July 13, 2020

Lessons for now and for later

By Barend ter Haar.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has not yet peaked in most parts of the world, it is not too early to reflect on some of the mistakes made: denial, neglect of the weakest, lack of international cooperation and lack of diplomacy.

Lessons for now and for later 

While the COVID-19 pandemic has not yet peaked in most parts of the world, it is not too early to reflect on some of the mistakes made: denial, neglect of the weakest, lack of international cooperation and lack of diplomacy.

Denial

Precious time was lost because China initially denied evidence of the pandemic.[1] China corrected its mistake, but other governments, most notably that of Brazil, keep falling in the same hole.

Neglect of the weakest

Relatively many of the residents of nursing homes died, in all probability because of a lack of personal protective equipment such as masks. Another vulnerable group are migrant workers because governments often pay little attention to their poor living and working conditions. As a result they became a source of contamination in countries like Singapore and the Netherlands. 

Most of the weakest people, of course, live elsewhere in the world where they have no adequate access to healthy food, safe water and basic medical care. We will not be safe until they are safe too.

Lack of international cooperation

Protecting your own inhabitants from COVID-19, while leaving other people to fend for themselves is not only inhumane, but also a dangerous illusion. Surveillance and control of infectious diseases is impossible without global cooperation, while research and production of medical supplies on a national scale would be inefficient, if possible at all. Unfortunately, some politicians fool their voters by pretending that the fight against a virus can be won without international cooperation.[2]

Lack of diplomacy

Fighting a virus requires sophisticated diplomacy, because open exchange of scientific information has to be promoted while borders are closed for passenger transport, and international coordination of the supply of vital medical supplies has to be combined with national economic interests. On top of that, the role of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has to be supported and strengthened against the opposition of countries like the US and Brazil. 
Unfortunately, the Netherlands government was ill prepared for these diplomatic challenges, due to unwise savings on diplomacy and a lack of coordination between the ministries of Health and Foreign Affairs.[3]

Open questions

Most of these mistakes could have been avoided if governments would have been less short-sighted, but many questions remain. How, for example, to prevent that the damage caused by a lock-down is larger than the benefits? A recent study of the Dutch response to the pandemic in March and April of this year illustrates this problem. It is estimated that the Dutch policy has saved 13-21 thousand healthy life years, at the cost of 100 to 400 thousand healthy life years, that were lost because of the reduction in regular care.[4]


[1] See also: http://www.diplomatmagazine.eu/2020/03/01/the-similarity-between-nitrogen-and-the-coronavirus/

[2] See also: https://www.parool.nl/columns-opinie/verkleinen-mondiale-ongelijkheid-is-van-levensbelang-voor-nederland~bc562cc5/

[3] See also: http://www.diplomatmagazine.eu/2020/05/03/a-ministry-of-common-affairs/

[4] https://gupta-strategists.nl/storage/files/200521-COVID-goes-Cuckoo.pdf

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