The new normal after COVID-19

By Saksha Menezes |

Gerd Altman/Pixaby

At over 190,000 deaths and an arguably clumsy response to the pandemic from two global powers, the UK and the US, there is no end in sight for COVID-19. At time of writing, Trump announced in a press briefing that injecting disinfectant could be used as treatment for the coronavirus. It has also been recently conceded that Boris Johnson missed five consecutive emergency Cobra meetings in the lead-up to the crisis in February and shipped protective equipment to China during the same period. 

Will the world ever be the same after this crisis? Some people are hoping for a gentler more eco-friendly world. However, many argue that the problems we have now regarding the shift away from globalisation and liberalism and towards nationalism and right wing politics, will only be accelerated. 

Firstly, crises and particularly pandemics have historically tended to inflame xenophobia and racial scapegoating. When the Black Death hit Europe during the 14th century, towns and cities closed themselves to outsiders and assaulted, banished and killed ‘undesirable’ community members. Another example is in 1858 when a mob broke into a quarantine hospital for immigrants on Staten Island, New York City, demanding that people leave and then burnt the building down. They argued that it put people outside at risk from yellow fever. 

“The normalisation of quackery, xenophobia and irrationalism is dangerous”

We can see similar behaviour in response to COVID-19. For example, Trump has tried to brand the new coronavirus as inherently Chinese which provided a pretext for tightening borders and accepting fewer asylum seekers. Other Republican officials and think tanks have also implied that the virus is a man made bio-weapon. 

Another example in Europe is Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, who recently announced ‘we are fighting a two front war: one front is called migration, and the other one belongs to the coronavirus. There is a logical connection between the two, as both spread with movement.’

Asian people have also faced an increased level of discrimination and racist abuse across the globe, given that the virus began in Wuhan, China. For example, on the 12th of February 2020, Sky News reported that Chinese people in the United Kingdom said that they were facing increasing levels of racist abuse.

Наркологическая Клиника/Pixaby

The normalisation of quackery, xenophobia and irrationalism is dangerous. It is likely that it will bring about an end to our transition toward universalist culture. As Dutch historian, Johan Huizinga argues, it is entirely possible that COVID-19 will precipitate the waning of globalisation.’ 

We currently live in a world of hyper globalisation. There has been an expansion of global trade in recent years. In 1980, global export volumes were worth $2.05 trillion however by the end of 2018, that figure had increased tenfold to $19.5 trillion. The spread of the virus and the ensuing media panic, have reminded us of the tangle of supply chains and agreements that have resulted from globalisation and global trade and which now underpin the global economy. However, many are now accusing globalisation of exacerbating the pandemic and are calling for nationalism to protect their health, jobs and the economy. Robin Niblett, director of Chatham House think tank, has predicted that citizens will look towards national governments to protect themselves as states and firms seek to reduce vulnerabilities. 

“A more sympathetic, altruistic and connected world must come out of this pandemic, if we are to survive the next crisis”

The anxiety resulting from the crisis is likely to cause an increase in support for greater isolationism. A policy championed by right wing governments across the globe. The rise in right wing politics that we have seen in recent years is unlikely to be slowing down anytime soon.

However, none of this is a given and what we can do is try and combat this movement with rationalism and holding those to account who try and spread hateful and xenophobic ideologies. Instead of the advancement of prejudice and greater isolationism, COVID-19 has shone a light on our weak spots and is signalling what we could be doing better. The government must properly fund our public services to provide a real safety net for the poorest in our society. The press must ask the government hard-hitting questions, because ultimately, lives depend on it. Finally, the ability of individual countries across the world to deal with crises will affect us in this globalised, interconnected world, which requires an integrated and comprehensive global response. A more sympathetic, altruistic and connected world must come out of this pandemic, if we are to survive the next crisis.