Avoiding a repeat of the challenges of Covid-19
We have just been through a devastating Covid-19 pandemic that severely disrupted the logistics industry. Now, there is the new threat of monkeypox. So, the question is whether the industry is sufficiently concerned about the latest pandemic. More specifically, have we learned the lessons of the Covid-19 responses, including the generalized shutdown to support social distancing? If not, there is a risk that the logistics industry may repeat the mistakes that were undoubtedly made in the early responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. It all starts with taking a threat seriously and triggering appropriate contingency measures.
A new disease outbreak begins to build steam
The monkeypox virus has been associated with tropical parts of Africa; however, recently, it has moved beyond. A few isolated cases are now in the hundreds. The pattern sounds remarkably familiar with Covid-19. Denial and downplaying soon gave way to panic and, in some cases, overreaction. Monkeypox is nowhere at the infection and death rates we saw at the height of Covid-19. However, the disease is slowly creeping upward. For example, the Biden administration in the USA declared a public health emergency on Thursday. This means that twin pandemics are currently acknowledged in the USA. However, it is not clear that other affected parts of the world are facing up to that reality.
It would be rather optimistic to speculate that this is merely a US problem. The mixed responses to Covid-19 exposed many failings in government and industry, not least an outdated and inadequate healthcare infrastructure. We saw the vulnerabilities of specific communities brought to the fore in the most tragic circumstances. The supply chain was caught off guard, and the logistical problems were legendary. Perhaps the experience of surviving Covid-19 ought to have provided the logistics industry with powerful lessons and the resilience to overcome the likes of Monkeypox later.
Experts fear that complacency is making its appearance
Monkeypox is primarily a healthcare crisis, but that does not mean it does not affect other parts of the economy. Sick workers cannot drive trucks or process cargo. If it becomes as bad as Covid-19, people may shun the conventional outlets and start shopping online. This calls for a very efficient and effective logistical outfit. Covid-19 showed that there were gaps, and there has not been enough time to deal with them effectively. This looks like salt to injury from a logistics point of view. The mistakes were there for all to see, but we are not yet at a point where they can never be repeated.
The starting point of mistake-making is blind faith and consequent over-reliance on CDC-affiliated labs for initial testing. Amesh Adalja of the Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security suggests there is much work to be done. Bureaucracy in accessing medicines and prevention strategies means that many at risk may be outside the loop. From the experience of Covid-19, we know that once the deluge is in full swing, it becomes virtually impossible to contain it using firefighting measures. The last thing we want to see is large-scale mortalities and wholesale shutdowns of entire economies.
A logistics industry that remains vulnerable
Logistics is said to be the lifeblood of consumer and international trade because it gets goods to buyers. However, all that requires human resources. If the monkeypox virus starts taking those people out of action, then there is bound to be a negative impact on commerce. Health experts are calling for a proactive stance before things become a critical mass beyond the fragile capabilities of the health sector and vulnerable industries like logistics. Critics argue that a poor response to monkeypox would be akin to creating artificial constraints that increase human suffering and economic malaise. It is easy to say that this is a problem that lies at the doorstep of healthcare workers. However, every sector has a role to play.
There is little evidence that the logistics industry is developing contingency plans specific to the risk of the monkeypox virus becoming a major pandemic. Instead, it is business as usual dealing with the drudgery of an ailing system. There are disruptions in the supply chain due to conflicts, such as the one between Russia and Ukraine or between China, Taiwan, and the USA. The aging infrastructure of the logistics industry is overwhelmed by a surge in demand following the Covid-19 shutdowns. There is an upcoming diesel shortage crisis. The East and West coasts face changing demand patterns for their capacity, leading to delays and log jams. Meanwhile, the threat posed by monkeypox has been largely taken out of the logistics equation.
What should be done to stem a potential monkeypox mess?
There are certain key anchors of any effective response to the early signs of a disease outbreak. These include prevention, treatment, transmission control, and containment. This ensures that there are healthy people to run the economy. The logistics industry also has a role to play in ensuring that supplies (including medical supplies) reach their destination in time and in good condition. That means workforce planning and making use of technology to communicate key information. Moreover, the key actors in all these sectors must operate in a complementary and supportive way rather than sticking to their own niches.
It also means taking the disease seriously rather than automatically assuming that it is just another tropical ailment that will not escape from Africa. Monkeypox has spread to virtually all continents. We need a unified response and apply all the lessons picked up from the botched early responses to Covid-19. That means industrialized nations must move away from the notion that they can ignore the spreading disease, such as closing borders when the disease has already spread to key populations. It also means facing the realities of monkeypox rather than retreating to denialism.
As the world begins to recover from the major outbreaks of Covid-19, another disease has hit it. Monkeypox can potentially disrupt public health and other industries, such as logistics. This article calls on everyone concerned to learn the lessons of the problematic responses to the recent Covid-19 pandemic so that we do not fall into the same crises as before.