COVID-19 is an evolving pandemic which will bring changes and challenges in how we behave societally, how we move from A to B, how cities develop, how we view and treat the planet and how we work.
There have been huge international changes already this year. US President Donald Trump announced on 15 April he will halt American funding to the WHO, a cornerstone of global governance. His reasoning (and accusation) was that the WHO were ‘severely mismanaging’ the COVID-19. At one point in March, one-quarter of the world’s population was on lockdown, confined to their homes. On the local level families have been split during lockdown with particularly difficulties for children with separated parents and a collapse in childcare from the closure of schools and nurseries. Yet communities have banded together – looking out for the elderly and vocally supporting the NHS whilst across the country air pollution has significantly improved. There may be clear skies ahead.
Calculating the impact and national response to COVID-19 is a difficult task. It is very difficult to judge a country’s response by the death toll as;
There are discrepancies in the number of people being tested from one country to another. For example, Russia has been accused of not releasing accurate figures with a mortality rate of just 0.9%, making it an outlier among other similarly sized countries. Iran has been unable to initiate a test and trace programme whilst in Pakistan there is such widespread concern of undercounting that a nationwide survey to estimate how many people have been infected is due in June.
There are also fundamental differences in how you count deaths from COVID-19. France and Germany record deaths from care homes in their daily headline figures whilst the UK only counts hospital deaths. Belgium has gone a step further and counts COVID-19 deaths even if the doctor only suspects coronavirus was involved.
There are differences in general approach. For example, in Sweden lockdown was never initiated with the Riksdag choosing to keep schools and restaurants open throughout 2020. Although large groups of 50+ people have been banned and congregations of people in bars discouraged. Sweden has sought to empower citizens to take individual responsibility to social distance, a unique tactic. On 26 April the Swedish deputy prime minister Isabella Lovin told the BBC that decisions had been made with a long-term view of tackling the disease as a ‘marathon, and not a sprint’.
Demographics play a huge role in how badly a country suffers from COVID-19. Japan is a heavily urbanised country with 91.8% of people living in urban areas and an ageing population. 27.5% of the population is aged 65 and over (The World Bank Population ages 65 and above (% of total population) – Japan 2018). Japan lifted its state of emergency on 25 May but by 3 June an urgent alert was issued for residents in Tokyo to stay at home due to a jump in COVID-19 (34 new daily cases).
The characteristics of national healthcare systems vary around the world. Countries such as Bangladesh having less than 1 ICU (Intensive Care Unit) bed per 100,000 of the population. Even in developed countries such as America, with $3.6 trillion spent per year on healthcare, the pandemic has exposed deep disparities in access to medical care within states. Whilst some hospitals have international reputations and world-renowned names like the Mayo Clinic others have only 5 to 7 days of cash at any one time and have had to put much-needed staff on leave due to financial pressure (from cancelled elective procedures) (The Financial Times How coronavirus broke America’s healthcare system 30 April 2020).
In 1348 the Black Death spread into the UK. It was so deadly that after the pandemic there was a national shortage of labour as millions of serfs and free peasants died across the country. This led to the downfall of serfdom and the feudal system as those peasants who survived demanded better pay and more freedom. The loss of labour also effected business as Europe’s largest companies, in the long term, increased their influence with governments, gained greater share of the market and concentrated their assets whilst many small companies collapsed. There are clear parallels between 1348 and 2020. Currently many small-scale entrepreneurs are struggling to stay afloat due to COVID-19 whilst other companies ‘mainly the much larger ones involved in home delivery – are profiting handsomely from the new trading conditions’ (The Conversation How pandemics past and present fuel the rise of mega-corporations 3 June 2020). In the future it is expected that a handful of mega-corporations will increase their domination of key markets post-2020.
Finally, when the pandemic is brought under control either by long term behavioural change or by vaccine, there will be an urgent investigation into how COVID-19 first started. This is critical if future pandemics are to be prevented. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has already asked for an inquiry – and China responded with tariffs on Australian barley and a halt to beef exports. On 4 June ex-MI6 chief Sir Richard Dearlove said he believes the origins of the pandemic can be traced back to an accident in a Chinese laboratory in Hubei. He added ‘I do think this started as an accident [but] it raises the issue…if China ever were to admit responsibility, does it pay reparations?’