Covid-19 is the first truly global outbreak of our lifetime. The coronavirus reached all seven continents of the world and nearly every country has felt its impact. The extent of the impact, though, varies from country to country, depending on how the pandemic has been managed throughout the past 17 months.

Government responses were mostly centred on balancing the trade-off between lives and livelihoods. As we wrote last week, how effective these responses have been thus far is a reflection not only of the government’s capability — within the limits of each country’s political structure and finances — but also its people, their attitudes, culture and choices.

Chart 1 is a graphical representation of what everyone refers to as the lives versus livelihoods trade-off. Last week, we talked about the cumulative Covid-19 death toll as a measure for a country’s effectiveness in protecting lives. Singapore ranks highly in this regard, at 10 out of 183 countries, while Malaysia is at 87th position. We have also explained why we used cumulative deaths (since the start of the outbreak) instead of comparing the current death toll between countries — because the timing of the outbreak cycles is quite different for each country. Some suffered worse waves earlier in the pandemic, others later. Hence, to accurately gauge how well countries have handled the pandemic in totality, we need to use the cumulative death toll. And yes, the right parameter is cumulative until the end of this global pandemic.

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