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

Initial responses to threats — whether they’re military, strategic or health-related — are crucial to the peace and prosperity of nations. Did governments…

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A closed pub in Soho, London, in February 2021, during the third national lockdown in the United Kingdom due to COVID-19. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

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.

Policy over-reaction has been documented in academic research. For example, George W. Bush’s catastrophic decision to invade Iraq in 2003 has been presented as a typical example of policy over-reaction, this one in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

a soldier in combat gear points an assault weapon out a window
In this April 2003 photo, a U.S. soldier mans a position from a primary school window in Fallujah, Iraq. The U.S. invasion of of Iraq unleashed a war that led to an insurgency, sectarian violence and tens of thousands of deaths. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)

In contrast, during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, John F. Kennedy resisted his advisers’ call to arms. His actions probably prevented a nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union.

In general, initial responses to what appears to be an alarming threat — whether military, strategic or health-related — are crucial to the peace and prosperity of nations. These initial decisions create “path dependency,” as explained by American management studies expert Ian Greener, when past events or decisions influence subsequent behaviour and perceptions.

Reaction to COVID-19

The French COVID-19 containment measures were extreme. France’s response attracted worldwide attention, and people around the globe were struck by the image of deserted Paris streets at the onset of the pandemic.

Sweden was one of the first countries to take an opposite approach, resisting the idea of confining its entire population despite a storm of criticism from the international media and a subsequent internal reconsideration within the Swedish government. Despite this, a commission concluded in February 2022 that “Sweden’s no-lockdown COVID strategy was broadly correct.”

Swedish authorities acted quickly to protect the most vulnerable population segments, but refrained from widespread lockdowns, although the country has had major outbreaks in its retirement residences.

women chat and laugh on a restaurant patio with potted daffodils in the foreground
People chat and drink in Stockholm, Sweden, in April 2020. Swedish authorities told citizens to practise social distancing during COVID-19 but still allowed a large amount of personal freedom. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)

They provided constant information to the public, seeking both co-operation and social approval. The Swedish response has generally been neither better nor worse from a health perspective — as of February 2022, Johns Hopkins University estimated coronavirus-related mortality as 0.6 per cent in France, 0.7 per cent in Sweden, 0.9 per cent in Germany, 1.1 per cent in Canada and 1.2 per cent in the United States.

But Swedish authorities spared Swedes the excesses of mass confinement.

Decision-making during crises

The 1960 behavioural sciences theory known as “disjointed incrementalism” holds that when cause-and-effect relationships are uncertain or unknown — when there’s no way of knowing how decisions will affect behaviour — broad policies are more appropriate when they first consist of small decisions, made in sequence, step by step, to facilitate learning, adjustment and avoid over-commitment. It also argues decisions should involve input from all interested groups to benefit from collective experience.

Our research suggests emotions, particularly fear, can derail rational decision-making, a phenomenon widely documented in psychological literature. When it affects entire populations, fear can fuel “crowd behaviour.”

In his book Crowds and Power, the British-German writer Elias Canetti, a Nobel Prize winner for literature, argued that people devolve into pack behaviour when frightened, and they become easy to manipulate. Irrational behaviour that would not normally occur individually is common in crowds, according to Canetti.


Read more: What motivates changing behaviours during COVID-19 — from toilet paper hoarding to physical distancing


In the case of COVID-19, fear likely influenced crowd behaviour. Anxiety about the coronavirus among citizens was likely one of the factors that helped prevent any policy adjustment or correction. Instead it led to further tightening of rules.

What’s known as institutional isomorphism may have also contributed to lockdown decisions. That’s when the institutional environment — laws, norms, culture and practices — pushes people and organizations into similar behaviour to justify their actions.

A large square devoid of people with the arc de triomphe in the centre
The empty Arc de Triomphe square during a French nationwide confinement to counter COVID-19 in Paris in March 2020. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

Health-only advice

Faced with uncertainty, pressure from the media and frightened populations, national leaders sometimes follow each other’s lead, cementing an over-reaction and taking more action — sometimes questionable — to justify and enforce their decisions. But in the case of COVID-19, the process of justification and implementation often relied on health-only advice and group think, while disregarding social sciences.

It’s not wise, in our opinion, when making decisions about the well-being of entire populations, to neglect the views of psychologists, sociologists, historians, organizational theorists and other scientists.


Read more: Governments need more than just public health officials for COVID-19 lockdown advice


We highlight five measures to limit the effects of negative emotions and institutional isomorphism in emergency crisis management:

  1. Adopt an incremental decision-making approach to allow for learning;
  2. Decentralize response decision-making;
  3. Ensure open communication and listen to civil society input;
  4. Build balanced decision-making structures, involving a wide range of scientific experts, but also concerned societal leaders;
  5. Ensure true evidence-based management, taking into account the various aspects of an emergency crisis.

COVID-19 has undoubtedly been a significant threat for countries around the world.

But large-scale crises are difficult to manage precisely because people can react emotionally. To maintain control, it’s essential to guard against extreme policy decisions that are difficult to assess and implement.

Minimizing the negative emotions, especially fear, that are generated by these crises — and providing reassurance — help control behaviour, earn public support and improve the decision-making process.

That said, in no way do we minimize the difficulty of managing such a crisis. In this vein, we recognize that governments have handled the pandemic not only to reduce the number of deaths, but also to avoid the saturation of health systems, weakened by the surge of COVID-19 cases.

Sofiane Baba has regularly received funding from granting agencies such as the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), the Fonds de recherche - Société et Culture du Québec (FRQSC) and MITACS.

Taïeb Hafsi has received in the past numerous funding grants from federal and provincial research agencies, in particular from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), The Fonds de Recherche Québécois Société et Culture (FRQSC) and from MITACS.

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Government

Federal Food Stamps Program Hits Record Costs In 2022

Federal Food Stamps Program Hits Record Costs In 2022

In early January, The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board warned that one peril of a…

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Federal Food Stamps Program Hits Record Costs In 2022

In early January, The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board warned that one peril of a large administrative state is the mischief agencies can get up to when no one is watching.

Specifically, they highlight the overreach of the Agriculture Department, which expanded food-stamp benefits by evading the process for determining benefits and end-running Congressional review.

Exhibit A in the over-reach is the fact that the cost of the federal food stamps program known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) increased to a record $119.5 billion in 2022, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture...

Food Stamp costs have literally exploded from $60.3 billion in 2019, the last year before the pandemic, to the record-setting $119.5 billion in 2022.

In 2019, the average monthly per person benefit was $129.83 in 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That increased by 78 percent to $230.88 in 2022.

Even more intriguing is the fact that the number of participants had increased from 35.7 million in 2019 to 41.2 million in 2022...

All of which is a little odd - the number of people on food stamps remains at record highs while the post-COVID-lockdown employment picture has improved dramatically...

Source: Bloomberg

If any of this surprises you, it really shouldn't given that 'you, the people' voted for the welfare state. However, as WSJ chided: "abuse of process doesn’t get much clearer than that."

In its first review of USDA, the GAO skewered Agriculture’s process for having violated the Congressional Review Act, noting that the “2021 [Thrifty Food Plan] meets the definition of a rule under the [Congressional Review Act] and no CRA exception applies. Therefore, the 2021 TFP is subject to the requirement that it be submitted to Congress.” GAO’s second report says “officials made this update without key project management and quality assurance practices in place.”

Abuse of process doesn’t get much clearer than that. The GAO review won’t unwind the increase, which requires action by the USDA. But the GAO report should resonate with taxpayers who don’t like to see the politicization of a process meant to provide nutrition to those in need, not act as a vehicle for partisan agency staffers to impose their agenda without Congressional approval.

All of this undermines transparency and accountability for a program that provided food stamps to some 41 million people in 2021. The Biden Administration is using the cover of the pandemic to expand the entitlement state beyond what Congress authorized.

The question now is, will House Republicans draw attention to this lawlessness and use their power of the purse to stop it to the extent possible with a Democratic Senate.

And don't forget, the US economy is "strong as hell."

Tyler Durden Sat, 01/28/2023 - 09:55

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Spread & Containment

A Royal Caribbean Cruise Line Adult Favorite Has Not Come Back

The cruise line has almost fully returned to normal after the covid pandemic, but one very popular activity hasn’t been brought back.

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The cruise line has almost fully returned to normal after the covid pandemic, but one very popular activity hasn't been brought back.

In the early days of Royal Caribbean Group's (RCL) - Get Free Report return from its 15-month covid pandemic shutdown, cruising looked a lot different. Ships sailed with limited capacities, masks were required in most indoor areas, and social distancing was a thing.

Keeping people six feet apart made certain aspects of taking a cruise impossible. Some were made easier by the lower passenger counts. For example, all Royal Caribbean Windjammer buffets required reservations to keep the crowds down, but in practice that system was generally not needed because capacities were never reached.

Dance parties and nightclub-style events had to be held on the pool decks or in larger spaces, and shows in the big theaters left open seats between parties traveling together. In most cases, accommodations were made and events more or less happened in a sort of normal fashion.

A few very popular events were not possible, however, in an environment where keeping six feet between passengers was a goal. Two of those events -- the first night balloon drop and the adult "Crazy Quest" game show -- simply did not work with social-distancing requirements.

One of those popular events has now made its comeback while the second appears to still be missing (aside from a few one-off appearances).

TheStreet

The Quest Is Still Mostly Missing

In late November, Royal Caribbean's adult scavenger hunt, "The Quest," (sometimes known as "Crazy Quest") began appearing on select sailings. And at the time it appeared like it was coming back across the fleet: A number of people posted about the return of the interactive adult game show in an unofficial Royal Caribbean Facebook group.

It first appeared during a Wonder of the Seas transatlantic sailing.

Since, then its appearances continue to be spotty and it has not returned on a fleetwide basis. This might not be due to any covid-related issues directly, but covid may play a role.

On some ships, Studio B, which hosts "The Quest," has been used for show rehearsals. That has been more of an issue with the trouble Royal Caribbean has had in getting new crew members onboard. And while that staffing issue has been improving, some shows may not have had full complements of performers, so using the space for rehearsal has been a continuing need.

In addition, while covid rules have gone away, covid has not, and ill cast members may force the need for more rehearsals.

Royal Caribbean has not publicly commented on when (or whether) "The Quest" will make a full comeback

Royal Caribbean Balloon Drops Are Back   

Before the pandemic, Royal Caribbean kicked off many of its cruises with a balloon drop on the Royal Promenade. That went away because it forced people to cluster as music was performed and, at midnight, balloons fell from the ceiling.

Now, the cruise line has brought back the balloon drop, albeit with a twist. The drop itself is appearing on activity schedules for upcoming Royal Caribbean cruises. Immediately after it, however, the cruise line has added something new: "The Big Recycle Balloon Pickup."

Most of the dropped balloons get popped during the drop. Previously, crewmembers picked up the used balloons. Now, the cruise line has made it a "fun" passenger activity.

"Get environmentally friendly as you help us gather our 100% biodegradable balloons in recycle baskets," the cruise line shared in its app. 

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Spread & Containment

What’s Still Missing on Royal Caribbean Cruises Post Covid

The cruise line has almost fully returned to normal after the covid pandemic, but one very popular activity hasn’t been brought back.

Published

on

The cruise line has almost fully returned to normal after the covid pandemic, but one very popular activity hasn't been brought back.

In the early days of Royal Caribbean Group's (RCL) - Get Free Report return from its 15-month covid pandemic shutdown, cruising looked a lot different. Ships sailed with limited capacities, masks were required in most indoor areas, and social distancing was a thing.

Keeping people six feet apart made certain aspects of taking a cruise impossible. Some were made easier by the lower passenger counts. For example, all Royal Caribbean Windjammer buffets required reservations to keep the crowds down, but in practice that system was generally not needed because capacities were never reached.

Dance parties and nightclub-style events had to be held on the pool decks or in larger spaces, and shows in the big theaters left open seats between parties traveling together. In most cases, accommodations were made and events more or less happened in a sort of normal fashion.

A few very popular events were not possible, however, in an environment where keeping six feet between passengers was a goal. Two of those events -- the first night balloon drop and the adult "Crazy Quest" game show -- simply did not work with social-distancing requirements.

One of those popular events has now made its comeback while the second appears to still be missing (aside from a few one-off appearances).

TheStreet

The Quest Is Still Mostly Missing

In late November, Royal Caribbean's adult scavenger hunt, "The Quest," (sometimes known as "Crazy Quest") began appearing on select sailings. And at the time it appeared like it was coming back across the fleet: A number of people posted about the return of the interactive adult game show in an unofficial Royal Caribbean Facebook group.

It first appeared during a Wonder of the Seas transatlantic sailing.

Since, then its appearances continue to be spotty and it has not returned on a fleetwide basis. This might not be due to any covid-related issues directly, but covid may play a role.

On some ships, Studio B, which hosts "The Quest," has been used for show rehearsals. That has been more of an issue with the trouble Royal Caribbean has had in getting new crew members onboard. And while that staffing issue has been improving, some shows may not have had full complements of performers, so using the space for rehearsal has been a continuing need.

In addition, while covid rules have gone away, covid has not, and ill cast members may force the need for more rehearsals.

Royal Caribbean has not publicly commented on when (or whether) "The Quest" will make a full comeback

Royal Caribbean Balloon Drops Are Back   

Before the pandemic, Royal Caribbean kicked off many of its cruises with a balloon drop on the Royal Promenade. That went away because it forced people to cluster as music was performed and, at midnight, balloons fell from the ceiling.

Now, the cruise line has brought back the balloon drop, albeit with a twist. The drop itself is appearing on activity schedules for upcoming Royal Caribbean cruises. Immediately after it, however, the cruise line has added something new: "The Big Recycle Balloon Pickup."

Most of the dropped balloons get popped during the drop. Previously, crewmembers picked up the used balloons. Now, the cruise line has made it a "fun" passenger activity.

"Get environmentally friendly as you help us gather our 100% biodegradable balloons in recycle baskets," the cruise line shared in its app. 

Read More

Continue Reading

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