3 Ways COVID Turned Strengths into Weaknesses
And trends to watch in 2021
2020 was rough. COVID not only exposed weaknesses in our societies — it also reversed our strengths in 3 major ways:
#1 — Countries with more advanced healthcare were more vulnerable
Two observations pull in different directions:
- Countries with more advanced healthcare have longer life expectancies.
- Older populations are more vulnerable to coronavirus.
Overall, this means higher death rates in countries with more advanced healthcare.
Grouping nations of similar ages shows this clearly. The chart below represents 151 countries, in 5 age groups, with example countries shown:
In a pandemic, healthcare provides much less protection than the natural defences of younger, poorer nations. Niger has lower COVID mortalities largely because — in Niger midlife is 15.
Patterns are likely to change in the next couple of years as wealthier nations are first in line for vaccines. Oxford University and AstraZeneca have done great work in considering the needs of developing nations. Their partnership has ensured 1.3bn vaccines will be distributed to developing nations at cost price.
#2 — Development and infrastructure catalysed spread
Alongside advances in healthcare, most advances in human development seemed to work against us:
Connecting people through education, businesses and services are fundamental to human flourishing. As are connections to information, travel, community and support.
Of course, connections allow viruses to thrive. Ease of travel, both nationwide and internationally, accelerated spread. Countries with most international connections faired worst in the early months of the virus.
Thankfully, our information networks worked for us in a major way!
On 10th January 2020, with a death count of 1, Chinese scientists uploaded the genetic sequence for the yet to be named coronavirus. This jumpstarted global collaborative efforts to produce vaccines.
A record-breaking 333 days later — Margaret Keenan, a 90-year-old grandmother from the UK, received the world’s first approved vaccine. This carries hope for quelling the pandemic soon.
#3 – It was a slap in the face for democracy
A lot of media attention has been given to this unfortunate trend. Authoritarian regimes were more effective in controlling the virus:
This isn’t surprising. Democracy emphasises freedom, whereas authoritarianism often denies individual freedoms to maintain the status quo.
It’s no surprise that authoritarian leaders were less hesitant to restrict citizens movements. Or that they swiftly enforced compliance. The results were faster, more effective lockdowns on average.
Trends to watch in 2021
The freedom in the world report scores 83 countries as free in 2020. Down from 89 in 2015. Turkey lost it’s partially free status in 2018 and Hungary slipped from free to partially free in 2019.
The democracy index scored the world as 2% less free in 2019 than in 2015. After years of decline, the United States crossed the threshold into flawed democracy status in 2016.
COVID may catalyse existing trends.
Historically, authoritarianism arises in broken societies. In times of civil unrest — many are drawn to nationalistic strong-men who promise to re-establish security. These attachments are powerful and complex. Tactics often resemble those used by cults, mafias and other psychological abusers.
However, as the author discusses in this article, China now represents more socially responsive authoritarianism. It’s difficult to know how to feel about this.
COVID outcomes are a dangerous advert for authoritarianism. They play to a message that conflates dominance with strength and offers to maintain order by suppressing liberties.
As we enter 2021, 2nd waves continue to devastate and strict lockdowns are vital in many countries. At the same time — there is work to do to ensure our long-term freedoms. We must empower institutions, political parties and leaders we trust.
Though I don’t agree with everything he says: Umair Haque offers some valuable insights and solutions here;
Beating Authoritarianism Isn’t as Simple as You Think. It’s Even Simpler
Three Lessons of History We’ve Forgotten
“And so fighting authoritarians with cries of hypocrisy and evil does less than no good. You beat authoritarianism by repairing the broken society that gave rise to it.”
Empowering leaders we trust
As we look around the globe, dangerous paths are illuminated, but so are roads to progress.
Nations that prioritise care for their citizens: Iceland, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Australia, New Zealand. These are some of the happiest and freest nations in the world. They also have the most impressive COVID outcomes. Their leaders communicated empathically and inspired trust. While taking firm, decisive actions. This facilitated willing co-operation.
Germany’s Angela Merkel is a shining example of transparent, resilient leadership and represents the qualities we need moving forward. Compliance can be demanded through dominance, or earned by competent, trustworthy leaders.
2021 can be a year of repair. Trump is on his way out the door — like a bull exiting a china shop. There is a Brexit trade deal. Vaccines are en route. We’ve shown what we can achieve through global collaboration.
There’s a lot more to do. Bolstering our institutions is top priority. Rebuilding trust seems a good place to start.