsibility to manage the crises on all fronts. This is where the relevance of the managerial decision-making tool known as the decision tree is evident in public discourse.

Basically, the decision tree concept presents decision alternatives and their possible outcomes.

 Like a normal tree, a graphical decision tree has leaves at the end of its branches which show the possible outcomes of a decision, its cost implications and effectiveness over other alternatives which have not been implemented.

The decision tree concept works on the principle that you cannot implement two alternatives of same decision at the same time. Literarily, you cannot climb two branches of a tree at the same time.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, many schools of thought including epidemiologists (health professionals), public policy-makers including politicians have expressed divergent views and continued same on strategies to contain or manage it.

Their differing opinions have largely focused on policy responses (interventions), alternatives and the possible outcomes.

The dissenters believe that their viewpoints like the branches of a tree are better options and hold sway to flatten the curve of infections, restore economies and return life to normalcy even before an official vaccine is public.

Issues at Stake

My personal observations and thoughtful analysis of the contents of decisions and public discussions point to the fact that many discussants have consciously or inadvertently employed the decision tree approach to make their assertions.

Many issues were at stake! Indeed, on 12 March 2020, we heard news of the two initial cases of COVID-19 imported into Ghana. Tongues began to wag with dissenting views on travel restrictions and when it should have been imposed.

Thus, like the branches of a tree, it was whether to take the direction of closing the borders earlier or later.

Either way had its implications and the eventual outcomes regarding the containment or a spike in the number of infections. Another issue which elicited emotional sentiments was whether to immediately evacuate or not evacuate Ghanaians stranded abroad in the midst of the pandemic. As I said early on, either of the alternatives to this issue also had its strands of considerations.

 

What’s more, government imposed restriction on movement of people in some identified areas described as hotspots of the virus and lifted it afterwards. In the midst of it, we heard public voices of dissent including some health professionals who thought otherwise. They called for further extension of the restriction and inclusion of other areas. As we have come to terms with, either the lifting of that restriction or further extending it equally had same considerations in terms of benefits/cost implications and outcomes- either saving lives and restoring the economy or otherwise in the course of time.

It is revealing to note that, by a decision tree analysis of the issues, one cannot make absolute assertions on which of the alternative measures is better or would have offered a better managerial strategy to the pandemic since it is still evolving with no immediate end in insight.

Indeed, everyone means well and the fact that people canvass different approaches to managing the situation at hand gives meaning to the application of the managerial science concept-the decision tree.

In light of that, managing the health and economic crises of this pandemic should be seen as a chicken and egg phenomenon. As such, thoughtful considerations and dissent to decisions will linger on even after the pandemic is history.

Thank you for reading! It is all about the externalities of the pandemic with all the nuances of a decision tree.

 Gershon Anumu is a young and broad-minded Chartered Banker and a corporate backroom strategist with working experiences and expertise in Governance, Risk and Compliance (Internal Auditor Role) in the Financial Services Sector. He features in the Business and Finance Times as a Columnist with over 100 articles (2017-2019) to his credit. He was consulted and wrote the lead feature- “Calm after the Storm, the Future of Banking in Ghana”-A Special Publication on the Banking Industry in 2019.

 Contact Mobile: + 233 596 048 820    Email: [email protected]

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