COVID-19

[ANALYSIS] The big picture: A holistic view of the global situation

Amado L. Picardal
[ANALYSIS] The big picture: A holistic view of the global situation

MODELING A PANDEMIC.

Image by MarcoVector/Shutterstock

'Before we can answer the question of how we can we fulfill our mission in this time of the pandemic and beyond, we need to analyze the situation from a global and holistic perspective'

This is a time of global crisis – not just a health crisis but also economic, political, geopolitical, and social. Before we can answer the question of how we can we fulfill our mission in this time of the pandemic and beyond, we need to analyze the situation from a global and holistic perspective.

The following areas need to be considered:

<h1>Epidemiological</h1>

As of Tuesday, July 28, the Philippines now has 83,673 COVID-19 cases. The latest figures indicate that the country is likely to exceed the 85,000 cases that University of the Philippines researchers had earlier projected the country to reach by July 31. 

The curve has been flattened in most of Europe and many parts of Asia but not in the US, Brazil, India, and the Philippines, where the virus continues to spread rapidly. The lockdown, physical distancing, and other safety measures may have helped countries that adopted these measures, but once the lockdown eased, new outbreaks have been reported. Thus, the restrictions are again imposed in these areas. A second or even third wave cannot be ruled out like in previous pandemics.

There are 154 vaccines in development. Two vaccines have been successfully tested in UK and Russia. These are expected to be made available before the end of the year. It will take over a year to mass produce and disseminate these vaccines. However, their effectiveness cannot be guaranteed, especially with the mutations of the virus. Vaccinating 7 billion people all over the world will be difficult. According to WHO the virus can only totally be defeated in 5 years.

<h1>Economic</h1>

The possibility of a quick recovery is farfetched. It will take a decade or more to fully recover from the economic crisis. Recovery will depend on factors such as how long it takes to defeat the virus, the resumption of high consumer demands for goods and services (which is not very likely with less income, fewer expenses, saving for an uncertain future, etc.). In a capitalist system, growth (GDP) depends on high levels of consumption.

De-globalization is under way. The economic recession and possible depression could result in the breakdown or collapse of the neoliberal globalized capitalist economic system.

China, which is touted as the second largest economy, is not spared from the economic crisis as production slows down and the demand for its products decline. With capital flight, rising unemployment, and inability to take care of a billion citizens who remain poor, the ruling Communist Party tries to tighten its hold on power as anti-China sentiments spread globally. Its dream of becoming the dominant digital superpower through the Huawei 5G project has suffered a setback with opposition from the US, Great Britain, and other European countries. It is deeply in debt. Its 1% GDP is the lowest in 4 decades.

Developed economies (USA, Western Europe, Japan) have poured in trillions in aid and stimulus packages to keep industries afloat and help out citizens. Developing economies have not been able to do as much and cannot expect external/foreign aid. The good news is the IMF has approved immediate debt relief for 25 developing countries.

The emergency packages/ bail-outs are increasing public debt, which will require raising taxes. Individual/personal indebtedness is also increasing. According to the UN, the pandemic will seriously increase world hunger: 381 million in Asia, 250 million in Africa, 48 million in Latin America. Even in developed economies like the US, 28 million people will be evicted from their homes and increase the number of homeless people.

This crisis is bringing out a compassionate response from some big business corporations with developed CSR (corporate social responsibility) components. They not only help their employees but contribute to civil society and Church efforts to address the pandemic crisis.

<h1>Ecological</h1>

The effects of the lock-down have been beneficial to the environment. The skies are clear, the rivers are clean, the birds and bats fly freely in the air, the pangolins can frolic in the forests, etc.

While mining and reforestation were expected to slow down, they continue in some parts of the Amazon and the Philippines. Resistance and protests against these have been suppressed due to the lockdown. The glut of oil and the temporary collapse of the oil industry has hastened the search for alternative sources of energy.

The continuing contact between wildlife and humans due to deforestation is a threat to the spread of new viruses which are zoonotic.

<h1>Geopolitical (International/Regional)</h1>

There is an absence of a coordinated, global response to the health and economic crises. The United States which has the status of the sole global superpower maintains an isolationist, unilateral stance, unwilling to exercise leadership on the global stage. The US has withdrawn support and funding for the WHO, which the US president blames for its inability to stop the spread of the virus at its inception and for being beholden to China.

The European Union is failing. Brexit is a clear indication. The EU is unable to maintain a united approach to the crisis, leaving each nation-state to fend for itself and resurrecting national borders. Germany and France have pledged 800 billion euro for economic recovery but do not enjoy the support of other EU countries.

G7 is history and G20 does not function. The United Nations, the Security Council, and the World Health Organization are not addressing the crisis, and thus, the absence of international coordination and solidarity. The only resolution from the UN Security Council is the appeal for a global ceasefire.

China with its ambition of supplanting the US as a superpower tried to fill up the vacuum but is failing. Instead it is facing hostility and isolation. The trade war between the US and China is turning into a cold war. China has tried to project its power through its Belt-and-Road Project and the control of the South China Sea by building military bases in the disputed islands, the imposition of total control of Hongkong, and the border conflict with India in the Himalayas. (READ: How hot could US-China ‘Cold War’ get?)

The US is challenging China by repositioning its naval and military power in the region, conducting freedom of navigation exercises as well as war games. The US has warned China of dire consequences should it continue to militarize the disputed islands. Nearby countries like Vietnam, Indonesia and Japan are also resisting.

The South China sea is becoming the latest hotspot which could trigger armed hostilities. China is unable to assert its hegemony in the region, except with the Philippines where Duterte has earlier expressed its independence from the US and close relationship with China. China is exploiting the resources of the Philippines – mining, control of vital industries, construction projects, and a plan for offshore drilling of oil. Duterte earlier announced the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement with the US but suspended its implementation due to pressure from the military and the heightening tensions between the US and China.

<h1>Political (National/Local)</h1>

Effective and democratic leaders are shining (most of them women). Countries like Germany, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and New Zealand are successful in containing the virus without draconian measures and resorting to authoritarian rule. Yet, the situation worsens as many governments with inept leaders are incapable of dealing effectively with the health crisis and the consequent economic crisis.

Thus, under the lockdown various governments were able to impose repressive laws and moves (the security act in Hongkong, the anti-terror law and shutting down of mass media in the Philippines, etc.). According to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet, governments “are using health emergency measure to justify repression and expand their powers.” (READ: Matakot ka sa katok ng Tokhang, COVID edition)

The fortunes of incumbent leaders who have failed to show competence and compassion will be affected in the coming elections. They could be voted out of office.

The pandemic is igniting social unrest and protests against incompetent, corrupt and authoritarian governments in various parts of the world.

<h1>Social/Cultural</h1>

The lockdown and the physical distancing are leading to ambiguity in social relations.

It has led to a sense of isolation and loneliness due to lack of social and interpersonal contact. It is disrupting the sense of community (if it exists). Public gatherings are either forbidden or limited as the lockdown is eased. It is changing how people interact in social settings (keeping safe distance, no more hugging and kissing, no touching, etc).

The closure of schools and the use of online classes is affecting interaction among students and between students and teachers. The lack of games, sports, live concerts, and other entertainments are also affecting social interaction. (READ: [OPINION] Teaching without schools? Lumad education under lockdown)

The lockdown is bringing families together, but in dysfunctional families it has led to the increase of domestic violence. In some areas, neighbors who have not seen each other are able to establish connections by entertaining each other from their rooftops and balconies.

Digital technology/social media enables people to overcome physical distancing and makes it possible to remain connected with families, friends and colleagues, getting news and information wherever they are.

<h1>Ecclesial</h1>

Churches have been closed and public masses canceled. No collection, no income. There is a proliferation of online masses. The response of local churches varies depending on their vitality. In places where they are thriving and active, the local church in collaboration with civil society groups are mobilized to give aid to the poor and to frontliners. Kindness centers have been set up in parishes.

In areas where authoritarian regimes have made use of the pandemic to violate human rights, some bishops, priests, and religious are exercising their prophetic role.

The Pope is the only world leader providing a semblance of leadership, albeit moral and inspirational, in the midst of the pandemic. The Pope has also sent PPE and equipment (respirators) to some countries. He has expressed support for the UN/Security Council appeal for global ceasefire. He is also promoting the appeal for universal basic income. With the aid of various working groups (COVID-19 Commission)/dicasteries in the Vatican, the Pope is coming out with his vision of the post-pandemic world.

As the pandemic rages, the Church continues to address the ecological crisis. How this can be implemented in the time of the pandemic and beyond remains the Church’s concern. 2020 has been declared as the Laudato Si year and the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Development has come out with a roll-out plan. The Vatican Secretariat of State has come out with a document on the implementation of the Laudato Si.

<h1>Concluding remarks</h1>

As the virus continues to spread, major changes are taking place. IThe situation will remain uncertain, complex, and ambiguous for the next 10 years. We cannot predict accurately what will happen in the future.

Whatever happens, we live in a time of transition – from the old to the new. It will no longer be business as usual. – Rappler.com

Father Amado Picardal is the executive co-secretary of the Commission for Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation of the Union of Superiors General in Rome.