Morality and Law
COVID-21. Preparing for What?

The Valdai Club has held a discussion on “Global Response to the Pandemic: the Strategy of the World Community and Social Challenges.” Those attending discussed the current response mechanisms and different approaches to the issue of herd immunity, as well as longer-term socioeconomic consequences of the pandemic that are yet to be addressed.

This problem was debated in the context of different regions of the world taking into account their specifics and peculiarities of development. The participants used the term COVID-21 having in view the deferred challenges to be faced next year (and possibly beyond it) rather than some new strain of the virus, which hopefully will not come into being.    

Plummeting standards of living in many countries are a key social upshot of the pandemic. Suspended economic activities during the lockdown have triggered off an increase in unemployment and wage reductions in many sectors.  According to expert forecasts, certain businesses (particularly in spheres such as services, tourism, culture, transport, etc) will go bankrupt and be unable to reopen after the pandemic is over. The labour market is tending to shrink. Practically all countries are predicting a decline of GDP, which means, to some or other degree, cuts in social programmes.  Accordingly, the problem of poverty, both on a global and national level, will become more pronounced next year than it was before the pandemic.

The problem of poverty and unemployment may lead to significant migration shifts, firstly, along the megalopolis-town-village vector.  On the one hand, the factor of fewer jobs and prospects may induce an outflow of yesterdays migrants from megalopolises down the geo-social ladder and back to their small towns and villages. Experts believe that this may trigger off a considerable ruralisation trend (and not only in terms of an expanded suburbia of the upper middle class but also in a much broader sense). If it occurs, this ruralisation may prove, on the one hand, an additional stimulus for progress in agriculture, while, on the other hand, it may bring about a situation, where considerable popular strata will lose access to even the minimal social protection and healthcare benefits they enjoyed in big cities. Apart from this, the general decline in prospects will affect small towns even to a greater degree than the megalopolises, something likely to turn migration flows and poverty cycles in a geo-social chain reaction of sorts.

Secondly, the migration problem may deteriorate on an international scale. Again, two differently directed trends will be in operation in this context.  On the one hand, prospects will collapse for new migrants in more advanced countries, where they arrived before the pandemic. To a certain extent, this will induce them to return back home.  On the other hand, poor countries will be hit by poverty and an increase in unemployment much harder than advanced countries, a circumstance that will swell international migration flows.  All of this may lead to the aggravation of the migration problem, its more tragic perception and world-wide xenophobia.

Growing street violence and crime is the next important aspect directly related to the problem of poverty. Many regions of the world, such as Latin America (and, of course, some others), are recording higher levels of crime amid the pandemic. As poverty, unemployment and concomitant problems take root, many countries can expect the crime rate to go up and become a long-term and self-sustaining affair, rather than a short-term phenomenon. The source of trouble in this context is not only the migrants but also lower social strata in host societies themselves. As a rule, more drug addiction and alcoholism means more violence. There is a direct link between these processes. Therefore, the violence-ridden post-pandemic world will be a much less safer place to live in.  

The sociopolitical consequences of the pandemic are yet another important matter of concern. The easing of lockdown restrictions in a number of countries was accompanied by a surge of civilian riots. Of course, the pandemic was far from always the direct cause of protests (we saw racial, territorial, and political grounds for protests), but, to my mind, the problem has a wider scope. It is the pandemic (and the specific response thereto in a number of states) that has led to a perceptible rethinking by the public opinion of relations between man and authority. Sociological surveys conducted in a number of countries demonstrate a slide in government post-pandemic approval ratings. They reflect serious processes of declining trust in the authorities displayed among broad strata of society, which in a number of cases may lead to the dissolution of the social contract. The track record shows that disaffection is at its highest where the right-wing forces are in power (Bolsonaro in Brazil, Trump in the United States, etc.). It remains only to wait and see whether or not this is a fortuity or the epidemic has revealed a certain regularity. 

Eventually, the social COVID-21 may prove a no less serious trial for the global society and states than the medical COVID-19. It could cause considerable deterioration in the quality of life, modify political preferences, and influence international processes.  This is why a response strategy needs to be devised and implemented straight away.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.