With hindsight, the main weakness behind the ineffective response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic in some countries has been the failure to understand, and take account of, the multilayered systemic interdependencies that spread the effects of the pandemic across social, technological, economic and health-care dimensions. For example, to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, all people were required to rapidly adjust to social distancing and travel restrictions. Such a complex behavioural response entails adaptation to achieve a full recovery from the systemic shock. To capitalize on the positive effects of disruption to the status quo, much more complex socioeconomic modelling needs to be considered when designing and evaluating possible public health interventions that have major behavioural implications. We provide a simple example of how this reasoning may highlight generally unacknowledged connections and interdependencies and guide the construction of scenarios that can inform policy decisions to enhance the resilience of society and tackle existing societal challenges.