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May 11, 2021

Vaccine Nationalism’s Impact on Developing Countries

Written by Dana Justus

Vaccine nationalism blog

(FrankyDeMeyer / iStockphoto)

Vaccine nationalism, meaning that higher-income countries are buying up disproportionate amounts of vaccine doses for their own populations, has been a concern since the first COVID-19 vaccines entered clinical trial phases in mid-2020. Multilateral solidarity seems to have given way to competitive behaviour in light of what a recent RAND survey called the ‘arms race’ towards global vaccination. This will affect not only poorer regions, but also the global economy with expected losses of trillions (USD) in global GDP. While this behaviour might seem like a logical consequence of self-protection, there is a need for closer examination. For example, Germany alone has ordered at least 323 million doses from six different vaccines for a population of 83 million. The EU seems to find themselves in the middle of a fight of political wills by promoting global value chains and calling for global cooperation. At the same time, they are threatening vaccine manufacturers over ambiguous contractual obligations favouring EU citizens in a row that could threaten vaccine distribution.

Global immunity is seen as the primary means to end the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic and has substantial implications for global health governance. Yet, it would be a misconception to argue that the approval of several vaccines for rollout is equivalent to a cure-all solution. In addition to limited access for developing countries, there are problems of logistics and storage, not to forget widespread hesitancy to get vaccinated due to misinformation. Beyond humanitarian reasons to promote vaccines for all, the phrase “no-one is safe until everyone is safe” is more than just a campaign slogan for COVAX. The pandemic has shown by now that global cooperation is a necessary means for global recovery. More so, the crisis presents the international community with the opportunity to strengthen fragile health systems holistically. The pandemic has already complicated access to health care services around the world, resulting in setbacks for childhood immunisations in 70 developing countries. Additionally, treatments for non-communicable diseases and routine surgeries have become hard to come by with millions of patients affected worldwide.

Continued delays to the global vaccine rollout will result in substantial economic shocks and developing countries will likely see the worst of these effects. Prolonged exposure to physical distancing measures and public disinvestments will not only affect global supply chains but are already inhibiting progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Food insecurity was already rising before the emergence of this virus while continued restrictions and resulting threats to people’s livelihoods are active threats to food systems and efforts to alleviate global hunger. This adds to the problem of infrastructure. India and South Africa have high production capacities (India is home to the largest producer of vaccines worldwide), but also have high exposure and mortality rates, while the poor and rural populations are difficult to reach. The situation in India today is highly problematic; as the country is experiencing new daily totals of over 300,000 infections, immunisation efforts are seriously constrained by the struggling health system. Chile, on the other hand, has been impressively fast to vaccinate its mostly rural population but cases are rising nonetheless, resulting in significant problems for health services and political stability. Middle-income countries may find themselves in the difficult position of being neither too rich, nor too poor for receiving vaccines in the short term, especially problematic considering they are more susceptible to economic shocks than some high-income countries. Competition between buyers – in addition to companies’ manufacturing problems – are actively constraining public health campaigns for widespread rollouts, while resulting issues for health services are likely to induce setbacks for building back societies.

Middle-and lower-income countries not adequately recovering from the pandemic will lead to hundreds of billions in GDP losses for rich countries. Such numbers suggest significant economic incentives for affected nations to commit to equitable vaccinations. In the wordsof the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), ‘a US$ 27.2 billion investment on the part of advanced economies – the current funding shortfall […] – is capable of generating returns as high as 166x the investment’. Thus far, COVAX is set out to distribute 1.8-2 billion doses to 92 lower-income countries. Despite these promising numbers experts claim that COVAX is insufficient, ‘wholly unequipped’ to meet the 70% target for global immunisation. Moreover, World Bank assessments of countries’ vaccination readiness show dramatic shortfalls when it comes to safety systems (68%), trained staff (30%), and social engagement strategies (27%) which are necessary to meet vaccine hesitancy.

Consequently, there is a clear need and opportunity to strengthen public health beyond borders, to invest in human capital and facilitate access to medical tools. Such efforts could build widespread resilience in those regions which are still most susceptible to public health emergencies. Research shows that this is not “just” a humanitarian mission or an ethical motivation; there are significant economic incentives for rich countries to open themselves up to equitable vaccine distribution. Calling on leaders to share unused vaccine doses is a start, but achieving global targets will nonetheless require a more widespread response to expand capacities in poorer regions in order to avoid gaps in time and prevent likely new mutations. If this pandemic has shown us something, it is that there is a clear discrepancy between economically-motivated and public-good policy-making. Given the unequal speed of vaccine rollouts and rapidly rising case rates in countries like Chile, Germany and India in spite of access to high quantities of vaccines, it should become clear that domestic immunisation is not the singular solution for recovery. It is time for global leaders to re-invest in existing global governance mechanisms as it has become obvious that this crisis is truly global – and thus requires a global solution to build capacities beyond national borders.

You can help by calling on pharma companies to donate more of their doses for free. Sign Amnesty International’s petition here.

Read more on COVAX rollout here.

Dana Justus is a Postgraduate student of International Security at Warwick and a volunteer research assistant for WICID. Her key research interests are global health, security, and development. She is currently working on her dissertation discussing how global health governance is framed in security and human rights-based discourse.


July 27, 2020

Global Insights: COVID–19 and the Future of International Order

International order

Authors: Renske Doorenspleet, Abdul Mohammed, Michael Saward, David Welch

Editors: Briony Jones and Maeve Moynihan

This post is part of a larger collection covering the Global Insights webinar series, hosted jointly by Balsillie School of International Affairs (Canada), the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick (UK), the Institute for Strategic Affairs (Ethiopia), American University’s School of International Service (USA), and Konstanz University (Germany). This series of Global Insights has finished and the next series will resume in September. You can access a recording of this week’s webinar here.

Panellists: Ann Fitz-Gerald (Chair, BSIA), Renske Doorenspleet (University of Warwick), Miles Kahler (American University), Abdul Mohammed (African Union High Level Implementation Panel), Michael Saward (University of Warwick), David Welch (University of Waterloo)


What impact has the pandemic had on the current rules-based international order of the post-World War II era?

The breakdown of the international order started long before COVID-19, but it has accelerated during this period. If major national governments do not see the COVID-19 crisis as a cause for collective response, the international order will decline. One must acknowledge that there are different kinds of international orders, including the liberal, rules-based, and American hegemonic orders. COVID-19 has clearly had different effects on each. The world has seen challenges to all aspects of democratic practices and structures and is experiencing widespread democratic disengagement. Representative democracy, closely linked to liberal democracy, faces all sorts of challenges. Who speaks for whom? Where does credibility and authenticity come from? The pandemic has threatened global supply chains and may indeed lead to isolationist policies in which countries ‘go it alone’ if they are faring better socioeconomically.

From the perspective of the African continent, the multilateral world order is in turmoil and breaking apart, or indeed paralysed, in many places. This paralysis has far reaching implications for peace and security in Africa. Transactional politics and the use of resources, coercion and deceit over rules-based institutional politics has increased. In many cases, the conduct of politics has become akin to running a business as opposed to governing a polity for the common good, which the pandemic only exacerbates. Substantial gains should be recognised and defended, but transactional politics need to be understood in the context of resurgence of power competition. The pandemic has created a deep divide between the fact of being elected and the inclination to represent. In countries such as Brazil and the United States, individuals have been forced to represent themselves, in the Black Lives Matter movement, for example. Questions remain about what further challenges and crises the pandemic will provoke in the coming months and years.

Traditionally, liberal democracies have been the champions of the rules-based international order. But can democracies survive the pandemic?

It’s too early to understand what kind of political systems have responded the best to the pandemic. Some democratic governments have performed well, such as South Korea and Taiwan, whereas others have performed poorly, such as the United States and Brazil. Taking a global view, the structure of a political system alone is not necessarily the key to success or failure. Similar variance in the success of authoritarian regimes reinforces this idea.

In general, governments that responded early, quickly, and strategically have seen the best successes. In many cases, these are small liberal democracies able to mobilise resources quickly. Many of these are ruled by women. New Zealand, Iceland, South Korea, and Taiwan have been particularly successful. On the other hand, many larger countries typically understood as main actors in the international order, such as China, the USA, and the UK, have been criticised for lack of transparency and late and sometimes even cavalier responses to the crisis. Minority ethnic groups have been hit particularly hard in liberal democracies, especially the USA and the UK, in terms of health and unemployment during the pandemic. Additionally, countries led by populist governments have generally fared poorly, perhaps signifying a moment from which populism’s appeal may decline in the longer term. When looking to the context of the African continent, most African governments are now the product of some sort of election, of varying degrees of legitimacy. The pandemic has also highlighted that Africa is in a position to manage tension between China and the USA’s interests in Africa.

We have seen a rise in illiberalism and a reaffirmation of state sovereignty since 2016, and the pandemic seems to be accelerating this trend. Is the future illiberal?

The pandemic may not extend the trend toward illiberalism, but it has indeed had a strong impact on polarisation. Although illiberalism is unlikely to triumph, the polarisation that it generates will lead to deep problems for global governance and may threaten collaboration in future crises, such as the climate crisis. The countries that have fared better in managing the pandemic are countries with a strong, people-oriented state history and robust public health systems. Countries like Germany and Taiwan, for example, have fared better. Others however, such as the USA and the UK (since the Reagan and Thatcher revolutions) have dismantled the state and privileged the private sector at the expense of public goods and thus have not fared well. Countries with a strong tradition of a capable state that delivers public goods could re-organise themselves and play an important role in the restructuring of the global order and serve as influential leaders moving forward.

Strong-man governments, whether democratic, authoritarian, or populist, have performed very poorly (India, USA, Russia, Brazil). In their refusal to consult experts or admit to the true nature and scale of the virus, these regimes have been most disruptive to the international order. In Africa, the anti-scientific perspective has not been as much of a problem, as countries within the continent have a history of dealing with pandemics more than others, relatively speaking. Dictatorships have used this crisis to decrease civil liberties, as in the case of Chinese journalists, the censorship of information, and other tools. However, it is important to acknowledge that illiberal trends within the established liberal democracies have also increased during the pandemic, such as new surveillance technologies in contact tracing apps. This is not necessarily antidemocratic, but it is a significant risk, as political abuse of these new measures is likely. Citizens may get used to measures of control that include not only surveillance, but the quashing of protest and civil disobedience. This ‘new normal’ could lead to a reduction of individual rights and freedoms after the peak of the crisis. It is important to keep a close eye on how those rights can be protected, and checks and balances, transparency and oversight are more important than ever.

The defining features of the concept of democracy, or the interpretations of the defining features, may be debated moving forward. The idea of burden sharing and a more collective form of social democracy as a kind of modifier or diluter has interesting potential. Similarly, the idea of protective democracy—the idea that states are there to protect the rights of individuals, takes on a wider meaning of protection of citizen lives and wellbeing during the pandemic. Finally, the machinery of democracy has new questions posed against it, not least how to run elections and conduct deliberative forums while keeping social distancing. With regard to the conduct of elections, we have seen good examples from South Korea, and more concerning examples from the USA, in Wisconsin for instance.

Is the sun setting on the rules-based international order?

The danger to this new future of the international order is that liberal democracies have granted themselves significant powers that may not disappear, making a conversation about such powers necessary. There may be a new high-water mark in terms of state intervention into individual lives and businesses, and emergency powers may need to be debated openly. To what extent and over what timeframe and how much accountability are emergency powers tolerable, legitimate, and acceptable? Equally as concerning, many conversations around COVID-19 have excluded children, who are not well-represented in our current political systems - we do not talk much about them, let alone talk with them. The pandemic is having devastating consequences for children and their rights. It has had a massive impact on education, socialising, poverty and more. Children in conflict zones and refugee camps suffer most. COVID-19 will undoubtedly add to varying forms of trauma that children everywhere experience. The international community needs to take measures to protect children in health, education, and other areas of rights. Save the Children and World Vision, among other organisations, have a role to play. In April 2020, Terre des hommes launched the #CovidUnder19 initiative by mobilising a group of young people, child rights activists, civil society organisations and UN stakeholders. The initiative set out to understand children’s views about and experiences of life under Coronavirus, and amplify their voices to inform policymakers, professionals working with children, and governments.

What might the future of international order look like?

The economic consequences of the pandemic are grave and there will be a tendency to withdraw and look inward, which is as much as a threat to the international order as disruption by one country or another. As states look inward, the pandemic could facilitate the end of state-centric politics, as there are a host of influential non-governmental actors, civil society organisations, and international corporations that are becoming more aware. These actors maintain a certain level of interest and engagement when governments are so focused on inward domestic affairs. The future could allow us to redefine what constitutes a fair, democratic, and accessible participatory global order. Right now, the global order is defined by military and economic power. We can play an important role in having other public goods form a part of this global order. Importantly, the new global order should not reorganise itself based on the current status quo.

The pandemic has created an incredible opportunity for cooperation in a self-selected, voluntary way. Countries previously excluded from playing a dominant role in international order (such as Finland, Norway, Iceland, Germany, France, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea) now have the opportunity to take a creative leadership role. Such a group could think about real policy options that would boost international cooperation and strengthen the existing structures for promoting and defending democracy. The decentralisation of power could also play an interesting role in the idea of a rules-based international order. The pandemic has highlighted the role of local and city governments that were previously often unacknowledged.

While a new international order could have positive elements, there are also grave threats that could lead to the potential for stagnation and fragmentation in global order due to disengagement and deepening conflict between the USA and China. The USA presidential elections in November will play a significant role in the future international order. Similarly, changes in the EU could have an impact on its capacities in the international order, as the EU in some ways lacks democratic legitimacy and it lacks a hold on the imaginations of European citizens. Its mechanisms are effective but capacity to generate legitimacy is weak. The pandemic will have a significant impact on economic inequality and the role of democracy in our societies, as tendencies toward authoritarian regimes may rise. We need a new multilateralism that is suited to the contemporary order and leadership that will make it possible for us to facilitate this. Collective leadership of countries that had previously been content to follow the United States must now provide leadership and come together to articulate a new collective global order. Leadership will need to address the global challenges of gross inequality, climate change, and other challenges in addition to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recommendations for Policy Makers

1. Revise democratic practices to be more participative and heal the disconnect with citizens.

2. Be more aware of illiberal trends in established democracies, so protect rights and liberties while also safeguarding transparency and oversight, checks and balances, because they are more important than ever.

3. Include children in the democratic process and let them be heard.

4. Do not lose sight of other key global challenges and crises, particularly climate change. Consider the lessons to be learned from this crisis in order to deal with the next.

5. Create a more cooperative and open international order that includes a much larger public than it has in the past.

6. Defenders of liberal order should get together and collaborate (particularly countries indicated previously: New Zealand, Taiwan, etc.)


July 20, 2020

COVID–19: Surveillance, Intelligence and Security

Global insight Intelligence

Authors: James Goldgeier, Florian Kerschbaum, Tom Sorell, Berhan Taye

Editors: Briony Jones and Maeve Moynihan

This post is part of a larger collection covering the Global Insights webinar series, hosted jointly by Balsillie School of International Affairs (Canada), the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick (UK), the Institute for Strategic Affairs (Ethiopia), American University’s School of International Service (USA), and Konstanz University (Germany). This series of Global Insights has finished and the next series will resume in September. You can access a recording of this week’s webinar here.

Panellists: Ann Fitz-Gerald (BSIA), James Goldgeier (American University), Florian Kerschbaum (University of Waterloo), Tom Sorell (University of Warwick), Berhan Taye (Access Now)

COVID-19 and efforts to contain it have raised important questions about surveillance, security, and government protection of populations. The recent use of contact tracing apps in a number of countries has renewed debates surrounding privacy and surveillance and rendered them more complicated. Such apps, among other technological aspects of the pandemic like misinformation, spark important discussion surrounding the use, and misuse, of technology in the age of the pandemic.

Governments have often “declared war” on a wide range of issues, including drugs and terrorism, among others. Is COVID-19 a National Security threat? If so, how does it differ from other national security issues of the 21st century?

The crisis of COVID-19 is indeed a collective one, however we raise the question of whether war should be used for the narrative that we are facing at the moment. For those who are in the peacebuilding space, the recurring narrative of war and repetitive use of militarised language is concerning. Indeed, if the COVID-19 crisis really were a war then we would have expected those states who have invested heavily in the military, such as the USA, to have better controlled the pandemic. As such, the crisis and its narrative need not reflect the action of declaring war, but rather the action of building resilience. Whereas security is often defined as national, in that it protects a country and/or a people, recent work has expanded notions of security, including individual and societal security surrounding health, socioeconomic status, and other markers of safety. If we embrace such notions of security, the pandemic will allow us to connect demands from populations that their governments keep them safe in many facets of quotidian life. Both the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent increased activism surrounding Black Lives Matter in the United States, the UK, and elsewhere, have demonstrated that the topic of security is not only a question of whether the government protects their people from threats, but whether the government itself becomes a threat. Thus, COVID-19 is a threat to ‘national security’ however not necessarily under the militarised terms in which it is traditionally defined.

We hear a lot about contract tracing apps as a tool for combatting COVID-19. How is technology being used to contain the COVID-19 virus, and what are the implications for human rights and civil liberties like the right to privacy and freedom of association?

There is an important difference to be articulated between COVID-19 surveillance, which Edward Snowden identified as part of a longer-term surveillance architecture, and other forms of surveillance related to challenges such as terrorism. The scientific basis for the COVID surveillance – in virology and epidemiology – has no counterpart in the war against terrorism. Moreover, the national health authorities, and not the government, typically collect COVID-19 data, thus separating it from traditional surveillance. However, valid concerns exist about the ways in which these tracing apps are able to change people’s behaviours, and the ways in which they are becoming part of the critical infrastructure. If we consider the possibility of misuse of this app technology, we could envisage a reduction in public trust and a significant impact on public life. This leaves critical infrastructure potentially vulnerable and encourages us to think about what these apps do and what role they play. Primarily, they store and provide location and health data, and of course these databases already exist through platforms such as Goggle and Apple. One could argue that the app is a more privacy preserving solution, and a social contract for how we gather and store this information. We see, however, some challenges for democratic governments persuading their populations to use these apps. Liberal democracy has operated with a notion of a private sphere that is off limits to the government, and yet these apps require that we give up some of this privacy. In some countries, such as the USA trust in the government is already so low and it is even difficult to encourage the population to wear masks, let alone to use these apps. In others, the freedom of association and civil liberty is under threat, as the government controls internet traffic and thus can quash social movements that may be trackable through COVID-19 tracing apps. As countries around the world ease lockdown restrictions and enter a ‘new normal’ time will tell how this new technology will impact our societies.

Greater surveillance is a key element in the toolbox for containing the pandemic. Is there a danger that invasions of privacy will be normalised after the pandemic?

It is important to contextualise ideas and debates over privacy. There are no guarantees that this technology will not be used against the populations it purports to be serving, and we need to remain vigilant to the historical use of these technologies beyond the current COVID-19 tracing apps. This has a gendered aspect, when we consider the possibility of tracing the health choices of women in particular. Large technology companies, who provide this tracing app technology, are the same companies who have been implicated in monitoring human rights and civil liberties defenders previously. There are, of course, implications for the right to protest and the right to organise in the context of COVID-19 restrictions and surveillance during lockdown. If we look to the UK we can see increased forms and receptivity to solidarity, first with regards to the National Health Service (NHS) and now with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. But the timing and local context matters when balancing the breaking of lockdown rules against health risks. The lived experience of many black people in the UK and the heightened sense of solidarity renders these questions particularly important. Moreover, there are questions to be answered regarding what has become normalised in these contexts of ‘war’. The sharing of data between private companies and government, increased levels of police brutality, limited regulation, and government decisions without public participation are all concerning. The privacy paradox describes how we are prepared to give up privacy for a small incentive, even though we are at the same time very concerned about our private information. In the case of the COVID-19 app this paradox does not apply because it is not to the benefit of the individual but for the others who are protected if they stay at home. We should keep in mind this element when debating privacy, and acknowledge the differences between privacy concerns pre and during COVID-19.

Are there safeguards that can be enacted to ensure the technology used to address COVID do not undermine human rights?

There is significant debate as to how to construct a trustworthy app, and this is both a technical exercise as well as a democratic one. Many of the apps are being developed by those who do not have the proper expertise in privacy technology and this undermines trust in the public debate. There is a great variety between countries in terms of data protection laws and enforcement of those laws. For the human rights community this is a dangerous and worrying moment. We need oversight to generate checks and balances and public awareness of the development of such technologies. Regulators need to be at the forefront of this. We should consider whether new data laws are required, how data laws should be interpreted, and the limits of safeguards such as anonymisation. This is a process of ensuring that greater technical information provides the basis of data laws. Technology of course is also not the only solution, and investment in other aspects of social infrastructure is essential. Countries will need to build communities and offer social resources to demonstrate that they are not at war and that human rights should continue to be protected.

We’re also living in a world where disinformation and misinformation about COVID is rampant. Is there anything that can be done about this at national and global levels to address disinformation?

More self-conscious fact-checking resources which are prominent in social media would be helpful. In addition, the presentation of COVID updates should come from public health professionals without politicians present. We need an independent channel of communication to the wider world of public health without a partisan political spin. We see politicians and leaders who are the source of misinformation, and this needs to be countered. The issue of misinformation from a technological perspective is very difficult to handle. It is not easy to determine automatically what is misinformation, most attempts at that have failed. This is not only a technological problem but also one of a ‘grand truth’ where myths may take hold and become very dominant amongst a population. Governments can help by generating transparency and involving the public in a continuous debate over privacy issues and data collection. In Germany, trustworthy actors have been used in rolling out the COVID-19 tracing app and have been involved in ongoing public discussion and this can act as an example for other countries. However, this case also illustrates the challenges of this issue as take up of the app has nonetheless been lower than hoped. There is a question of where the responsibility lies for fact-checking, whether it should be individuals or whether platforms themselves should have some responsibility. We have seen cases in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania, of journalists being arrested or targeted because of sharing facts regarding COVID-19. In such sensitive contexts we need to be clear about where responsibilities lie and protections can be ensured. This requires more effective and inclusive international leadership on privacy, security and regulation during this time.

What recommendations would you make to policy makers?

1. Promote and elevate science in the discussions about COVID-19 and responses, in particular de-coupling it from politicians.

2. Use national risk registers as a point of reference as well as discuss them publicly.

3. Collect data in a transparent way, explaining to the public what you are doing and why.

4. Make policies for people at the margins.

5. The United States Government need to show more humility and commit to multilateral organisations such as the World Health Organisation.


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