Pandemic Scenarios

Below are some examples of pandemic-related scenario exercises and research from around the world.

Learning from COVID – Using the Moment Wisely (Oppenheim, J., 31 March 2020)

This note, intended to be rewritten monthly, is intended to invite the reader ‘into a shared moment of sense-making with a strong bias to action – “what to do”. Not necessarily, the urgent action of the essential, immediate response to save lives and to minimise the social and economic impact of the crisis. But the systemic actions that increase our chances of rebuilding our society on more equitable, resilient principles. Our historic responsibility – to all those who suffer personal losses through the pandemic – is to learn, not repeat the same mistakes and to use this moment wisely and courageously.’


What will the world be like after coronavirus? Four possible futures (Mair, S., March 30, 2020)

‘Where will we be in six months, a year, ten years from now? I lie awake at night wondering what the future holds for my loved ones. My vulnerable friends and relatives. I wonder what will happen to my job, even though I’m luckier than many: I get good sick pay and can work remotely. I am writing this from the UK, where I still have self-employed friends who are staring down the barrel of months without pay, friends who have already lost jobs. The contract that pays 80 percent of my salary runs out in December. Coronavirus is hitting the economy badly. Will anyone be hiring when I need work?

There are a number of possible futures, all dependent on how governments and society respond to coronavirus and its economic aftermath. Hopefully, we will use this crisis to rebuild, produce something better and more humane. But we may slide into something worse.’


Neither A Black Swan Nor A Zombie Apocalypse: The Futures Of A World With The Covid-19 Coronavirus (Inayatullah, S., and Peter Black, P., March 18, 2020)

Corona as narrative – Four possible futures

1. Zombie Apocalypse. Mutation of the virus plus xenophobia plus panic. Uncertainty leading to market crashes, global recession – supply chain, tourism, travel and conferences – and numerous regime changes as in Iran and the USA, to begin with. This is how the future feels to many.

2. The Needed Pause. Seasonal normalization – another winter flu. Solved and routinized in a year. Big Pharma sees the money making opportunity and 2021 the vaccine is out. In the meantime, the frenetic pace of everything slows down: climate change, to begin with. Over-touristed cities like Venice get a break. Localization heals.

3. Alibaba Magic. Large AI companies, science, and start-ups to the rescue. We truly enter the digital fourth wave era – genomics plus AI help monitor and then prevent. Breakthrough after breakthrough with innovation cascading through the system. Toynbee’s creative minority via open source science and technology lead the way. Young people are the present.

4.The Great Despair – not an apocalypse, not a depression, no magic – just a slow and marked decline of health and wealth. Walls appear everywhere. WHO and others try and contain but Corona slips in and infects the bodies, minds, and hearts of all. Back to the European Middle Ages.


Pricing the Economic Risk of Coronavirus: A Delay in Consumption or a Recession? (Bonaparte, Y., March 6, 2020)

This paper prices the probable economic risk of coronavirus, where possible outcomes range from partial delay of consumption (glitch), to a full scale of recession due to disruption of supply chain and labour productivity shock. It presents the lifecycle that the virus goes through (genesis, epidemic, and stasis), and suggests that the length of the life cycle determines the economic consequences. Three scenarios are explored:

i) a blip – government spending at $150 billion and the fed no intervention,

ii) medium recession – $500 billion government spending and the fed purchases assets, and

iii) full scale recession – government spending at $1 trillion and global coordination to ensure the supply chain.


A New York simulation showed we weren’t prepared for coronavirus. But it’s not too late to act – Pandemic Simulation (World Economic Forum, March 9, 2020)

The World Economic Forum (WEF) conducted a pandemic simulation in October 2019 to explore the world’s preparedness for a pandemic crisis. You can view livestream videos from the exercise here. The videos are in five segments:

i) Introduction and medical countermeasures discussion,

ii) Trade and travel discussion,

iii) Finance discussion,

iv) Communications discussion and epilogue video, and

v) Hotwash and conclusion.


TTX Pandemic Influenza Simulations (World Health Organisation, n.d.)

The World Health Organisation (WHO) developed a 1.5 hr exercise exploring two different scenarios for the spread of influenza: containment and pandemic.


Risk Communication Table-top Exercise on Influenza Pandemics: Module E3 (World Health Organisation, n.d.) 

This table-top exercise provides a number of scenarios and tasks and has been designed for health professionals, emergency responders and communicators to practice communication skills to deal with an influenza pandemic.

Note: In August 2019 the Trump Administration underwent a ‘war game’-like scenario on the preparedness of the United States of America for a fictional global pandemic ‘Crimson Contagion’. Draft reports on the exercise were reported by the New York Times – see the story here (paywalled).


Usefulness of simulated cases for assessing pandemic influenza preparedness plans (Cardeñosa, N. et al, 2010)

This paper evaluates an experiment into  compliance with preparedness plans. In 2007 actors simulating avian influenza attended various hospital emergency departments and public health centres in Spain. The authors note that 89% of most centres ‘did not respond correctly’. 


Socio-economic impacts of pandemic influenza mitigation scenarios in Slovakia  (Brunovsky, P. et al, 2009)

This paper explores the expected socio-economic impacts of various scenarios of pandemic influenza mitigation to the economy and mortality for Slovakia. Six pandemic mitigation scenarios are explored, and the total costs of the medical treatment, the number of casualties as well as social costs with casualties included are compared. When a Pandemic Hits: Treading H2o and the Possible Pox (individual cases linked) (Yemen, G., et al, 2008)

This five-part package series is an aims to teach students that having a leadership mindset is not about going from crisis to crisis, but rather anticipating and shaping their organization. Through the case scenarios students learn the need to recognize when there is a crisis situation, explore problems that often occur when issues are ignored, and take appropriate actions to remedy the situation.

The A case sets the scene: students are a senior executive team member for a water-treatment equipment company in the Midwestern United States. They are at a meeting to discuss a recently released World Health Organization (WHO) report, which announced that there was indication of human-to-human transmission of the Avian Flu near Shanghai. The company is informed that access to the region is closed off by the Chinese Government, which is a key sales area for the company and has several company employees in the area. Students must determine the subsequent course of action.

In the B case, a month has elapsed since the Avian Flu outbreak was first reported, and other cases have emerged in Europe and the United States. Students must determine the subsequent course of action in the face of the challenges that have emerged.

In the C case, two and a half months have elapsed since the Avian Flu outbreak was first reported and WHO has declared a pandemic. Students must determine the subsequent course of action in the face of the challenges that have emerged.

In the D case, five months have elapsed since the Avian Flu outbreak was first reported. A vaccine has been developed but its availability is limited. Students must determine the subsequent course of action in the face of the challenges that have emerged.

In the E case, nine months have elapsed since the Avian Flu outbreak was first reported. The vaccine is now widely available. Students must determine the subsequent course of action in the face of the challenges that have emerged, in particular how to return the company to pre-outbreak status.


The macroeconomic effects of a pandemic in Europe – A model-based assessment (Jonung, L. & Roeger, W., 2006)

This paper estimates possible macroeconomic effects of a pandemic taking place in the EU in 2006, using a quarterly macroeconomic model. The macroeconomic costs of a pandemic (i.e. the cost in terms of production lost due to illness and death measured as reductions in GDP growth and/or declines) are quantified in various pandemic scenarios. Tourism and trade, as two sectors of the European economy expected to be especially severely hit, are a focus.


Dark Winter (John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 2001)

The ‘Dark Winter’ war game, prepared by the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, explored a fictional covert smallpox attack on US citizens as an act of biological warfare. The scenario is set in three successive National Security Council (NSC) meetings, which take place over a period of 14 days.

Former senior government officials played the roles of NSC members responding to the evolving epidemic; representatives from the media were among the observers of these mock NSC meetings and played journalists during the scenario’s press conferences.

This exercise was the first of its kind. The scenario script can be read here. An analysis of the scenario as it was played can be read here.