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A smoother transition

Ten considerations to engage people and communities in the transition phase from government measures to combat COVID-19 from Professor Sunita Sah.

Aerial view of the beach divided in squares for social distancing.

An article entitled, “Ten considerations for effectively managing the COVID-19 transition” in the journal Nature Human Behaviour co-authored by Sunita Sah, who recently joined Cambridge Judge Business School as the KPMG Professor of Management Studies, calls for 10 considerations to help ensure a smoother and fairer transition from the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

Sunita Sah
Professor Sunita Sah

Countries around the world have implemented measures to control the pandemic, and while the majority are proving effective “they have a high social, psychological and economic cost and are, therefore, not sustainable,” says the perspective article co-authored by Sunita and other academics from around the world.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has therefore recommended that communities “should have a voice, be informed and engaged, and participate in the transition phase” that follows.

The ten considerations proposed in the article to advance this WHO principle are as follows:

  1. a phased approach to a “new normal” (for example, set goals for each phase with red, yellow and green signs)
  2. balance individual rights with the social good
  3. prioritise people at highest risk of negative consequences
  4. provide special support for healthcare workers and care staff (“express the gratitude of leadership and foster community support”)
  5. build and maintain trust
  6. enlist existing social norms and foster healthy new norms (“work with influencers to amplify messages about the transition aimed at different population groups”)
  7. increase resilience and self-efficacy
  8. use clear and positive language (“refer to ‘people who have been infected with COVID-19’ rather than ‘cases'”)
  9. anticipate and manage misinformation
  10. and engage with media outlets.

“The transition phase should also be informed by real-time data according to which governmental responses should be updated,” says the article, because a “poorly timed and badly managed transition threatens the gains that each nation has collectively achieved.”

With her co-authors, Sunita explains that uncertainty is a key challenge of the transition phase. “One may imagine a potential continuum of public responses to the pandemic,” the article says. “On one end may be a potential decline in feelings of fear and threat.” And, on the other end “distrust of authorities, conspiracy thinking or reactance (anger due to restrictions) may lead to social movements against SPDM (social and physical distancing measures) norms and policies.”

Sunita and her co-authors conclude that a good understanding of people’s lives, their social and mental health as well as their motivations and intentions to follow recommendations are critical for sustaining the success of transitions out of this, and future, pandemics.