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The many faces of the pandemic

2022-01-28 14:44:00 Source:Beijing Review Author:Zhong Cheng
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A traveler registers for a COVID-19 test at Toronto Pearson Airport in Canada on January 17 (XINHUA) 

The COVID-19 pandemic, lasting for about two years, has undeniably presented one of the greatest protracted challenges to humanity. Now it is surging with more variants that spread even faster. It has exerted a profound impact on a world doused in turbulence and transformation and poses a serious threat to our safety and health. All of us have seen the well-established rhythms of our personal lives abruptly altered. COVID-19 is a huge stressor shaking up our psyche and triggering our fears and uncertainties.

However, as we enter the Chinese Year of the Tiger, the symbol of bravery and strength, we shall keep our heads high and leave everything negative behind. This requires quite a fundamental change in how we approach the world.

The fact that the coronavirus disrupts daily life gives us the chance to be honest with ourselves, identify who we are, acknowledge and evaluate our actions, and address our mistakes. We must not let the fake and superficial overshadow the core values.

To a larger extent, the principal benefit of the pandemic is that it has compelled the world to reexamine some of its basic ways and engage in a new normal to change for the better.

Fundamental breakthroughs 

The coronavirus has given us an opportunity to properly assess and manage variables, to demonstrate our ability to adapt to change, to live in love and simplicity with less face-to-face contact. It has made the remote-working pattern a reality, proving that geographically distributed teams can outperform the traditional in-person office environment. It has taught us that our instincts for meeting physically aren't as essential as we once believed. Virtual diplomatic contacts prove amazingly effective. People are increasingly aware that though physically separated, we are more connected at times of difficulty.

The pandemic also presents an occasion for countries to emerge with stronger, more resilient and more equitable economies. The world has explored new drivers of economic growth to facilitate cross-border trade, and to keep industrial and supply chains secure and smooth. The new sources of development are significant, including enterprise technology services, home entertainment, medical equipment making, online retail, courier pick-up and delivery services, cybersecurity and sanitary product manufacturing, among others.

Together with the new modes of economic development, social life and pathways for people-to-people exchanges, there is a huge reduction in carbon emissions as well as water and air pollutant discharges. The shutdowns and lockdowns of large parts of our economy proved good for nature. The current crisis provides the world an opportunity to readjust its development modes and realize them in a way bearing fewer negative consequences on our planet.

COVID-19 has been a catalyst for novel approaches and has created a fertile breeding ground for creative solutions. The pandemic has given humanity a chance to sunset underperforming traditional products, experiment with smart technology and push commerce to online platforms. For many international ventures, the growing use of digital technology means cheaper and greater access, better coordination, higher productivity and lower costs. Plus, the investment in health-related innovation has been unprecedented, the scale of innovation resources mobilized globally is remarkable, as is the nature of the deployed innovation processes. The first COVID-19 vaccine entered into human trials within a record-breaking 69 days of identifying the causative agent of the outbreak, a remarkable achievement considering it took 25 months for the first vaccine to reach the human trial stage during the previous global outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2002-04.

This crisis further emphasized the critical need for an interdisciplinary and integrated holistic approach to meet the challenges. Contributions from medical researchers, from people in science, technology and social science fields, along with policy analyst, all prove to be necessary and conducive to reach a thorough understanding of the spread and control of the virus. Coordination and collaboration among stakeholders, including government, industry and academia, all lend expertise to COVID-19 approaches, standards of care and regulatory concerns, to ensure that the short-term response also take into account the long-term growth ambitions and pre-existing challenges, like the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and climate change.

The pandemic has created interconnected crises that compound and reveal the underlying problems in international governance. There is a higher common understanding we should guide reforms of the global governance system under the principle of fairness and justice, make generally acceptable and effective rules for artificial intelligence and the digital economy based on extensive consultation, and create an open, just and non-discriminatory environment for scientific and technological innovation. 

New horizons 

The pandemic has highlighted reforms that can help the way we handle future epidemics and meet the healthcare needs of the world. These include addressing inequities in healthcare by investing in health and continuing to expand access to coverage; improving public health response by rigorously testing, contact-tracing and isolating infected people; passing international rules to establish a global public health information system with real-time data on disease prevalence; and expanding funding for developing countries and distributing new diagnostic tests, treatments and vaccines. Of particular importance is to fully leverage vaccines as a powerful weapon, ensure their equitable distribution, quicken vaccination and close the global immunization gap to truly safeguard people's lives and livelihoods. International institutions should play their constructive role to pool global consensus, enhance policy synergy and prevent systemic risks.

The coronavirus has taught us that the history of humanity is one of achieving growth by meeting tests and overcoming crises. The pandemic proves once again that confrontation does not solve problems—it only invites catastrophic consequences. Protectionism and unilateralism protect no one, but will ultimately hurt everyone. Acts of single-mindedly building "exclusive yards with high walls" or "parallel systems," and of putting together exclusive blocs that polarize the world, of overstretching the concept of national security to hold back technological advances of other countries, and of fanning ideological antagonism and politicizing the virus, will eventually undercut international efforts in tackling common challenges.

COVID-19 has told us that the right way forward is peaceful development and win-win cooperation, to seek common ground by setting aside differences. The pandemic has encouraged the world to pool greater strength to weather the tough times and realize it is imperative to see the world as one big community. We must start thinking in a more systematic way, increase policy transparency and information sharing, and strengthen macro-policy coordination to forge a community with a shared future for humanity.

In conclusion, the pandemic has many faces. For all it has taken from the world, it has also provided the opportunity to renew our thoughts, clarify our strategic objectives, sharpen our focus and build our resilience for future development. It is not only a global health crisis, but also a catalyst for reimagining the way we live going forward. We should not fall captive to sorrow, but make positive changes for the benefit of humanity. 

Adversity leads us to think about the status quo. Confidence and cooperation represent the only right way to defeat the pandemic. This is the message from COVID-19, befitting all times.

The author is an op-ed contributor to Beijing Review and an expert on international studies 

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon 

Comments to yanwei@cicgamericas.com 


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