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Who’s Afraid of COVID-19?

Dismissing or downplaying the risks of COVID-19 is a grave mistake. But so is embracing fear-based policies, which ultimately generate more risks – such as economic hardship, food insecurity, and generalized anxiety – than they mitigate.

MUMBAI – Humans are bad at assessing risk even in the best of times. During a pandemic – when the disease is unfamiliar, people are isolated and stressed, and the death toll is rising – our risk perception becomes even more distorted, with fear often overwhelming reason. This is a recipe for disastrous policy mistakes.

To be sure, the danger posed by the COVID-19 outbreak should not be underestimated. The experiences of Italy, Spain, and the United States, in particular, have shown that delayed action to limit the virus’s spread can lead to large-scale illness and death.

But blind panic does nobody any good. In many countries, especially in the developing world, it is leading to policies that generate more risks – such as economic hardship, food insecurity, and generalized anxiety – than they mitigate. Smart policymaking will require leaders and citizens alike to gain a broader perspective.

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