Lessons to learn from the crisis: Op-ed
An Afghan boy holds protective face masks for sale in downtown, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Kabul, Afghanistan, on March 29. (REUTERS Photo)
With the number of cases of coronavirus spreading in multiple countries around the globe, researchers at the Imperial College in London have made a sobering prediction that the death toll might soar into critically high numbers if social distancing and other mitigation measures fail.
Viruses that have grave consequences for the world also give rise to great political, social and economic transformations. It is hard at the moment to forecast the kind of future the current world is going to evolve toward. However, it is quite discernible that nothing is going to be – or can be – as it used to be. We are embarking upon a new era in which sweeping changes are likely in the global economic, political and social order.
First, there’s the economic cost: According to Goldman Sachs’ latest forecast, China’s gross domestic product will decline 9 percent during the first quarter – a loss of more than 1 trillion dollars in production and income and an unprecedented reversal for modern China. The investment bank is also predicting a 5 percent decline in U.S. GDP during the second quarter, when the pandemic effects hit hard. That would also represent a loss of over 1 trillion dollars in output. The European Union, meanwhile, has also pledged to invest 25 billion euro ($27.86 billion) to address the coronavirus impact. However, COVID-19 is not generating a global recession, it is simply accelerating it. It is evident that the world economy was already fragile, sustained by financial bubbles and huge consumer debt.
And then there’s globalization. Could the coronavirus pandemic even be the nail in the coffin for the current era of globalization? The outbreak has been a gift to nativist nationalists and protectionists, and it is likely to have a long-term impact on the free movement of people and goods. Globalization will obviously evolve, both ideologically and from the standpoint of application. There is no way that new contacts between people and countries can be completely prevented, but there is no doubt that globalization will take on new forms. The international community will have to find a new balance between the priorities of national and global development: a global renationalization of almost all neoliberal policies and national action over international cooperation.
But there will be salient benefits and lessons from the pandemic as well: the world will be better prepared for outbreaks of disease and other disasters in future. There will be better early-warning systems, better stockpiles of equipment, better vaccines and more resilient supply chains. Public health professionals will know more and have greater reliability when they make advice.
Also, governance will be more effective after the coronavirus havoc. A need for a stronger public sector is now a must considering the messy initial response to the virus. We have realized that becoming more transparent and not suppressing bad news will hinder the initial spread of disease. Having more competent political leadership, better planning and better government-led systems have proven to be the key factor for success. U.S. President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson are receiving harsh criticism for their underestimation of the pandemic and their sluggishness in combating it.
The virus has made some companies begin to allow their employees to work from home. Perhaps flexible and remote working will become the new trend as more industries adapt to it. During this pandemic, more people are realizing the massive value of different types of labor in this world of shutdowns and quarantines. Some professions have to keep going, and the loss of some services is proving particularly painful. Compensation could improve for doctors, teachers, delivery workers, janitors and the like – some of whom are ill-paid – to reflect their value to society. Turks, for instance, applauded nationally to support doctors and nurses in a heart-touching moment.
Valuing a social safety net is also a major issue. Some countries have access to public health care with affordable co-payments, while some countries lack these systems, particularly the United States. A public health crisis provides an alarming reminder of how significant free or cheap health care is to stem a disaster and protect lives across income brackets.
The global stress has led to a discussion of morality on phenomena like price-gouging, selfishness, opportunism and plundering. Regaining solidarity in communities is essential, as in the example of Italy. Italian pizza shops are delivering free pizzas to doctors and nurses, while Turkish police and youth dare to go shopping for the elderly, who are more vulnerable to the virus.
The dedication to fight the climate crisis is also worth mentioning. The coronavirus pandemic is closing down countries across the world, causing a remarkable decline in air pollution in major cities. This is clearly temporary, but it has demonstrated the ways we can achieve a more sustainable system.
This pandemic can end lives and acutely damage others by suddenly destroying livelihoods and life plans. None of us are immune to these horrendous circumstances. Given that, let’s allow ourselves to dream a little as we try to survive this nightmare and learn some lessons for the earth, ourselves and the generation to come to ensure the planet is a better place for all of us.