The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting all of us, but to differing extents. Overstretched health care systems, curfews, unemployment and school closures are posing challenges and pushing people beyond their ability to cope. The consequences of the pandemic will be felt in both, the short and long term. However, the longer term health, economic and social impact can only be estimated at present.
Governments around the world have restricted basic democratic rights such as freedom of assembly, stepped up state monitoring of citizens, muzzled the media with new laws and arrests, and expanded their own powers as part of their Covid-19 policy. Those making foreign and development policy must monitor this carefully. The Covid-19 pandemic is a catalyst for democracy’s demise.
Because of COVID-19, many European companies are understandably focusing on their financial figures and the safety and wellbeing of their direct employees. Given the gravity of the crisis, the larger supply chain and the human rights and environmental due diligence therein risks falling off their agenda. But do these difficult times absolve companies from their due diligence responsibilities?
If there is one thing to learn and treasure from the devastating experience of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is the need to rethink the way communities and societies need to come together into a renewed social contract, that no longer hides the deep inequalities of the ‘old’ normal.
Over the past few weeks, the EU has been mobilising its full firepower – including health coordination, economic measures and market regulation – to address the COVID-19 crisis within its borders. Yet, in facing a global pandemic that knows no borders, it is in Europe’s interest to mount an effective global response at scale.
Right in the middle of the crisis, Europe is in a state of shock. Italy, Spain and France, in particular, are experiencing an extremely deep sadness and a sense of powerlessness to help the most vulnerable, especially the elderly in our societies, despite health and social protection systems that could generally be considered better endowed and better organised than in other parts of the world. This deep moral distress goes beyond the question of how effectively different Governments have managed the crisis, and beyond questioning the policies that have undermined these social systems, although both questions will remain legitimate when it comes to learning the lessons of the crisis. The extreme vulnerability of the most fragile is bursting into our lives and into the public debate in industrialised countries.
Discussions about the world that will emerge from the coronavirus pandemic have already started apace. Many commentators are wondering whether the crisis offers the opportunity to set the world on a more sustainable and equal path.
The novel coronavirus is keeping the world in suspense. Infection rates are rising exponentially in many countries. The isolated and lock-down measures taken by numerous states are having a massive impact on virtually all areas of economic and social life. They go hand in hand with a growing sense of uncertainty among the general public.
The Spanish flu was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, claiming up to 50 million lives worldwide between 1918 and 1919. It has many parallels with the current coronavirus and the international community would do well to learn from such past pandemics. For every flu death back then, four people survived, but became impoverished. In order to prevent such a scenario, we need to act now to utilise and adapt social protection systems to provide rapid, non-bureaucratic assistance to people.
European public opinion seems to react quickly to perceived crises of the day, but past opinion polls show that support to international cooperation remains stable even in times of crises. Will this change in the face of the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis, which has raised questions of the effectiveness of our global governance?