Home Ed. February 2020 What can we learn from the COVID-19 World Health Emergency?

What can we learn from the COVID-19 World Health Emergency?


  • In a February 2020 Business Times article titled “Challenges and Contingencies: what early lessons can be drawn so far about efforts to contain the novel coronavi-rus epidemic?”, it featured many short opinion write-ups from key people in business and finance from Singapore. They included well known senior executives in real estate such as Tony Lombardo (CEO of Asia, Lendlease), IT bigwigs like Naveen Menon (President of Asean, Cisco), to legal experts such as Azman Jaafar (Managing Partner, RHTLaw Asia LLP) amongst other movers and shakers in the country.
  • Their answers to the question, “What early lessons can be drawn so far about efforts to contain the novel coronavirus epidemic?”, hovered around four key themes: the need to be responsible and rational citizens in the fight against the coronavirus or COVID-19; the importance of keeping good food habits, personal hygiene and sustaining a clean environment; the criticality of attacking fake news and to be as transparent as necessary in sharing constructive information; and the necessity for emergency response planning and crisis management for such a time like this.
  • Indeed these are important learning points shared by experts in their field that is worth our attention and subscription.
  • For myself, having digested the information and internalised what has been widely published in international news wires all over the world, there are three lessons from this health emergency that I would like to share with readers. First, there are always opportunities in times of crisis. Second, rational thinking in the midst of uncertainty makes you less fearful. Finally, the importance of being well prepared for any emergencies.

Opportunities in times of crisis

  • The Chinese characters for crisis is , pronounced as weiji. It is made up of two words and . The first represents danger while the second (?) represents opportunity. Steeped in the Chinese psyche, and embedded in the language is the notion that in any crisis situation, there are always opportunities to exploit for ones benefit, and/or for the benefit of the community-at-large.
  • From an equities investment perspective, with the news of the rampant COVID-19 spread emanating from China, most Stock Markets in Asia tanked in late January 20 after markets opened after the Lunar New Year period. The Hang Seng Index dropped 9% by 31 January 20 and the Dow 30 was down a whopping 603 points. Yet, the recovery from the initial negative reactions was fairly swift. Most markets have since stabi-lised with some clear winners, especially technology, financial and manufacturing stocks in Singapore. Although the markets continue to be volatile, there are pickings to be had for the brave and investor savvy.
  • Thanks to the advise of my investor friends and entrepreneurial contacts in Asia, I have since made some short term bets and am sitting on good paper gains of over 10% as at the time of reporting.

Rational thinking makes you less fearful

  • In situations where your personal health is at stake, it is common for us human beings to become emotional, visceral and reactive to rumours swirling around us. We have by now seen many negative social media content sent to our smart handheld devices. Some of the things we have read or seen may have worried us. Some alarmist views, opinions and scare-mongering tactics coming from the West have been especially detrimental and not helpful.
  • However if we think rationally, use simple logic and reasonable judgment to make calm decisions on what our actions should be, we need not be as fearful of the COVID-19 as how the media at large has made it out to be.
  • As at the time of reporting according to various aggregating websites such as worldometer, the global fatality rate from the COVD-19 is around 3%, with the highest death rate occurring in Hubei Province, China. Within other parts of China, the numbers are between 1% to 2%. Outside of China, fatality rates is even lower, hovering between 0.2% to 0.5% – about the same numbers from those who die from normal flu and pneumonia.

It also means that you are more like-ly to die from being transported in a car (as fatal car accidents statistics suggests), than from the Novel Coronavirus. Moreover, World Health Organisation said that as many as 80 per cent of COVID-19 cas-es were mild with those age 70 and above most vulnerable.

  • If you bear in mind these facts, you will be less fearful, and feeling more in control.

Being well prepared for emergencies

  • As an owner of several businesses in Asia and in the US, I am proud to say that all my companies have a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) in place. Since the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) pandemic in 2002, I had made sure there was a BCP in every company that I had substantive ownership interest.
  • When news of the epidemic emerged, I held discussions with my business stakeholders and executives in these companies. While some companies were more prepared than others, all companies had resuscitated their plans and communicated them to their customers, vendors and oth-er stakeholders within 5 days. My holding company estimated that these early efforts had saved the companies an average of 20% from additional costs that would otherwise have to be spent. The actions taken have also bought goodwill from our customers and partners alike.

Before I conclude, I just want to say that with the virus in the air, more people than before are choosing to stay home and spend more time with loved ones at home. This is a good time for family bonding and emotional, spiritual and physical rejuvenation. It is an opportunity to press the pause button, sit back, relax and reflect on your next step to take in life.

I have decided to seize the opportunities presented, apply continued rational thinking, and be prepared for any health emergency for my businesses during this time of crisis. What about your own personal thinking and learning lessons from COVID-19? What have you learnt and what can you share with others?