In our poll last week, we asked our followers on Facebook who they trust to be the first responders in actively delivering essential goods and services during the Covid-19 outbreak in Nepal. Amongst the total of 123 votes, 57 per cent trusted the private entrepreneurs, while 43 per cent voted for the government. In a week since the poll went live, Nepal has officially announced lockdown in a bid to contain a potential outbreak of the disease.
As the production and distribution of essential items are constrained and the public is stocking up in the essential items, the high demand for these goods is to be expected. The question we are facing right now is, “Who do we turn to for eased supply of such high-demand goods and services?”
While the role of government in taking immediate policy measures to contain the Covid-19 pandemic cannot be downplayed, a case study from South Korea has shown that private sector innovation is key in responding to crises like these. South Korean firms’ role in producing testing kits for the pathogen has been a key factor in the country’s success in containing the outbreak. The South Korean government, learning from its experience of MERS outbreak, allowed unlicensed Covid-19 tests. As a result, the country was able to test a record number of cases in a brief period.
The case serves as an example for all of us to employ deregulations that allow an unrestricted supply of high-demand items. In our case, restriction on the import of ethanol, a key ingredient in making hand sanitizers is an apt example. Nepal requires a distillery license to purchase more than 400ml of ethanol at once. Because of this many capable private firms, industries, and voluntary groups, who are interested in producing hand sanitizers, are unable to do so.
If the government were to relax regulations such as these in times of crisis, many capable entrepreneurs would enable enterprising individuals and firms to contribute to meeting the demands of the public and ensure eased supply of essential goods and services.