Covid-19: A Comprehensive Test

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COVID and Class - Social Inequality in a Crisis
Image courtesy Forbes.

Podcast Editor Samuel Pennifold on the varied responses to Covid-19 employed by different nations, and what we can learn from them.

Covid-19 is a common burden, and many countries large and small have failed in their response and recovery efforts. Others have achieved effective responses – some countries have managed to persevere and almost thrive. Taiwan and New Zealand are two such examples.

Taiwan’s experience with Covid has been different to that of most other countries. As of July 1, Taiwan had just 447 confirmed cases and 7 deaths – one of the lowest totals globally. That impressive feat becomes even more impressive when considering Taiwan’s proximity to China and that Taiwan does not benefit from WHO support, meetings, or any official communications due to the stranglehold China has on the WHO and the UN not recognising Taiwan as an independent nation. Taiwan has produced such large success off the back of its ingenuity, relying on big data to control and monitor lockdown efforts, meet demands for key resources, and track potential infections. This has tied in with the use of AI to track social media activity and people’s locations, and represents a trade-off with civil liberties – but would you not sacrifice some level of your privacy to save lives?

Taiwan has achieved its success all whilst looking in from the outside of the global community; truly one of the most impressive stories of Covid-19 success.

What is the opposite of this? Well, Sweden. A story of arrogance, and one of fading hope. Sweden is one of few countries that has chosen to stick with the “herd immunity” approach, despite mounting pressure within the country and internationally to do otherwise. Some commentators have criticised the arrogance with which Sweden has handled itself, relying on the sense of its population to follow recommendations rather than laws in regard to social distancing. Sweden has taken some positive steps, such as closing universities, but primary and secondary students have stayed in school, pubs have remained open to punters, and gyms are open as well. This comes as Sweden sits 5th globally in terms of deaths per million as of July 1.

But has it saved their economy? It’s too early to tell, though economists are not feeling optimistic. Whilst Swedish GDP has shrunk comparatively little compared to other nations within Europe, Sweden is in the unfortunate position of relying on exports to these countries. To many, it seems that Sweden has only delayed the inevitable, at a horribly high cost.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden has set her self apart from other world leaders with her calm and organised handling of the Coronavirus. She put New Zealand into a strict lockdown as soon as the first few cases arrived on their shores. “We only have 102 cases,” Ardern said in a nationally televised announcement. “But so did Italy once.” Her lockdown has worked, with New Zealand recording only 22 deaths – 22 too many, of course, but a success of epic projections compared to Sweden, and even more so the US and the UK. New Zealand is now starting to see the shoots of society sprout once again, albeit gingerly. Rugby fans can now watch their favourite teams again in full stadiums, without social distancing. New Zealand’s way of life is returning, thanks to the strong leadership of its Prime Minister.

It is, of course, unfair to compare countries such as the US and UK with smaller ones such as New Zealand. But the former countries’ responses can at best be characterised as stupid and reckless.

If leadership reflects character, then the US response can be easily explained. It is a nation with one of the most complicated democracies in the world. With many powers held at a state level and even more at that of mayors and sheriffs, lockdown was implemented haphazardly across states and even more haphazardly removed later. States such as Texas and California, two of the largest states in the electoral college, raced to reopen beaches, bars, and restaurants; they are now having to slam on the brakes after a surge in infections.

California Governor Gavin Newsom ordered restrictions on indoor restaurants, bars, and the like for most of the state of California on July 30, coming on the heels of record numbers of new infections and deaths. This is a trend that sadly has plagued most of America, and one that seems to be further damaging its internal standing and reputation under Trump’s presidency. The EU block, including the UK, has kept travel restrictions on those from the US in place.

Some have commented in the past that America’s most dangerous export is its democracy. This time, though, America has fallen foul of itself with one of the highest death tolls in the world.

People in glass houses though should not throw stones. In the UK, we are living in a glass mansion, facing our own issues with a devolved system of government and reckless mistakes from leadership. After an initial approach of herd immunity, similar to that of Sweden, Boris Johnson quickly made a U-turn, as he has become so accustomed to, and took the country into lockdown. With measures applied randomly and reactively, and with the typical ghoulishness of the British press, the government found itself lurching from crisis to crisis in an attempt to gain control.

As case and death numbers gradually start to fall, restrictions are being tentatively eased across the UK, with the promise of resumption if necessary, as we have seen in Leicester. The initial floundering of the government has left the UK with the scars of over 43,000 dead, giving us one of the highest deaths per million worldwide.

In the months and years to come, much will be made in comparing how different nations have responded to Covid-19, and people in power must and will be made accountable – if not by the requirements of democracy, then as a result of the moral stain of each life lost.

We will recover; but in how much time, no one knows.

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