Global Affairs Opinion

A nuanced look at the effects of Covid-19

Not all ‘anti-virus’ strategies are the same, which has become evident over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic. While most countries have chosen a stricter approach, with different measures of success in enforcement, there are exceptions, such as Sweden. Such differences beg the question: is there a right approach? If so, what makes an approach right?

It is not my aim to further politicise the corona crisis, but rather to offer an insight into how it was and should be handled. There are a number of factors which determine the impact the virus can have on a country.  The international community’s role is non negligible, while the stability of a country’s economy, its healthcare system and social security system also play a vast role in medical and economical impact respectively.

The role of pre-existing factors

Rather than playing politics with the crisis, we should acknowledge that pre-existing circumstances are at least as important as the response. This is relatively easy to prove with just a few examples, but also by taking a look at the broader picture.

Let’s first look at the US state of New York. The majority of US cases have happened in New York City. It’s a place with high population density, a relatively low number of hospital beds, but also a relatively weak and poorly enforced response to the health crisis. 

Even if one were to enact a close to complete stay-at-home order in the city, people would need to buy groceries and occasionally leave their homes for various reasons. Additionally, some people simply will not abide by the rules and recommendations, as witnessed by countless reports of New Yorkers being outside en masse. 

In Alaska, Wyoming, or any other rural state, on the other hand, whatever measures are taken will be taken from a favorable position, since a rural environment automatically makes the spread of coronavirus, or any disease for that matter, more difficult.

The data illustrates this. The US states of Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming combined have seen 2.16% of US deaths. That’s less than California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York or New Jersey. That’s right: every single one of the latter states has had more people die of Covid-19 than the former twelve combined.

Why the crisis shouldn’t be politicized

There are several ways to interpret this data. Very often one will hear the following: “all twelve low death-rate states voted Republican in 2016, which must mean that the GOP is simply better at handling the Coronavirus than the Democrats”. And, less often, you will hear: “all twelve low death-rate states are rural, which explains the few fatalities”. 

It is my firm belief that no matter how polarized a society is, it should always follow several basic rules of human decency, including that of being cooperative in times of crisis. In the United States, this principle was broken. 

There is also a fundamental difference between the general electorate and public officials. The latter are to be held to a higher standard in terms of their leadership and general behavior, particularly in times of crisis. 

While in the United States high profile politicians bash each other left and right, in other countries criticism is more constructive. In the UK, the government and opposition have been working together reasonably well, with criticism of the former by the latter increasing gradually over time,  but mostly not  for the sole purpose of political gain. 

Perhaps the largest wave of criticism came after No. 10 advisor Dominic Cummings’ 260 mile trip to Durham. The trip was, in my opinion, inappropriate for several reasons. The general public, along with several Tory MPs and obviously the opposition were all united in their criticism. A person of Cummings’ profile shouldn’t bend the rules: no matter whether it was legal in the end or not, it was a bad example for the nation and the polar opposite of exemplary leadership. 

This crisis, like most others, has required a lot of perseverance from people. This requires resources and spirit. While in the beginning, the resources were scarce in some regards, such as PPE, the latter was very much present. Particularly after Boris Johnson’s hospitalization, one could observe the UK population’s support for the government and with that also its crisis response. Dominic Cummings’ actions, besides seeing No. 10 support drop, also affected the people’s spirit negatively. This in my opinion already has, and will even more so, adversely influence the adherence to measures against corona, thereby risking all of the progress that has been made. 

What makes a good approach?

First of all, is there a good approach to managing Covid-19? Several countries, such as the Czech Republic, Poland or even Germany, have managed the situation relatively well. They have low infection and death rates, while at the same time their economies have not suffered more than the average affected country.

Therefore, I’d say that the best approach is one which saves life while minimising damage to the economy. A country with a healthy economy and vast financial reserves, such as Germany, will be able to counteract the economic impact relatively well. Countries with a high proportion of hospital beds per capita, combined with an early and strict response, such as the Czech Republic, with its early mask-wearing obligation, will be able to manage the spread of the disease and be well prepared for it.

Then there are countries, such as the United States, with an expensive healthcare system, an atrociously bad social security system and a lack of enforcement of social distancing and other measures which prevent the spread of the virus. At the same time, within the United States, the situation can and does look diametrically different between different areas.

All of this goes to show that an area’s pre-existing conditions matter just as much as its response. It is essential to have a data-driven and logical response and to be prepared to not politicize, but to stand united. Anything else, as the world has recently witnessed, is most certainly set for tragedy.