In the face of a pandemic that threatens everything from individual livelihoods to the overall economic system, the world faces a choice between nationalist isolationism or greater global solidarity. For all our sakes, we must choose the latter, says Omar Ben Yedder
The Covid-19 pandemic has challenged the world in many ways: people’s way of life; economic orthodoxy; globalisation. Across the world, it has forced government, industry and people to collaborate in a way that was unimaginable six months ago. Having disrupted life as we know it through lockdowns, social distancing and the effective closer of borders, one positive side product has been the getting together of minds to face a common problem that is indiscriminate in its victims.
In the US, President Trump has invoked the Defense Protection Act, thus forcing manufacturers across the country to turn their factories to mass produce critical equipment. Car manufacturers such as Ford and GM are today making ventilators. Supermarket carparks have become mass testing labs. In the UK vacuum maker Dyson has been commissioned to produce 10,000 ventilators. Formula 1 team McLaren, alongside other industrial groups, has also developed a prototype to make a further 10,000 ventilators
Uber, the cab-hailing company, is offering nurses and doctors in the UK (NHS staff) 300,000 free rides to get them to and from work. A consortium of restaurants (that have effectively closed) and Deliveroo, a food delivery service, are collaborating to help get meals to exhausted NHS workers who don’t have the time to shop and cook.
Luxury brands are using their supply chains to source material to produce protective equipment (PPE). Burberry, known for its trench coats, is today producing face masks. French luxury brand, LVMH, has diverted its factories from producing perfumes to making hand gel that it’s distributed to hospitals across France.
The same is happening across the globe. In Kenya, in an initiative called Safe Hands Kenya, a number of startups including Twiga Foods, Jumia and Cellulant are collaborating to provide hand sanitiser, soap and disinfectant. Another consortium of businesses is collaborating to turn sugar cane into ethanol (a key component to make the alcohol gel) and working with other manufacturers to help bottle and distribute free of charge to the masses. In some cases, what’s needed is cash to help sustain businesses. In South Africa, the Oppenheimer family have donated R1bn ($55m) to help small businesses. Solidarity funds have been created throughout the continent. The private sector in Nigeria has mobilised to provide a safety net and also health facilities building field hospitals in some of the country’s urban centres.
Given limited time and limited capacity, government, people and business are having to look at new ways to overcome the health and economic challenges that have been exposed by the virus.
Collaboration is the only way forward
However there is fear that certain governments will use this pandemic to tighten their grip on their people, thus further weakening democracy. The Hungarian parliament has passed a bill that allows its president to rule by decree. With globalisation already under threat from isolationist politics, this pandemic will have strengthened the arguments for its opponents – it is the free movement of people that has helped, they will say, take this virus to the four corners of the globe. In France, even President Macron, a globalist and the biggest proponent of the European project, has commented how this pandemic has exposed the country’s over-reliance on critical equipment that is currently being produced abroad, thus limiting the speed of its response.
However, it is also becoming evident that the only way to overcome this pandemic is greater collaboration: government and business working together; a strengthening of the social contract between government and people; and greater transparency and collaboration between nation states.
In a recent interview with the BBC, Yuval Noah Hariri, author of best-selling book Sapiens, said that because of the capacity to share knowledge, it took only two weeks to identify the virus, sequence its genome and develop reliable tests. On the global level there are two choices he says: nationalist isolationism or greater global solidarity. Only a global coordinated effort, he argues, will allow for a more efficient production of equipment, as well as to be able to distribute it more fairly to where it is most needed. Not to mention a global economic plan, for those without the capacity of a $2 trillion stimulus.