New book explores how risk has shaped worldwide Covid-19 policy decisions

Olivia Miller
Picture by Unsplash

A new book written during the Covid-19 lockdown by Professor Andy Alaszewski, Emeritus Professor of Studies at the University’s Centre for Health Services Studies explores the ways in which policy makers in different countries used risk and how this shaped the choices they made during the first year of the pandemic.

COVID-19 and Risk: Policy Making in a Global Pandemic discusses the centrality of risk to the ways in which modern societies make sense of and respond to disasters such as global pandemics.

Professor Alaszewski wrote this short, rapid response book to examine how and why policy makers in countries with sophisticated health care systems, such as the UK and US, and who had ample warnings, failed to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

He draws upon decades of research into risk and the related concepts of trust and hope. He argues that policy makers tended to equate risk with probability. This meant that key elements of risk such as outcomes and risk categorisation did not get proper attention. For example, in the UK priorities for vaccination were decided by a committee of technical experts. There has been no real scrutiny and no public debate about the benefits of different priorities, such as protecting the vulnerable and breaking the chain of transmission versus ensuring social justice.

Professor Alaszewski said: ‘The Covid-19 pandemic is man-made, not a natural disaster. Countries such as Taiwan and New Zealand that framed Covid-19 as a SARS-like disease, concentrated on preventing transmission of the virus and developing trust and effective communication with their populations. They are nearly Covid free. Countries such as the UK and US that framed Covid-19 as seasonal flu, allowing even encouraging the virus to spread in their populations to achieve herd immunity. In these countries trust between policy maker and the population was undermined by mixed messaging about the virus, tension between political leaders and medical experts about how to deal with the virus and a failure to impose sanctions on public figures who broke the lockdown rules.

‘The failures of these policies and their impact on individuals and their families forms a central theme in the media coverage of the pandemic. The mass media have used a narrative matrix that combines statistics with individual stories. These stories have highlighted the suffering caused by the pandemic and allocated blame. This coverage is starting to feed into more formal inquiries into the ways in which policy makers in countries such as the US and UK failed to identify and manage the risks of Covid-19.’

COVID-19 and Risk: Policy Making in a Global Pandemic is published by Policy Press and will be released on Tuesday 9 March 2021. The book is being published as part of Policy Press’ Rapid Response series in e-book format.