When China sneezes the rest of the world catches a cold — literally, it seems. What began as a minor flu-like outbreak in Wuhan city has morphed into a full-blown international health crisis that has roiled financial markets, raised the spectre of an economic recession, disrupted global supply chains and adversely affected the lives of hundreds of millions of people. The world stands on the brink of a full-blown pandemic as the COVID-19 coronavirus moves out of China infecting more and more countries. Misplaced optimism that the disease would be contained risks being replaced by unfounded panic that could fuel, rather than arrest, its momentum.

The dilemma for the government is finding the right balance between keeping people safe and informed without destabilising the economy or eschewing the international co-operation that will be essential if COVID-19 transmission is to be slowed and its effects minimised. This will require difficult trade-offs, evidence-based risk management, openness about a pandemic’s likely impact and prudent preparation for potential worst-case outcomes, a point Scott Morrison acknowledged when announcing the activation of his emergency response plan.

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