From New Internationalist Easier English Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search


How can we change the bad effects of the pandemic? by Vanessa Baird


A Havana resident with a mask walks by a vehicle of Covid-19 health workers. Good planning and a strong public-health system have saved Cuba from the worst of the pandemic. Ernesto Mastrascusa/Efe/Alamy

As Covid-19 continues to cause destruction across the world, it seems insensitive to speak of good that can come out of this pandemic. For people who have died or lost loved ones or have bad health now, there is probably no good. We have all had to learn to be afraid – of the virus, of each other and of ourselves. Of the terrible ability of our own bodies to cause death to people we meet.

A very sad ambulance driver in Iraq told a BBC World Service reporter that he had given Covid to 3 people in his family, without knowing, and ‘killed’ them.

Our world has changed. It will never be the same again: emotionally, medically, economically, socially and politically.

Across the world people are still losing lives and jobs. Aid agencies say that the number of people with extreme hunger could double to a quarter of a billion in 2020 because of the many different effects. Economists say it is the largest economic shock in decades and that GDP over the whole world will decrease between 5.2 and 8 per cent.

We do not know how long this will continue. But we know from history that big problems like this – the Black Death, the two World Wars, for example – can start big change. The choices we make now and in the near future could change the world for the better or make it worse. We could create a healthier, more sustainable, more equal world, or make it even worse.

We cannot sit back and wait for change to happen, hoping for the best. People with power and privilege are trying to take more advantage from the situation – people in business and politics.


We are all affected by Covid-19, but in different ways. The inequalities are: who gets ill, who dies and who can survive the changes afterwards.

This pandemic has shown us the inequalities that already exist – some were hidden – and created new ones. At first it seemed older people were most at risk. Then people with other health conditions. Then frontline workers, like healthcare workers. Then, in the UK and US, we noticed that people from ethnic minorities died more often. People live or die depending on social and economic levels.

It is very difficult to do social distancing if you live with many people; or to wash your hands often if you are one of the millions in the world who still do not have sanitation. People on low wages or in informal work could not work from home. And home-schooling does not work for children in poor families with no computers.

We soon saw the pattern of disadvantage across the world. In India, Narendra Modi ordered a lockdown with only a few hours’ warning, and 80 million migrant workers lost their jobs immediately. They had to walk back to their villages, often hundreds of miles away.

Reports said hungry children ate grass as they walked. Millions of migrant workers around the world still cannot get home, some are at sea. They cannot work or send back the money their families need. In the Amazon, indigenous people are in danger of catching the virus because there are more loggers and miners.

Gender is important. In Italy men were almost twice as likely to die as women. But in India, more women are dying. The International Labour Organization (ILO) says that more women are suffering across the world from social and economic effects.

But Jeff Bezos, owner of Amazon and the world’s first trillionaire, has earnt more than $24 billion during the pandemic.

António Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, said in a tweet that Covid-19 has shown that it is not true that free markets can give healthcare to everyone, that unpaid care work isn’t work, and that we live in a post-racist world. We are all in the same sea, but some people are in super-yachts and others are only holding onto a piece of wood.

Covid-19 has made us see the inequality. And we cannot beat this virus if we do not also something about the disease of inequality.

The global economic system is very important for this. In in the next few months, millions of lives and jobs will depend on the success of campaigns to cancel the debts of the poorest countries and to stop tax avoidance, and how the International Monetary Fund chooses to use its resources.


For many years, in neoliberal countries, governments have not given enough money to public health and paid most care work poorly or not at all. Then, suddenly, Covid-19 came and the government decided all carers, health workers, cleaners and refuse collectors were ‘key’ or ‘essential workers’. Far more important than bankers and lawyers. Politicians who had wanted to cut all public services, helped the banks with money and praised privatization, all suddenly praised ‘our carers’.

Lombardy is a rich area with the most privatized health system in Italy. It had so many coronavirus cases in March, but its private hospitals didn’t have enough space for all the sick and dying. They asked for support to other rich European neighbours, but these countries didn’t help. Then communist Cuba sent help in the form of doctors and nurses. There is a campaign to nominate them for the Nobel Peace Prize.

If we need carers are more than bankers, why don’t we pay carers more?


Martha and Stacy use their hair to raise awareness of the virus by imitating its shape. This is Kenya’s biggest slum – social distancing is impossible and sanitation is not good, but there is a lot of community health work. Donwilson Odhiambo/Sopa/Zuma/Alamy


The virus started in Wuhan, China, and spread quickly around the world because of economic globalization and people flying a lot. But the same globalization was not able to get people what they needed to fight the virus. It took weeks to get enough PPE (personal protective equipment) and testing kits. The supply chains of globalization were weak, slow and full of corruption.

In the US, free-market competition put up the price of things that people needed. Clothes shops in the West cancelled orders at the last minute, so countries like Bangladesh suffered. We should listen to the people who have said for years that the Global South needs to be more self-sufficient.


In several countries the government started to control the market. People lost jobs because businesses closed. People began to protest because private businesses had no money. Even extreme neoliberal governments, like in Chile and the UK, started to pay people who were not working – to avoid too much unemployment. In Argentina the government paid one fifth of the population, including informal workers. Social and welfare payments increased, even in the US. The government took back control of water supplies in South Africa. In England street homelessness stopped immediately when councils offered 90 per cent of people sleeping in the street empty rooms in hotels.

All this will cost the countries billions. So the private sector should be cut pay for people who earn the most, stop tax evasion and move faster to become fossil-fuel free. The $32 trillion hidden in illegal tax havens could help.

More social-welfare payments to stop poverty means that the idea of a Universal Basic Income is more possible.


People were afraid that shops would run out of food in rich countries – but they didn’t. Councils, charities and help groups took essentials to many people who needed them. In the Global South the situation is far more difficult - many people do not have enough. Oxfam says that by the end of the year, hunger (related to coronavirus) could kill 12,000 people a day. This is more than the virus’s death rate of 10,000 a day in April 2020.

Yemen, Venezuela, Brazil, India, Syria, South Sudan and South Africa are especially at risk. Less money coming in means more poverty, food insecurity and conflict. In countries that rely on money sent back by emigrants, like the Philippines, the pandemic has taught that we need to make countries more independent eg. grow and control their own food.


In lockdown many people said that we felt closer to nature. If you shut down the machine noise of people, you can hear the birds singing. We see more wildlife – wildlife gets braver. Deer walk on city streets; fish swim in canals of Venice. Skies are bluer; the air is clean. People working at home means less traffic, less travelling, less pollution. More people walk and cycle. You can breathe well in the centre of the world’s most toxic cities.

This showed us what life could be like if we stop using fossil fuels. And it was good. It was a break from buying and shopping all the time. George Monbiot said that this terrible pandemic must make us change – to a new system.

The media is now talking about the global Green New Deal again – but it needs to include justice.


Young people who live in a favela in Rio helping others – when the government didn’t help. Ellan Lustosa/Zuma/Alamy


Covid-19 was a test for governments – and some failed badly. ‘Ostrich leaders’ like Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro were the worst. They said there was no danger and lied. They didn’t follow clear, urgent medical advice from WHO (World Health Organization). There is a basic trust that leaders will not kill their people – but they betrayed this. The media often write about their terrible mistakes. The result is the highest number of deaths in the world (at the time of writing) in the US and Brazil.

So, let’s look at the countries that protected their people - quietly and intelligently. Seven of the 12 most successful countries – Aotearoa/New Zealand, Germany, Taiwan, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Denmark – are led by women. One explanation is that the new generation of women leaders are more likely to listen to experts. They do not waste time. Taiwan moved so fast, with good technology that it stopped the virus spreading with no lockdown. President Tsai Ing-wen, her digital minister (who was a hacker before) Audrey Tang, and vice-president epidemiologist were a good team.

Greece is not led by a woman, but the government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis saw that the public health system was so weak after years of cuts, that it would not support many patients. So they acted quickly and kept the number of deaths in the low hundreds (in Italy and Spain it was tens of thousands).

Communist Cuba showed how good planning was. Weeks before the first case came to the island, they sent doctors for specialist WHO training and visited China to study how to fight the disease. In June, president Miguel Díaz-Canal had a 122-page plan to relax quarantine. Cuba sent 30 medical groups to help fight the pandemic in 28 countries and there were only 87 deaths in Cuba itself – no health workers.

Vietnam is a very interesting case. They had 10 deaths in a population of 97 million and do a lot of business with China. Researcher Jenny Nguyen says this was because of a very fast lockdown, previous experience of the SARS and MERS (like Taiwan and Singapore), and the public following the rules. Most important was that ‘the government wanted to put health before the economy from the beginning,’ says Nguyen. All the countries that did well in the emergency put people first.


The virus respects no borders; this pandemic needs countries to work together. At the head of this is the WHO. Trump said WHO is to blame for coronavirus deaths in the US. Trump is fighting a complicated, irrational war with the WHO, related to his trade war with China.

Trump decided to take away US funding from the WHO. This is like cutting a firehose in the middle of a very big fire. There will be a report next year on how the WHO’s handled the pandemic.

The 15-member Security Council (the most powerful and most useless section of the UN) is more to blame. There is so much conflict between the five permanent members: the US, Russia, China, France and the UK.

Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet said that it’s hard to think of a worse response to a global emergency - when there were 10 million cases and 500,000 deaths from Covid-19 in early July.

The UN’s humanitarian agencies continued. In mid-July they started a very big funding appeal to help 63 of the poorest, most-at-risk countries. This appeal is the largest in the history of the UN, part of the Covid-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan. But by the end of July, they had only received $1.64 billion of the $10.3 billion they needed.


Governments and the big institutions have been late and weak, but the opposite is true of civil society. Ordinary citizens and social movements have been quick and effective.

In mid-March, just before lockdown in the UK, more than 200 groups started to help others. All online, volunteers organized help in WhatsApp and Facebook groups, offering shopping, dog walking and collecting medicine to people in self-isolation. By June there were 4,225 groups in both urban and rural areas.

The solidarity has been international too. Sophie King works with the grassroots poverty action group GM Savers in Manchester, UK. Their network helped locally and also raised money for organizations in Africa, part of the Slum/Shack Dwellers International Network.

Across the world, citizens have helped others. There were thousands of food kitchens by roads in India.

In Brazil, groups of citizens have filled the empty space left by the government.

G10 Favelas is active in Paraisópolis, in southern São Paulo. Volunteer leaders are each responsible for 50 houses. They give out food and information about social isolation. They check on people who have coronavirus. They got four ambulances and two vans to take food and cleaning products to others. They raised money by crowdfunding to pay for two houses for sick people who cannot isolate at home – all the 510 beds followed social isolation guidelines.

Also in Brazil, the Homeless Workers Movement (MTST) has created groups across the country. By late June they had delivered 150 tons of food, 15,000 sanitizers and cleaning kits and 49,830 masks, helping 18,500 families. They also give WhatsApp health guidance and psychological, social and legal information and protection to families who could lose their homes.

There has been similar help in many African countries that are part of the Slum/Shack Dwellers International Network. Women lead these groups and they often help much more than only saving lives. In Francistown, Botswana, volunteers went around the area to find houses without running water and toilets and helped them to get these.


This is a bad time for democracy. We have restriction, curfews, social isolation. The state has more power and less responsibility. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has used the crisis to imprison more people who don’t support his politics; the same is happening to artists and journalists in Bangladesh. In Bolivia the coup administration of Jeanine Áñez Chávez is using the pandemic to make the elections later.

But... we have also seen so much political activism, for example, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests across a world in lockdown. Maybe lockdown has made their voices louder, and focused on institutional racism that has been going on for decades, centuries.

BLM issues connect with coronavirus because many more black and ethnic minority health workers died in the UK. Racism is at the centre of this.

Two things are happening. First, we see the possibility of a bigger state that looks after all its citizens. And second, people have experience of helping each other.

These two possibilities, a more caring state and the many social movements, can work together to change and heal. We must work together to make this happen.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL AND FIND LINKS TO MORE INFORMATION: https://newint.org/features/2020/08/11/big-story-covid-19-lessons-pandemic

(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed)