New Index ranks Government Activity in Response to COVID-19 Outbreak

Robert Kubinec, Assistant Professor

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Robert Kubinec and a team of researchers created an index to gauge the governments’ reaction to the COVID-19 outbreak and found patterns in policy-making that could help provide a glimpse into the future of humanity’s fight against the coronavirus. 

Working with three other academics from NYUAD, Yale and the Technical University in Munich, the team will be keeping the index and data up to date as they collect information from more than 150 countries about the coronavirus. Kubinec and his team have made public both the findings and the methodology public to let other academics use it in research.

The research found that in general, countries followed a basic pattern of government actions to limit the spread of COVID-19. Some of the findings were expected, such as governments that implemented the policies earlier had a slower spread of the coronavirus, yet others were more surprising. 

“Some of the policies are very logical, such as increased public health funding being associated with a more limited trend in the disease, but other indicators were not. We found that states that declared a state of emergency earlier don't seem to be doing any better than those that declare a state of emergency later,” he said.

The model could provide some insight into the trajectory countries will take in the coming months, or years, as the virus progresses. It will also help indicate how governments will react in scenarios where they contained the disease only to find it remerging later, in what is known as the “lift and suppress” approach that many academics and policy makers anticipate may happen until a vaccine is found. 

Tracking the progress, the research shows the first step governments took was creating task forces, which began for many countries in January. That was typically followed by monitoring the health of travelers at airports and borders. Kubinec said that countries would then move on to restrictions that required more drastic measures, with some governments imitating what neighbours were doing that sometimes verged on being “too harsh”.

“Diffusion effects occurred, some countries adopt policies when they see other countries making calls that are right. But I think that there's costs to countries of being too harsh too soon, and I think China might fall in this category. You have people who are essentially traumatized from being in lockdown for three months, but we see other countries following that approach,” he said. 

Kubinec also said that many of the policies were still in early phases and therefore somewhat “crude”. He anticipates that policies could develop to be less of a blanket policy that encapsulates the entire population and geared towards more specific targets to reduce the disruption in the lives of citizens.  

The paper also shows predictions in the de-escalation of policies aimed at limiting the curb. South Korea, one of the countries hit hard early on in the propagation of the disease, was found scaling back its government restrictions in April, and it could provide a glimpse into how countries could emerge from the crisis. 

The team is working together and with their individual teams of research assistants to accumulate indicators from the countries that are on the index and input into the model. They are sourcing this information from government agencies, news articles and other sources, and validating it accordingly. 

Kubinec and the team will continue to provide the data to academics around the world as they track government response over time and add more countries to the index.

On a different project, Kubinec is working with a Brazilian epidemiologist, Luiz Carvalho of the Getulio Vargas Foundation, to assess the impact that certain policies have on the limit of the disease. He is limiting the research specifically to the US but says that the conclusions drawn from the research are likely to be applicable to the world at large.