As economies begin reopening, McKinsey examines the current covid-19 landscape

18 May 2020 3 min. read
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As governments around the globe begin to wind-back the public restrictions put in place to combat the spread of Covid-19, McKinsey looks into several epidemiological factors.

There remain many anomalies in the spread of Covid-19 in differing countries across Asia, but authorities in Indonesia were quick to baulk at early suggestions the nation had underreported incidences of the virus. Now, the latest briefing from management consulting firm McKinsey & Company outlines the possibility that the official death-toll may be even more vastly under-representative of the true picture than expected – not just in Indonesia but around the globe.

Disparate reporting protocols and capacity between nations has already led to a general acceptance among healthcare agencies and the public that the confirmed case-load and mortality rates fall well short of the genuine figures, but McKinsey points to various population antibody surveys which signal that official counts could be underestimating the number of infections by a factor of five or even greater – suggesting the fatality rate may be lower than once thought.

Potential COVID-19 death totals

Yet, when comparing average death rates in various worldwide locations in March and April between 2015 and 2019 with those of the past couple of months, it’s clear there have been substantially more people dying this year. When the snapshot of Indonesia was taken, there were more than 14 times the number of uncounted excess deaths in the recent period than there were confirmed deaths from Covid-19, or nearly 1,500 unaccounted deaths above average.

While an extreme example, a similar trend is also being seen in other examined nations, although the firm acknowledges that it’s currently impossible to know how many of these deaths can be accounted to missed cases of Covid-19 rather than as a factor of excess mortality from other causes. Still, as McKinsey notes, it’s worth taking stock of the epidemiological situation and trends that will define the months ahead as many governments start to loosen restrictions.

“Reopening is a massive natural experiment,” the firm writes. “We have never before attempted to shut down the modern global economy, much less reopen it in the setting of an ongoing pandemic. We have a few examples of strategies that seem to work better, or worse, but none of us know with any certainty the best actions. Even places with strong initial responses like Hong Kong and Singapore have faced challenges as they reopen.” And China now as well.

Dayly reported cases of COVID-19 for countries with more than 10000 cumulative cases

“Resurgence seems to be not a question of if but when, where, and how bad,” the firm adds ominously. The other point McKinsey makes is that while numerous governments attempt to kick-start their economies by reopening public spaces and allowing small trade, many other nations – including a number of the world’s largest economies such as India and Pakistan – are still on the upslope of the epidemic in terms of an increasing number of daily cases.

These are not just concerns for governments in policy-setting of course, but also for private enterprise. In the same way the governments are taking different approaches, so too businesses, but McKinsey argues that leaders in the private sector should be prepared to incorporate new information and alter their approaches, either incrementally or radically. “Relevant lessons might come from other geographies, other sectors, or from peers and competitors,” the firm concludes.