Since March 2020, the world has been severely hit by an unprecedented Pandemic. The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has caused a devastating blow to global standards and jeopardised our livelihood.
This impact was felt by all, developing and developed countries alike. Multiple strategies were put into practice against a common enemy, yet the world, after over a year, remains powerless in redressing the brunt it has brought upon us.
The very same factors that once shaped the world interconnectedness, from the ease of mobility, trade, and travel, to closer integration of economies, are now suggested as significant determinants of COVID-19 spread.
This is a new reality, a reality that goes against every “business as usual” we have developed, endorsed, and practiced over decades. In the following lines, I will shed light on a number of “New Realities” that were uncovered by the pandemic, and, in my view, will impact the post-COVID-19 world.
Vulnerability, in my opinion, stands out as the paramount reality revealed by the pandemic. The entire world, rich or poor, developed or developing, north or south, was equally hit.
Every nation was deemed vulnerable to such a lethal and easily transmissible disease. All governments faced difficult trade-offs, beyond the health and human tragedy of the pandemic. Lacking a coordinated global response in the early stage of the pandemic, triggered vulnerability at all levels and left all nations in a state of chaos and turmoil, anticipating long-term effects on human capital, productivity and social behaviour.
The second reality that struck the world was the lack of preparedness. The reality that no one saw this threat coming or even its possibility, left the entire world in a state of shock and dominant fear of its potential impact on health systems.
Images of people in long queues in front of testing facilities, urgent care units reaching maximum capacity at hospitals, and the scarcity of sanitisation products were very common even in the most developed countries.
It is also evident, how COVID-19 has changed the nature of many professions. As a diplomat, it is obvious how diplomacy got caught up in the reality of a global geopolitical stalemate.
Diplomats and politicians were tested in their daily work by profound limitations that disrupted the very essence and fabric of their profession, namely human interaction and communication.
Almost everywhere, diplomats had to adjust to the new state of confinement. Such a prevailing situation brought diplomatic activities to a near halt. The lack of personal contact with counterparts left them with a general loss of information and a sense of deep discomfort.
Confined at home, limited to virtual meetings, diplomats had to adapt to this new reality. Needless to say that while digital devices are valuable substitutes, they are in no way the same as in-person communication and can never pretend to be. Virtual meetings cannot deliver the spontaneity, nor warmth of face-to-face interaction, let alone confidentiality.
Virtual diplomacy prompted a near revolution in the scheduling habits of professional diplomats. Time was reinvented as a resource with no time wasted in commuting and long distance travels. This new reality was common to many other professions as well.
Furthermore, the pandemic also revealed that there is no one-size-fits-all strategy. COVID-19 has tested the ability of every country to engage and mobilise communities in tracing, testing and isolating cases, providing effective health care, allocating economic stimulus packages, and react to the overall impacts of the pandemic. Situations differed significantly according to each country’s capacity and own experience.
With every country looking inward, another reality arose, that of either we all win or we all lose. Closed borders failed to offer iron-cast protection. Defensive measures have assisted to confine some of the short-term impacts of the virus.
Yet countries that seemed to have controlled the virus have seen the re-emergence of infection clusters. Pending the rollout of vaccines worldwide, countries are required to put aside their differences and wave off the tides of nationalism in pursuit of a common cause, fight this virus.
The playfield is laid for active multilateralism. Global cooperation is mostly needed today more than any time before, whereby countries share experience and equitable access to R&D and vaccine supply is ensured.
In other words, the fight against this pandemic or any future ones will require robust international cooperation and interdependency.
While recognising the paramount importance of international cooperation and coordinated response in dealing with similar crises in the future, it is worth noting that any coordinated strategy has to take into account the specificities of all countries, economies, regions, and even cultures.
The experience of dealing with COVID-19 has in fact, revealed a few success stories in various regions in the midst of many shortcomings and deficiencies. This highlights the importance of sharing best practices and embracing flexible approaches in any future strategies.
Where Egypt stands
In the wake of this pandemic, Egypt, like other nations around the globe, was confronted by the need to develop a comprehensive strategy to stem the rampant and ruthless spread of the virus.
A strategy has to be developed and implemented amidst the unprecedented transformation of a whole nation, taking into account an economy in the early stages of recovery. There are also scarce resources allocated to ambitious developmental plans, a health sector in the genesis of a modernisation process, in addition to financial and administrative structures that are under close scrutiny and reform.
One cannot ignore as well, specificities of the Egyptian society that made it even more challenging to implement such a strategy. Applying rules of social distancing in populous densities, safeguarding a fragile informal economy, and reintroducing a new culture of health awareness are just examples of the magnitude of this challenge.
This strategy, unlike many in the developed world, was designed to balance between preserving citizens’ health and maintaining economic activity. In some countries we witnessed complete lockdowns, bringing economies to a complete halt, and compensating with stimulus packages.
However, midsize economies did not have the luxury of providing such generous offerings. Financial and social relief policies had to be very well crafted and balanced to meet the needs of the most vulnerable segments of society and the most affected economic sectors. The Egyptian Government’s proactive policies relied on a clear and thoughtful plan targeting all social groups and sectors to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Striking this balance was certainly not a trouble-free task, particularly while implementing prevention measures, revamping the healthcare sector, and boosting detection, tracking, and treatment techniques. Egypt was among the first countries in the world to domestically secure the supply of Personal Protection Equipment (PPEs) early on, enforce rapid testing at all entry ports, whilst there was a severe shortage of PPEs in many developed countries, as the disease first started spreading.
Recognising all the above, where does this leave us? This pandemic was proven to be much more than a health crisis. It required a whole-of-government response as well as a whole-of-society one.
It also triggered a significant shift in the international system to support countries, particularly the most vulnerable, to plan, finance, and implement their response. It was a shift that rearranged global priorities and highlighted the importance of several areas that were brought upon most countries around the world.
Albeit with health care and social protection efforts, governments should acknowledge the technology’s role in easing the impact of the pandemic. They should continue to seek opportunities to supplement and improve on traditional approaches, tools and workflows, and enhance linkages between the health sector and tech industry. This will result in a more harmonised response to current and future public health emergencies.
Another congruent lesson to be cultivated from COVID-19 is the urgent need to re-envisage doctrines of national security. A small virus has overturned life and well-being across the world. It is powerful enough to fundamentally reshape how nations classify threats to national security.
Any properly designed national security strategy should allow for increased resource allocation to public health, social awareness and rapid response mechanisms. Moreover, economic tenacity in anticipation of similar health crises in the future will undeniably bolster protection efforts against prospective threats.
Finally, if the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that our capacity to adjust, innovate and evolve is far superior than ever before. It also taught us that caring about the mental and psychological health of the people is as much vital as their physical health, especially in times of confinement and personal restrictions.
Therefore, whilst we live with the repercussions of an unforeseen pandemic, we also have learned many lessons. I am confident that human solidarity across nations, will always stand ready to meet the next challenge.