PARIS — The coronavirus outbreak isn't just a tragedy, it's also an opportunity.

The tragedy has already killed thousands of men and women, and is causing anguish that has turned into panic. At the same time, it is undermining the economy, annihilating global production and trade.

And yet, it is also an opportunity. This coronavirus, COVID-19, is merciful. Out of a 100 victims, it takes the lives of only three or four, leaving the rest with no after-effects. It is more contagious than the flu but far less contagious than measles and gastroenteritis.

But we have to learn to live with this kind of virus. Such an epidemic should actually not be so surprising. Epidemiologists have long been sending out alarm signals about the risk of a disaster caused by a highly dangerous virus, spreading at the speed of airplanes flying from one end of the planet to the other in a matter of hours. The scenario is on every megatrend list. It is discussed every year at the Davos Forum, where it is always cited among the very high-impact risks.

Despite its relative clemency, it clearly reveals our lines of weakness.

Later, with random genetic mutations, another much more dangerous, more contagious virus will appear. About that there's no doubt. The only question is when, and this is why we must look at the coronavirus as a stroke of luck. Because despite its relative clemency, it clearly reveals our lines of weakness, giving decision-makers a tremendous opportunity to better prepare their organizations for future disasters.

In companies, management teams and boards of directors were already thinking before the epidemic about the fragility of extremely stretched production chains. Sudden supply disruptions, the quarantining of employees overnight, the disappearance of markets in a matter of hours, call for other productive configurations, other trade-offs, other locations. Efficiency cannot sacrifice safety.

For those in public service, the field is perhaps even wider. When to close borders and schools? How should medical resources be distributed? To what extent should we impose stockage, or even local production? What to say and not to say? What rules to preserve health and food safety, to contain financial panic? What tools can be used to help companies and local authorities caught up in the turmoil?

This is something that the public-service experts will be working on for decades to come. But it would be better to move now, and move quickly. For nobody knows when the next virus will come.


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