Although we are potentially months away from a robust data view that supports meaningful comparison, a picture is forming of the geographies that prepared for and managed the pandemic well and those that did not.
The final reckoning will likely not make good reading for some of the most significant global economies. The paucity of public and health services that remain post-austerity has been exposed, the relentless growth of those countries’ urban centres and global hubs have acted as an accelerated breeding ground for the virus, and the voices of those experts who remain within their shorn government departments have not been heard early or often enough.
Belatedly, while these countries’ huge scale and economic might was unleashed, it has been too late to sufficiently slow the runaway train of this virus, and at a cost that will hang over us for a decade. They have found themselves in a position where the prolonged exit from lockdown will dwarf the belated and rapid lunge into taking the necessary measures to contain it.
If there is to be any positive final scene in this play, it must be in ensuring that the mistakes made so far are not repeated and that those positive, if belated, interventions are re-applied post-crisis.
The economic recovery, both at national and global level, will require mature and long-term planning that will extend across multiple election cycles. It will require co-operation on a global scale not seen since the end of the Second World War to ensure that the development and equitable distribution of a vaccine is achieved.
Beyond that, a re-defined global order will need to emerge – one which seeks not to fully reverse the benefits that globalisation has brought, but which also recognises the critical nature of ensuring prosperous, self-sufficient and resilient economies for the future.
The changes that the post-Covid-19 world will demand are likely to fundamentally alter the way in which we work and live. Ensuring common standards that guide the development of these new models is a must, as is ensuring they operate on a global basis to allow us to maintain the travel and connectivity we take for granted.
We will require more of the belated public-private sector co-operation as well as industry-wide ingenuity and collaboration. The load will be too great for any one economy to go it alone, and this could be a catalyst for a new chapter of global trade and investment. If principles of greater equality are adopted and a common agenda is sought, there will certainly be enough opportunity to go around.
The backdrop to the pre-Covid period was littered with populist and isolationist policies, economies looking more inward than outward, and simmering trade tensions. Post-crisis this canvas must be wiped clean, with the leading economies that have been found wanting displaying genuine leadership, far removed from the logo-adorned lecterns and political broadcasts masquerading as press conferences with which we have become familiar.
It does appear that there is a correlation between countries with recently elected populist governments and ill-preparedness for the Covid-19 pandemic. Populist-led governments, swept into power as a backlash against a decade of austerity, share deeply felt grievances against immigration and global corporations. They are bolstered by left-behind communities in rural or traditional heartlands rather than the urban liberal elite. They are dismissive of experts, eschew or distrust their own machinery of government, and tend to govern from the lectern with emotive and divisive campaign themes.
Is it any wonder then, when confronted with an unprecedented crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic, that they appear unprepared, in denial, and unable to brigade the state agencies whom they have ignored or marginalised into forming a coordinated response?
Even the most experienced politicians and stable administrations have been tested to the limits by this crisis, but the rookie populists have been left very exposed. They lost valuable time in acknowledging the threat and organising prevention measures, struggled to co-ordinate national lockdown strategies in their divided nations, and rejected the advice and guidance of multilateral bodies such as the World Health Organisation.
The global recovery from this pandemic will require a coordinated approach, co-operation on a scale never seen before, a reliance on the best medical expertise and research irrespective of nationality, cross-border alliances and co-operation between firms, citizens’ patience to accept the restrictive measures on their lives, and trust and understanding to confront our common enemy.
Isolation and inward-looking policies will prolong the agony and economic malaise. Open borders, multilateral co-operation and a cross-border trade and investment boom are the fastest remedies.
Mark O‘Connell is chief executive of OCO Global, the international trade and export advisory firm