May 27th 2020

COVID-19: Researchers at MCI discuss risk management system

New normality with COVID-19 | CSHI (Center for Social & Health Innovation) at MCI works together with public health expert Martin Sprenger on risk management system | Risk dialogue, traffic light system and regional pandemic commissions as a basis

The figure shows the temporal COVID-19 progression in Austria by districts on the basis of a traffic light model. Traffic light:
The figure shows the temporal COVID-19 progression in Austria by districts on the basis of a traffic light model. Traffic light:

After the first peak of the COVID 19 crisis, which in terms of health aspects Austria has survived far better than expected, it is now necessary to manage the disease and our everyday life, especially until suitable vaccines and medicines are available. To quote the famous image of Tomas Pueyo, the hammer is followed by a phase of dance, which has been implemented in Austria by largely shutting down public and social life. Experts throughout the country, including researchers from the CSHI (Center for Social & Health Innovation) at the MCI, are looking at how this transition to the "new normality" could be shaped. The focus of the considerations at the MCI is on an effective knowledge-based communication model which is intended to replace or at least supplement the existing crisis communication at national level.

The discussion is given prominent support by the contributions of public health expert Martin Sprenger, with whom the MCI conducted a series of MCI WEBINARS involving numerous experts during the difficult first pandemic phase in March and April. The online lectures were held under the motto "Strategies against COVID-19 in Austria". All participants in the discussion agreed that a well-designed transition from crisis management to risk management is needed. A good risk management system should be characterized by an efficient dialogue involving the regional and local level. Siegfried Walch, initiator of the discussion at the MCI, explains: "Independent of considerations such as a corona app, we need a risk dialogue that continuously integrates current experience and scientific findings and - in keeping with our democratic system - follows both a top-down and a bottom-up approach".

This risk management system should also be characterized by easily understandable, effective communication. At the center of the discussions is currently a so-called "Corona traffic light", a generally understandable concept which could form the basis of communication with the public. The Complexity Science Hub at the Medical University of Vienna has already published such a traffic light system at the suggestion of Martin Sprenger. Red stands for the highest risk level with extensive protective measures, green stands for low risk with the greatest possible freedom of action, and in between stands yellow, a phase in which increased caution is required. The values assigned to the exemplary traffic lights are initially chosen arbitrarily. Starting from clear objectives such as ensuring medical care, they would have to be worked out in a risk dialogue with experts from various disciplines and finally determined politically. A traffic light system refined in this way could then form the basis for risk management at local and regional level. Siegfried Walch: "If we involve the mayors of this country and, through them, the managers in companies, schools and all other organizations in risk management, we can succeed in dealing with the virus in changing risk situations".

In this ongoing risk dialogue, the aim is to develop action and behavior patterns for the respective risk levels. In addition to general advice for the general population and information for risk groups, rules for social and health care institutions, but also instructions for action for various public sectors such as transport, companies, cultural institutions and authorities are being further developed.

Based on the work of the avalanche warning service, the risk dialogue with legally established pandemic commissions could be conducted at a local level or at least at district level. A shift to the local and regional level could ensure that areas that are currently hardly affected can largely carry out their everyday lives normally and would therefore only be marginally affected by the negative effects of any protective measures.

Martin Sprenger's appeal is urgent: "We will never again be as calm with virus threats as we were before Corona. The next virus season is coming up in the fall; it can be assumed that COVID-19 viruses will be in the basket in addition to flu and cold viruses. The good news is that we have time to prepare ourselves. However, the clock is already ticking, and the establishment of risk management structures cannot wait until fall.