Chapter 3:Transition/Recovery Phase

As mentioned in Ch 2: Response Phase, timely recuperation is required for proper recovery during the long-running battle against the epidemic. Therefore, when the epidemic gradually subsided, we shall stay alert but at the same time proceed to the stage of Recovery : to restore our lives to normality with various measures and allocation of resources and to learn from the experience gained in every wave of the pandemic for further improvement. A more comprehensive response mechanism may hence be developed for better preparation for the coming challenges, in order to achieve a smoother transition to complete recovery.

The epidemic not only affected people’s health, but might also cause other threats, such as uneven distribution of social resources, economic losses, mental health issues, etc. Consequently, comprehensive, long-term and sustainable recovery strategies were called for. To this end, the International Recovery Platform (IRP) put forward eight guiding principles as reference for local governments or communities around the world to formulate specific measures based on their different situations and respective needs[1]:

1.Recovery Must Begin During the Ongoing Response: Plan, invest and take action early for the recovery. The earlier the recovery process begins, the more beneficial it will be to long-term recovery and response capability for future crises.

2. Inclusive, People-Centred Recovery To Leave No One Behind: Take care of disadvantaged groups in society. By understanding the needs of different communities, and try solving the problem of insufficient resources and supporting facilities (for examples, providing the visually impaired with accessible information about the epidemic, and improving the living environment of low-income families), the overall response capability can be enhanced.

3.Transparent Evidence-Based Decision-Making: Collect and analyze information in a rigorous and objective way. According to concise and comprehensible findings, the policymakers and the public can get the full picture of the crisis and make wise decisions.

4. Build Back Better and Greener: Follow up on and improve the problems revealed by crises. Although an epidemic may not cause the physical damages occurring during other natural disasters, the deficiencies in infrastructure (such as transportation, public hygiene, design of buildings, etc.) and social systems (including excessively uniform economic industries, and lack of psychological support) shall be tackled and improved.

5.Preserve Development Gains: As the disease response capability of a place can be closely related to its overall level of development, reaching the Sustainable Development Goals in various criteria (e.g. Reduced inequalities, Sustainable cities and communities, Responsible consumption and production[2]) will be beneficial to the management of future crises.

6.Greater Regional and Global Solidarity: The epidemic knows no borders, whether rich or poor. Therefore, in order to seal the resource gaps and recover from the global outbreak, it is essential for different parties to work together at both the regional and international levels to facilitate the sharing of information, resources and technologies (such as free provision of vaccines).

7.Institutionalize Effective Coping Mechanisms: The pandemic might catch people off guard in the beginning. Nevertheless, as an epidemic goes on, it will be advantageous to institutionalize the effective mechanisms (such as the mechanism to prepare for additional temporary quarantine and nursing facilities) after referring to and sorting out the response strategies of different places around the world.

8. Effective Risk Communication: Indispensable for the management of public health crises, risk communication includes understanding the audience's concerns and providing relevant and comprehensible information and advice through appropriate channels and formats (e.g. the elderly may not be able to access the information updated online). With effective and timely risk communication, not only can the public be reassured, but the public participation and the effectiveness of measures can also be enhanced.

During the epidemic, in addition to changes in consumers' shopping intentions and consumption patterns, border closures, lockdowns and quarantine measures in different places might also bring about a range of problems to enterprises, such as supply chain disruptions, closures of retail stores and shipping issues. Some business leaders indicated the importance of contingency plans and crisis management. While addressing these short-term challenges, they also explored how to look beyond the epidemic, shaped the post-pandemic future and prepared for similar emergencies[3].

Experience sharing of different sectors on adjusting long-term contingency plans
Experience sharing of different sectors on adjusting long-term contingency plans

Furthermore, in the face of the continuous, extended predicament,  not only should we work hard on epidemic control and crisis management, but we should also take good care of our mental health in order to stay vital and flexible. Below are some suggestions for the general public and the managers of organizations on how to help themselves and the others during the long-running battle against the epidemic:

  1. Embrace different emotions and reactions
  • It is normal for us to feel stressed, lonely and anxious during an epidemic. Find a suitable way to relieve pressure and express negative emotions.
  • Understand that everyone's reactions and responses may vary. For instance, some people may enjoy being alone, while others may find it lonely. Therefore, if you live with your family members, you may try communicating with them to understand and accommodate each other's needs.
  1. Take good care of your body
  • Have sufficient sleep and a balanced diet, do regular exercise, find suitable ways to reduce stress and avoid excessive alcohol consumption. These may help us maintain good physical and mental health.
  • Explore the sports that can be done at home, or the activities that can stretch our body, such as doing sit-ups, hula hooping, doing yoga, etc., even if we may have to go out less.. You may watch the guiding and demonstration videos on the Internet and try practicing according to your interest and capability.
  1. Do what you can, and let go of what you can't
  • Some things are within our control, while some are beyond our control. Studies showed that people who are able to distinguish between controllable and uncontrollable issues and then flexibly cope with the respective problems may have a relatively lower chance of depression and anxiety during an epidemic.[6]
    • For the things that can be controlled (e.g. adjusting your own disease prevention measures): consider problem-focused coping and try addressing the source of stress (e.g. observing the trend of the epidemic, collecting information, etc.).
    • For the things that can be hardly controlled (e.g. unsure when normal traveler clearance would resume): consider emotion-focused coping and deal with the emotions caused by stress (e.g. relaxing yourself, chatting with someone, accepting the actual situation, etc.).
  1. Assess the risks and benefits rationally
  • Judge the situations based on objective evidence instead of merely personal feelings or experience. Avoid making groundless judgements.
    • For example, one might believe that he would not be infected in the future “because” he has not been sick by far. However, there is actually no causal relationship between the two. Having this idea may lead to lower awareness of the epidemic and may hence increase the chance of infection.
  1. Adapt to the “New Normal”

Even if your daily life is disrupted, you may make good use of creativity and technologies to try out more flexible arrangements for a "new normal". E.g:

  • Travel restrictions were imposed à Participate in local tours, visit local exhibitions and museums, go hiking and explore the countryside.[7]
  • Gathering and large-scale events were reduced due to the implementation of social distancing measures. à Organize online gatherings, watch live stream concerts on the Internet, etc.
  • Meal gatherings were restricted à Prepare meals by yourself and enhance cooking skills.[8]
  • Cinemas and karaoke establishments were closed à Consider online streaming entertainments.[9]
  1. Keep in touch with others
  • Keep in touch with your buddies and share your current situation with each other through phone calls, messages, video calls and letters, even if you need to maintain social distance.
  • Arrange time to put aside your mobile phone and have some fun with your family.
  • Greet your neighbors. While doing exercise, shopping in supermarkets or taking a lift, you may say hello to people in the community or greet them with a nod to cherish the chance encounter and have a brief communication.
  1. Care for the community and express gratitude
  • Remind yourself That continuous epidemic prevention not only aims at protecting yourself but also the people around you and the entire community.
  • Appreciate your own effort. Our willingness to contribute to the health and safety of others, as well as our kindness and selflessness shall be affirmed.
  • Express your gratitude to yourself and others. Meanwhile, we shall be kind to our neighbors, care for and support the elderly and children around us.
  1. Bounded optimism
    Avoid from being excessively optimistic. Overemphasizing that these difficulties are "temporary" may motivate people in the short term, but in the long run, people may be disillusioned and may hardly recover from disappointment. Therefore, while motivating the team, it is recommended to assist the members in understanding the current situation and accepting the reality, as well as sharing new insights and establishing new directions.
  2. Listen deeply for signs of exhaustion and other natural responses to stress
    Communicate with the team through deep listening, focus group interview and data collection and analysis regularly. The managers can hence learn about the work pressure faced by team members during the epidemic, and may formulate response plans according to their respective needs (e.g. in response to the blurred line between work and life, clearer guidelines on working hours or limitations on the time of logging into company systems can be established). Leaders may also take the initiative to share their own difficulties to encourage others to express their feelings.
  3. Develop adaptability and resilience skills at scale
    Resilience refers to the ability to regard adversity as part of the life journey, to seek new opportunities amid a disaster, and to grow and overcome difficulties under pressure. Studies found that if enterprises are committed to developing their employees' adaptability and resilience skills, the employees may have better mental health, work experience and performance. Even in the face of the impacts brought by the epidemic, such enterprises can still outperform their peers in the aspects of productivity, innovation and profits.[10]
  4. Focus on care, connection, and well-bring
    Integrate the concepts of recovery and self-care into the organizational structure. For instance, the managers may provide additional paid leaves, balance the team members’ workload, re-prioritize the tasks and projects, reduce unnecessary meetings, etc. to help team members adapt to changes and allow them to take a rest. Moreover, leaders may implement programs that focus on mental health (such as mindfulness-based stress reduction workshops or online gatherings) and can assess the effectiveness of programs from time to time.
  5. Unleash energy by evolving the organization’s operating model
    Reaffirm the organization's philosophy and values to help the team devote their energy to more important tasks. Managers are also recommended to lead the team to reconsider the future work mode and reconstruct the work environment to create a more efficient and flexible organizational structure. For example, some enterprises may change from an annual plan to a quarterly plan to keep up with the latest situation, rearrange the tasks in order of priority and allocate resources more appropriately.

In addition to the above suggestions, you may also refer to the COVID-19 Related Resources from different institutions. If your distress persists and affects your daily life, please consider seeking advice from professionals. (refer to Resources for The Public)

Concluding Remarks

The severity and scope of the global epidemic were unprecedented. In such a circumstance, we inevitably faced much stress. Stress acts as a double-edged sword. While bringing harm and affecting our existing life routines and social frameworks, stress might also be a catalyst for some positive changes and growths[11]. When the disaster struck, we might wish to return to normal or might lose confidence about the future. However, as we adapted and faced up to the changes, we might take them as opportunities to explore and to examine our previous lifestyle, as well as playing our part in different positions to turn crises into opportunities[12].