Civic responsibility and concerted action required to save lives and livelihoods – Marco Vicenzino

Civic responsibility and concerted action required to save lives and livelihoods – Marco Vicenzino

Profound economic damage is certain, says Marco Vicenzino. This article was originally published in The Scotsman on 21 May 20. Marco Vicenzino (msv@globalsp.org) is a geopolitical expert and international business advisor to senior executives. He is also a Euromoney Country Risk Expert and member of the International ­Advisory Council of the Asia ­Scotland Institute 

As many western countries gradually emerge from nearly two months of Covid-19 quarantines, many citizens will struggle to transition from lockdown limbo to the “new” normal and its accompanying realities. Political necessity, public pressure and economic survival demand the start of a basic re-opening process.

However, the brutal reality is that without a vaccine or effective treatments, the coronavirus remains a deadly threat. In particular, for vulnerable segments of society including the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions. The objective must be to save lives and livelihoods, which are not mutually exclusive but will require civic responsibility and concerted action.

Many western countries are entering unchartered territory as they exit lockdown. On the one hand, activities such as mass testing and social distancing will be common norms for the foreseeable future – primarily aimed at preventing second waves of infections. However, uniform standards often cannot apply to all countries or even within countries, particularly as Covid’s impact varies according to locations. The bottom line is that one size does not fit all. Each state must pursue flexible and pragmatic policies that produce results – whether at the national, regional or local levels – and within the constitutional framework of each given democratic society.

Some Asian societies are clearly better prepared and equipped in confronting Covid due to precedence and experience with other viral outbreaks over the last 20 years, particularly with SARS. South Korea and Taiwan clearly stand out as solid examples. Through practical measures and civic responsibility, they demonstrate how a society can continue functioning while confronting a pandemic.

With only six deaths and 429 Covid infections, Taiwan has provided some of the most valuable pandemic lessons Regarded as a renegade province by the mainland’s ruling Chinese Communist Party (CPP), Taiwanese officials are keenly aware of the CCP’s playbook and expertise for repression and cover-up. Taiwan understood early on that a deadly viral outbreak was occurring in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where Covid virus originated. By early January, Taiwan began screening travelers from mainland China and taking necessary measures to combat the outbreak.

Furthermore, Taiwan’s early warnings to the World Health Organisation (WHO) about the outbreak went unheeded. As WHO’s leadership tows the Chinese Communist line on no recognition of Taiwan, it must bear its fair share of responsibility for the consequences of ignoring Taiwan’s pleas. It initially politicised the fight against Covid which inevitably led to the loss of precious time and most certainly lives.

Despite Communist China’s early mask diplomacy and aggressive disinformation campaign, its narrative of a superior one-party system defeating Covid has been largely debunked. International public opinion is increasingly, and correctly, holding Communist China responsible for trying to cover up Covid’s existence and then downplaying its severity. This led to its rapid spread at home and globally resulting in the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives, millions of livelihoods and the practical collapse of the global economy.

Despite numerous warnings, many western leaders underestimated the virus’ speed and caught off guard upon impact. In particular, the virus’ ability to overwhelm a medical system. However, others who heeded early advice and took action are now better prepared to ease lockdowns. While Italy, France, Spain and the UK suffered from Covid death rates above 20,000, a different tale prevails in other parts of Europe.

Until now, Germany has resisted the bloody Covid trend among major western European countries. Emerging as an exception was due to various factors including effective organisation – such as mass testing of 100,000 citizens per day. Furthermore, there was responsible political leadership at the federal, regional and local levels, and the civic responsibility of ordinary people.

Much credit is also due to the states of Central and Eastern Europe, many Nordic states and Greece. Although seeing their first cases in early March, they were already observing the carnage unfolding in Italy. They astutely used the brief but precious window of opportunity to their advantage by immediately imposing effective rapid reaction measures with impressive results.

In the US the numbers range dramatically across the vast nation. The New York area alone accounts for roughly one-third of US Covid infections and deaths. Thus far, many other states pale by comparison. Success will be largely determined at the state level where governors have the authority to open or close a state from lockdowns.

Profound economic damage is beyond doubt – certainly worse than the Great Recession of 2008. The main question is how deep. Is it closer to 2008 or the Great Depression of 1929 – or possibly somewhere in between?

Marco Vicenzino (msv@globalsp.org) is a geopolitical expert and international business advisor to senior executives. He is also a Euromoney Country Risk Expert and member of the International ­Advisory Council of the Asia ­Scotland Institute

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