By almost any measure, the response to COVID-19 in much of Asia, East Asia in particular, has been among the world’s most effective. Measured by the absolute number of COVID-19 cases and deaths, or cases and deaths per 100,000 people, Asia has been more successful than the United States and most countries in Europe in combatting the virus. There is no simple formula for success. Nor is there a monolithic “Asian” response, as political, social, and economic systems vary widely across the region. Much credit for superior outcomes is due to Asia’s healthier citizens, and their willingness to adhere to their respective governments’ health mandates.
This briefing focuses on the largely unremarked role that business has played in the successful Asian response to COVID-19. We draw on interviews conducted from March to August this year with Asia Business Council members – Chairmen and CEOs of some of Asia’s largest and most significant businesses, who together lead companies with a combined valuation of nearly $3 trillion and directly employ some three million workers – complemented by the Asia Business Council 2020 Annual Survey and desk-top research. We describe what some of Asia’s best businesses did during the pandemic and share personal insights from Council members. In some cases, business worked alone, in advance of, or in the absence of, a coordinated government response. In others – which are by far the best-case scenarios – business, government, and civil society worked together in some combination, with business acting as a force multiplier to contribute to Asia’s better public health outcomes.
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