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Where would we be now if the government had used the “uncertainty mindset” instead of the “risk mindset”?

If the government had responded to the threat of COVID-19 faster and more aggressively would we be in a better situation now?

If the government had responded to the threat of COVID-19 faster and more aggressively we would be in a better situation now, according to new analysis from Professor Vaughn Tan from the UCL School of Management who has analysed the problem as one of using a “risk mindset” to understand and respond to the situation where “the uncertainty mindset” would have been more appropriate.

According to Professor Vaughn Tan

“The coronavirus captures the essence of true uncertainty: Unexpected in onset, with a never-before-seen combination of epidemiological characteristics, attacking a global population with no previous exposure and immunity or vaccine.

“The result has been sudden explosions in coronavirus infections, suddenly overloaded healthcare systems, triage, and rapidly mounting death tolls.
“Extreme, desperate measures have been put in place but too late. Some governments, recognising both the situation’s uncertainty and the potentially enormous consequences of failing to act, decided not to try and optimise, not to do precise cost-benefit analyses to identify the actions that resulted in the greatest benefit for the least cost.”

Professor Tan has identified other governments who took what looked like overly extreme measures far too early, when the situation seemed trivial. For instance, Taiwan began conducting on-plane biosecurity inspections for flights originating in Wuhan at the end of December last year — before coronavirus became even a regional pandemic.

Mounting evidence suggests taking measures that seemed too extreme at the time has allowed countries like Taiwan to avoid the fate that has now befallen the rest of the world.

Professor Tan says that using the risk mindset led decision makers in countries like the UK, Italy, the US, Spain, and France to:

  1. Assume that the unknown costs of not taking unreasonable measures are smaller than the known economic costs of taking those unreasonable measures, and
  2. Believe that they understood and could control the situation better than they actually could.

“The risk mindset prevented countries from responding appropriately to the coronavirus threat. Instead, what was needed was the uncertainty mindset, one that would have acknowledged the uncertainty of the situation instead of denying it. The governments of these places have reached this point because the risk mindset they have used in understanding and reacting to the threat of coronavirus is wrong — fatally wrong,” says Professor Tan.

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