A global partnership is needed to combat COVID-19

On April 23, 2020, in a virtual conference ‘Enhancing regional cooperation in South Asia to combat COVID-19 related impact on its economics’ organized by the World Economic Forum, Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina placed five-point proposals to combat this global crisis with collective responsibility and partnership from every society, writes Dr. Mohammad Tarikul Islam for South Asia Monitor

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Public health is a common good and COVID-19 makes no discrimination. This is a global fight against a common invisible enemy. The pandemic gives a serious wake-up call to countries to stop armed conflicts and devote all energy and resources to fighting the world’s common challenge – the coronavirus.

There is an absence of international cooperation to tackle a global pandemic. Meanwhile, the UN Secretary-General has called for a global ceasefire, reductions in sexual and domestic violence, and proposed a plan to tackle the devastating consequences of the crisis. Unfortunately, major powers have been sluggish to join their hands to come up with a collective action plan in combating COVID-19. The Security Council hasn’t met yet to discuss COVID-19, and again it has failed to come up with any meaningful way out of this crippling paralysis. The G20 and G7 have yet to set out a comprehensive plan for COVID-19 response and recovery.

What are the major effects and consequences of the coronavirus pandemic on our lives and our societies? The world is battling the COVID-19 global health emergency, and its economic and social ramifications. It is also racing against the clock to avoid the environmental crisis round the corner. The pandemic has shown us the importance of being prepared collectively when crises hit. Only such an approach can deliver win-win policies for people, planet, and prosperity. This pandemic provides us with the opportunity to take a comprehensive look at the sustainability of our environmental, economic, and social systems, at the way they interact and create more resilient societies. The crisis has shown that we can be more prudent in our consumption patterns, and to be better aligned for health security. The question has now become pertinent is how to restart the economy and generate jobs, while dealing with the looming challenge of public health. 

I have a high regard for the recent call made by Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. She called for forging a collective global partnership and greater unity to fight the coronavirus pandemic. On April 23, 2020, in a virtual conference ‘Enhancing regional cooperation in South Asia to combat COVID-19 related impact on its economics’ organized by the World Economic Forum, Sheikh Hasina placed five-point proposals to combat this global crisis with collective responsibility and partnership from every society. In a nutshell, she called for a robust global leadership from G7, G20, and OECD and also urged the UN-led multilateral system to step forward. She asked for devising strategies and practical support measures for revitalizing the global businesses, work, and manufacturing sector, in addition to sharing the burden and responsibilities of the migrant workers. She gave a call for developing innovative solutions in various sectors to better prepare for the future.

Then again, global leaders pledged in a virtual global summit, initiated by World Health Organisation (WHO) to accelerate cooperation on a coronavirus vaccine and to share research, treatment, and medicines across the globe. Be that as it may, the US didn't participate in the conference, in an indication of US Donald Trump’s growing disengagement on the world stage. The promise in the summit was made that affluent nations won't shield the results of research from developing nations. China and the US have been loggerheads at each other even as the coronavirus rages in the world, thus harming endeavors for future collaboration at the G20. Instead, an ad hoc alliance of 20 world leaders and global health figures came together, which included the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, the French President, Emmanuel Macron, and the American Philanthropist Bill Gates. The grouping pledged $ 8 billion to fight the virus.

The UK also co-hosted the Coronavirus Global Response International Pledging Conference with eight other countries and organisations including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Saudi Arabia, and the European Commission. In the May 4 summit, Boris Johnson, a COVID-19 survivor, confirmed the UK’s pledge of £388 million aid funding for research into vaccines, tests, and treatments - part of a larger £744 million existing UK aid commitment to help end the pandemic and support the global economy. This includes £250 million for the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations to develop vaccines against coronavirus - the biggest such donation to the fund by any country.

The absence of a worldwide reaction to coming with solutions for the COVID-19 pandemic is understandably not so forthcoming because many developed nations have been hit hard. Smaller states must now step up to stabilise the global order. Responding to the mounting nationalism and protectionism, the US, China, and Russia are just looking for their own advantages. Be that as it may, but it is also true that the pandemic cannot be combated or controlled by any one country, but needs collective responsibility.

China’s ‘mask diplomacy’ has turned out to be disastrous, with multiple nations reporting that much of the products they received were largely useless. The European Union was strident about China and how it misinformed about the pandemic. While not paying attention to the pandemic at home, Russia is activating its disinformation machines about the inception of the infection and condemning the western countries' ways to deal with it. Russia rushed to send help abroad, which likewise shows up to a great extent futile and to a greater degree a prop to fake the nation's ability to react. China and Russia are likewise proceeding with provocative military exercises, showing that they may attempt to exploit the world's emphasis on the pandemic to advance their geopolitical points.

The ‘America First’ doctrine of the Trump administration in the US is leading to an increased antagonism with China and Russia, as well as diminishing multilateral institutions and alliance relationships. Most troubling is the role played by the US, which earlier used to assume leadership roles in leading and collaborating on worldwide reactions to different catastrophes. Curiously, China looks increasingly keen to rebuild its relations in an attempt to manipulate world’s reaction to the fact that the virus was exported by them.

Trying to cope with the immediate devastating effects of the virus, nations have turned toward imposing unprecedented executive measures, including closing borders. However, a virus knows no borders, and most of the countries in the world are affected. The fight against this global pandemic, which is taking so many lives and challenging our societies needs better international cooperation and worldwide solidarity.

Containing and countering this pandemic calls for a co-operative, transparent, science-based and coordinated global response. We are concerned by the serious threat to all the countries, particularly developing and least developed countries, countries in situations of conflict and post-conflict countries, where health systems are less advanced, as well as the risk faced by refugees and displaced persons.

We request all governments to strictly ensure that any measures taken to counter the pandemic must be necessary and equal, be time-bound, non-discriminatory, and respectful of international laws, including human rights law. Data from all over the world should be shared openly and speedily in an effort to contain the epidemic. Global coordination can overcome bottlenecks in producing mass vaccines and to make sure that the products are disbursed to countries that need it the most. 

(The writer is an Associate Professor of Government and Politics at Jahangirnagar University, Dhaka. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at t.islam@juniv.edu) 

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