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Follow-up to the analysis of the COVID-19 pandemic: How can the state be more successful in tackling future crises?

The main lesson to learn: The state must be prepared for crisis

Mari-Anne Härma
Deputy Director General of the Health Board
 

The state’s most substantial lesson to learn from the COVID-19 crisis was that the state must be prepared for a crisis

Given global megatrends — demographic change, urbanisation and climate change — it is certain that health crises will continue to recur and outbreaks of infectious diseases, epidemics and pandemics will only increase in the future.

Preparedness for a health crisis means high-level priorities: 

  • crisis management and crisis management systems that enable rapid response and action;
  • flow of data, analysis and exchange of information enabling rapid decision-making;
  • communication and advice that provides clarity and enables crisis management and state governance;
  • laboratory and research and development activities to identify risks and distinguish the important from the irrelevant.

The Health Board received one-time additional funding for COVID-19 crisis-related activities to increase the crisis management capacity, analysis and development capacity, communication capacity and laboratory capacity. However, Estonia, like other countries, is now facing the decision whether or not to maintain this crisis capacity, as new crises are hitting countries and priorities have shifted elsewhere. However, in order to be prepared for the next health crisis, this capacity must not be lost

Crisis capacity is part of the structure of every institution because, as experience shows, new tasks must be taken over when a crisis hits and the continuity of vital services must be ensured. The experience of the long crisis has assured the Health Board that, alongside crisis management, the unavoidable functioning of essential services must be ensured. 

By maintaining the crisis capacity established during COVID-19

  • the capacity to respond to outbreaks of infectious diseases, pandemics is preserved;
  • the capacity to organise the continuity of health care institutions in the event of mass casualty accidents is maintained;
  • the capacity to resolve poison-related crises is maintained. To be involved in solving chemical accidents (CBRN) to ensure the necessary and accurate hospitalisation;
  • the capacity to support vital service providers in solving drinking water crises is maintained;
  • the capacity to deal with so-called multi-crises situations is growing, as there can be several crises at the same time (real life examples: COVID19, war refugees, landfill fire, etc).

The analysis of the COVID-19 pandemic (in Estonian) can be read here. (PDF)

 

A successful country retains the capacity to respond quickly to all health risks

Estonia is a small country and even local crises can have a strong impact on society. This is why those, who will be the first responders when a crisis breaks out, need to be trained to cope better with the future crises. In times of crisis, you don't need to rebuild governance structures from scratch, they already exist. Good cooperation between different agencies, government authorities and local authorities helps make decisions in times of crisis quickly and in a common information space.

  • A successful country retains the capacity to quickly exchange information and report threats

    The state has set up an effective notification system through which the public can be informed of the threat without significant delay. In terms of information sharing, the priority is to quickly identify people in danger and provide them with up-to-date and accurate instructions. At the same time, there is an operational exchange of information between state authorities, and in communication activities, state agencies amplify the messages of the institution leading the crisis.

  • A successful country retains the ability to quickly interpret, make sense of, analyse and test new information

    Maintaining analysis and development activities provides the foundation for creating an operational information flow in times of crisis and for sharing data and related findings with the public in confidence. To make decisions that affect citizens, it is necessary to analyse operational information as quickly as possible and make sense of the results. Analytical capacity is an essential part of creating a situational picture in times of crisis, which makes it easier to make choices at the operational and management levels.