Connections still key despite isolation and border shutdowns

Weber Shandwick China president Lydia Lee makes a case for retaining connections and encouraging private-public collaboration during this coronavirus crisis.

Isolation, quarantines, and border shutdowns do not have to mean a loss of connections
Isolation, quarantines, and border shutdowns do not have to mean a loss of connections

In the first of a three-part exclusive for PRWeek, Weber Shandwick China president Lydia Lee breaks down why—despite isolation, quarantines, and border shutdowns across the world—connection remains the key to overcoming the COVID-19 crisis.

In September 2019, a panel of experts convened by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Bank warned that the world was facing an increased likelihood of a global pandemic; a pandemic for which the majority of the world, the panel said, was ill-prepared. Several months later, we see how tragically prescient the panellists were in predicting the current COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the crucial risk factors identified was the modern world's unprecedented level of connection. This is definitely what we have seen with the ongoing crisis. As the virus has spread from country to country over the past two months, it's been all too easy to see how our hyper-connected world could have become more of a liability than anticipated.

However, I think our connections may be the thing that ultimately saves us.

At time of writing, mainland China has been negotiating the impact of COVID-19 for over two months. As a leader for Weber Shandwick's operations in mainland China, I have been personally dealing with the impact of the virus for the past six weeks. And, if there's one tactic that's consistently delivered positive results, it's fostering and maintaining connections.

There can be no denying that physical isolation is a vital tactic in combatting the spread of COVID-19. But, in terms of limiting the many potential impacts of the virus, building and maintaining connections is equally essential. Connections prevent misinformation. They limit fear. They mitigate economic fallout and build resilience and support networks. The benefits are manifold.

As we continue to see each day, COVID-19's impact extends much further than the genuine human tragedy of lives lost. It slows economies, spreads fear and panic, fosters racial divisions, stalls events, disrupts supply chains, and drives us into isolation. In combatting COVID-19, our greatest asset will be our ability to stay connected through these challenges.

We've seen it in China on multiple levels, over the past three months.

One of the crucial steps taken in terms of blunting the initial impact of the outbreak, for example, came in the form of institutional collaboration – with China's government enlisting the country's tech sector from the outset to rapidly develop and deliver custom solutions for the crisis. To date, brands have developed tracking apps, delivery mechanisms, and diagnosis systems to help citizens.

Wisely, the Chinese government acknowledged that their expertise was not in app development or delivery robotics. Similarly, tech firms recognised immediately, that the pending outbreak represented a considerable threat to lives, lifestyles, economies, and business prosperity. In working together, the two institutions have helped China slow the rate of domestic infections to a trickle.

(At time of writing, just eight new overnight cases had been identified across the entirety of mainland China – a massive decline from February, when 15,000 cases were identified in a single day.)

Granted, China's unique relationship between government and private enterprise makes for more accessible and more likely collaborations across the two areas. However, the key takeaway is ultimately market-agnostic: If we are to overcome this global crisis, we cannot merely invest in isolation and containment – but must also continue to find ways to stay connected and work together.

In the next instalment (for publish next week), I'll talk about how fostering new and unlikely connections will be instrumental in mitigating the economic fallout of the crisis, for both brands and individuals.

Lydia Lee is China president at Weber Shandwick

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