How firms like amazon are vital in the war on coronavirus

Politicians are excellent at winning elections. But it’s no secret that often the resulting governments are terrible at getting things done. The failure of Western governments to roll out mass testing before the coronavirus exploded into a global pandemic proves this. So do numerous other shortcomings that can help prevent this global pandemic from becoming a globally devastating event.

Countries like South Korea have shown that comprehensive testing, tracing and identification – following World Health Organisation guidelines – along with extensive community cooperation, can not just ‘flatten’ but stop the curve of rising cases and fatalities. But these governments have shown an extraordinary capacity to rapidly mobilise multiple sectors of industry in the cause of a public good.

Western governments are still dawdling trying to catch-up to the reality of how bad the crisis is. The fact is that politicians have a proven track record at getting elected, not at managing or leading huge and complex projects. But it’s not too late. Governments should eat humble pie and turn to the private sector to unlock crucial resources that could make all the difference in the race to save millions of lives.

From the research capabilities of biotech firms, to the data aggregation and analysis capabilities of tech giants like Google, not to mention the rapid delivery networks of e-commerce platforms like Amazon, governments should use their powers to leverage the private sector to fill state resource gaps. Only this can give the world its best chance against the coronavirus. And while the US has finally instituted a partnership with test kit manufacturers, similar steps have not even begun in other western nations.

Coordinating institutionally with private industry does not mean sacrificing the critical role of state power in ushering in urgent regulatory changes. Legislation and enforcement is required to empower consumers and reduce the entirely unnecessary pandemonium rampaging across store shelves faster than the pandemic itself.

The United Kingdom has already taken steps to allow businesses to deliver goods to stores during hours previously prohibited to stop noise pollution. But we need more.

We need to relax restrictions on long-haul truckers to ensure the global economy is sufficiently lubricated as people buy more food, cleaning supplies, and, yes, masks. Relaxing occupational licensing for medical professionals may also be necessary. Laws against telemedicine in countries like the US should be jettisoned to give the public rapid access to potentially life-saving advice, while easing the burden on hospitals. Mobile phone networks can be kicked into gear to send out government-endorsed “public safety guidance texts.” These can educate people at all levels – reminding people to wash their hands thoroughly and not to touch their faces with unwashed hands, passing on critical news and information, or even linking to further sources of official guidance.

When a cure comes, and it will, the private sector can be utilised to help with mass distribution in ways we may not have ever seen before. In India, for example, Coca-Cola has six million points of sale alone. While in the US, Walmart has signalled a willingness to let its parking lots be used as testing stations.

In short, to beat covid-19, the world needs a radical new public-private partnership structure designed fundamentally to serve the public interest. Such a structure can drastically improve the speed and scale of responses to a pandemic fast outpacing most governments. Governments around the world could even offer innovation prizes to researchers or companies that can produce a cheap and deliverable vaccine.

No government by itself can match the operational resources, distribution networks and global footprints of such corporations. And private sector firms will not take the lead in offering these resources, networks and footprints to the service of the public unless governments bring them to the table.

The fluid, adaptive industrial structure that comes into being due to these processes will pave the way for a powerful economic rebound once we are clear of the worst of this crisis. The time to act is now.

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