Did governments worldwide initially over-react to the COVID-19 pandemic?

The COVID-19 pandemic and concerns about the dangers of the virus have diverted attention from the primary response to the crisis — the decision to lock down entire populations.

Yet there are important questions to ask. Why did the world go into major lockdown for this infection and not for other coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-1, which most experts considered more life-threatening, although the number of cases worldwide was much lower.

Why has there been so little debate globally about what to do in the event of a major emergency like another pandemic? Why did countries follow each other’s actions on containing COVID-19 without considering local idiosyncrasies and cultural characteristics?

The answers to these questions could explain the divide in most western industrialized countries between those who defend the freedom to protect themselves as they see fit in the face of a highly infectious disease and those who prioritize the general population’s health and the protection of vulnerable people.

Read more: Why nobody will ever agree on whether COVID lockdowns were worth it

In a recently published article entitled “Exploring the Process of Policy Overreaction: The COVID-19 Lockdown Decisions,” we examine policy over-reaction.

We do not pass judgment in our research on the overall management of the COVID-19 pandemic by governments. We focus only on the initial response to the pandemic — in particular, widespread lockdowns. We analyze the responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in several countries that took different approaches to managing the crisis.

We are strategic management professors and conducted this analysis as experts in theories of organizations and how they function, with a focus on strategic and decision-making processes.

Political over-reaction?

Early policy decisions to massively confine entire populations were made because COVID-19 was perceived as very dangerous. At first, these lockdowns elicited little public outcry almost anywhere globally, even though they profoundly affected the daily lives and well-being of the populations affected.

When the first decision in response to a major threat is large and extreme, it becomes increasingly challenging for authorities to reconsider or correct. Yet these decisions, often made in a hurry, can lead to human and economic upheaval. Their effects are usually felt over the long term, and they are not given much attention given the real or perceived urgency of the crisis.


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