WRR and KNAW: government must anticipate different coronavirus scenarios

With infection rates rising again throughout Europe it is unfortunately clear that the pandemic is not yet behind us. The desire to return to ‘normal’ daily life is strong, but the further development of the pandemic is uncertain. To deal with this uncertainty, it is crucial that organisations be prepared for different future scenarios for the course of the Covid-19 pandemic. They need to prepare for the possibility that we will be living with coronavirus for years to come, with major consequences for healthcare and other policy areas. This is, in short, the message of an advice by the Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR) and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). It was published in Dutch on September 2nd and is now available in English.

scenariostudie Navigeren en anticiperen in onzekere tijden
Image: ©HH/ANP / HH/ANP

In their study, the WRR and the KNAW outline five scenarios for the possible course of the pandemic. (1) Return to normal: covid-19 is completely eliminated. (2) Flu+: covid-19 becomes endemic, with annual waves. (3) External threat: The virus is under control in the most European countries, but not in many other parts of the world and reintroduction of a dangerous variant remains a threat. (4) Continuous struggle: The virus keeps escaping immunity following vaccination or recovery from infection. Making the pandemic a continuous struggle. (5) Worst case: The virus continues to circulate, and the number of fatalities it causes increases.

The scenarios in this advice do not only describe the possible development of the virus and the pandemic, but also the societal impact. The questions facing the government and society are different in each scenario. Against this background, two main messages have been formulated.

First, both the government and society must prepare for different scenarios concerning the development of the pandemic. Second, in its policy approach the government should focus not only on combating the pandemic and recovery from it, but also on the coherence of these efforts with other important societal issues.

The pandemic is not a short term issue, but a long term challenge for society as a whole. This advice aims to offer strategic guidance to the difficult policy decisions this requires and is complimentary to the short term important advice the Outbreak Management Team is providing during the pandemic. Since its publication in Dutch in September, it has been used by the Dutch head of infection-control to inform the Parliament and the public of the long term perspectives for COVID-19, it has been discussed in the major national newspapers and the government has committed itself to an official reaction (encouraged by the Parliament).

This advice is a joint publication by the WRR and the KNAW. The Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR) informs and advises government and Parliament on strategic issues likely to have important political and societal consequences. The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) is a society of scientists from all disciplines, and also advises on scientific policy and on the science behind societal issues.