Tackling the invisible enemy that is COVID-19: advice for governments

Tackling an invisible enemy like Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a daunting challenge for any government. The new infectious disease has struck the world in a rush and is now present in 196 countries and territories around the globe. And it will continue to spread unless pivotal actions are taken by countries to contain the disease and create a safe environment for their citizens.

With the extremely high number of cases increasing every day, governments and their health care systems are being pushed to the line. Governments must make essentially life-and-death decisions on what steps to take.

Here are some of the most important ways in which governments should step up to help contain the disease, COVID-19, and support their people:

 

PAID SICK LEAVE 

People must be encouraged to take sick leave if they feel sick, particularly if they test positive for or experience the symptoms associated with COVID-19. Many people around the world live paycheck to paycheck, barely able to survive the month. They cannot miss work, even in the case of illness. Thus, governments must guarantee that workers will receive sick pay so they will stay home for the required time (two weeks for self-quarantines) and protect their colleagues.

During this time, there are significant social, political and economic prices that must be paid by governments and communities.

 

FREE COVID-19 TESTS 

To ensure that everyone who is infected self-quarantines, governments should make tests widely available to the public at no charge—particularly those who have reason to believe they have been exposed or who have symptoms. To reach into communities, services like drive-through testing centres should be set up, following the example of American states such as Miami and New York. With widespread testing, a surge in the number of cases should be expected, with the appropriate instructions to those who are positive.

 

TESTING OF UNDOCUMENTED REFUGEES

Additionally, governments should pay special attention to undocumented immigrants residing in their country. This sector of the population should not be neglected during this time of hardship, with punitive actions suspended until the crisis is over. Children and families who are seeking refuge deserve care and, in any case, if they are not treated responsibly, they will adversely affect the health of others. Refugees and undocumented workers are likely among the most vulnerable to COVID-19, since their living conditions are frequently unhealthy and will allow the virus to spread rapidly. This is a time in which governments must put aside people’s financial and legal status.

 

FISCAL PROTECTIVE POLICIES

A government's key role is to ensure the financial and physical safety of its people, especially during emergencies. COVID-19 is subjecting governments to a significant financial strain; however, this is the time as much money as needed must be invested into the health care system and the economy to prevent them from collapsing or becoming overwhelmed. Least Developped Countries (LEDC) that are unable to spend on their healthcare systems must be given zero-interest loans. More economically developed countries must stand with those governments that are less capable of fighting the pandemic.

 

TAX RELIEF FOR BUSINESSES AND THE JOBLESS

This is a period in which businesses (particularly small enterprises) are under great strain financially, unable to pay their rent, taxes, wages or mortgages. Governments must shore businesses up with a tax exemption or other measures. China, for example, has reduced the tax burden for businesses in the most affected areas, such the tourism industry. Extended income support for laid-off workers also is needed.

 

WAGE SUBSIDIES 

Mandatory and extended sick pay will likely require subsidies for businesses that cannot afford otherwise to allow to take so much time off. Likewise, some governments are paying 75% of employees’ salaries when they would otherwise be laid off, allowing the business to re-open quickly once the crisis abates. Examples are Korea and Japan.

During this time, there are significant social, political and economic prices that must be paid by governments and communities. To protect all parties from catastrophe, all parties must cooperate.