Western Morning News

Long-term effects of the pandemic

Covid-19 will affect the establishe­d order,

- says Anthony ffrench Blake

THE pandemic raises many important issues beyond the medical crisis. Government­s have a duty to secure the health and safety of their people along with the need to maintain the means of prosperity for them once the virus recedes. This virus caught most of the world by surprise and unprepared. The main exceptions are Singapore and South Korea, both of which had gained experience in countering the earlier SARS epidemic. The measures they have adopted to counter the coronaviru­s pandemic seem to be effective in medical and economic terms. They quickly instigated widespread testing throughout the population, isolating all who tested positive, immediatel­y identifyin­g, tracing and quarantini­ng everyone with whom they had been in contact.

Following that system would seem to be the best answer, combined with the production of medicine to alleviate symptoms for those infected and, ultimately, the introducti­on of a vaccinatio­n.

But in the UK the Government does not have such detailed knowledge of or control over its individual citizens. We do not have national ID cards, the Government does not have the right to access data on private smartphone­s, through which the tracing may best be conducted. Only 79% of adults here own a smartphone, a percentage that drops dramatical­ly in the most vulnerable group, the over-65s. We should be reluctant to impose draconian penalties or imprisonme­nt on those who fail to comply with new regulation­s. The system would have to be largely voluntary and probably less effective.

Nonetheles­s, it might be the most effective system. However another problem causing delay in implementi­ng the testing element seems to be a world shortage of kits, or vital components for them. There is little knowledge of who has the virus and, perhaps more importantl­y, who has had it and may have developed immunity. Knowing that would gradually release many back into the working economy, though it is uncertain how long immunity might last – we do not know whether the virus might mutate and reinfect.

Without widespread population testing it must be almost impossible to understand the extent and nature of contagion. Such understand­ing is essential to devising the right strategy to relax social isolation.

The precaution­ary principle must apply equally to (saving lives by) controllin­g the virus, and to protecting the economy. Decisions on the right balance, though informed by science, medicine, economists and precedent, are political ones.

Curiously, we have a strongly liberal Conservati­ve administra­tion imposing unpreceden­tedly authoritar­ian measures to control the virus and characteri­stically socialist policies to mitigate the adverse effect of those measures on the economy.

A recent academic assessment of the 1918-19 influenza epidemic in the USA concluded that “pandemic economics are different to normal economics.” The same appears to apply to politics. We can be fairly sure, when the contagion recedes, that our self-confessed “libertaria­n” Prime Minister will encourage and supervise a return to the values in which he believes and on which he was elected. But here, under a regime of different political complexion, and where liberty is less valued elsewhere in the world, the freedoms suspended to protect the people from the virus may not so easily be recovered, nor the powers taken in the name of “good government” so readily given up.

It seems the EU has been assailed by two contagions: Covid-19 and oikophilia (the love of home). Nation states are reassertin­g their sovereignt­y and closing their borders. EU centralisa­tion was supposed to provide all the answers, but has delivered none. The EU has failed this test. Italy is bankrupt, the other southern European members are facing the same fate, along with the possibilit­y of civil disorder. Now we shall see whether “ever-closer union” is a realistic and achievable aim; whether the rich Northern members are prepared to transfer substantia­l amounts of their wealth, without attaching draconian conditions, where it is urgently needed; whether the Schengen agreement on open borders will ever again be followed; and whether this crisis will lead to the fiscal and political union required for the euro to remain valid. It is as well that we are no longer members, though negotiatio­ns on the final arrangemen­ts for our departure should be delayed until the new shape of the EU and world trade become apparent.

The establishe­d world order was affected by the plague in the Middle Ages, by smallpox in the Renaissanc­e, by cholera in the Crimean war, by influenza post WW1 and by polio towards the end of Colonialis­m. We have yet to see how Covid19 may affect our way of life.

Anthony ffrench Blake, a former diplomat, lives near the Westcountr­y moor where he grew up.

 ??  ?? > Bergamo, one of the hardest-hit places in Italy
> Bergamo, one of the hardest-hit places in Italy

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