Can pandemics be securitised?
By the time the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Covid-19 outbreak as a pandemic on March 11, 2020, the virus had already reached every continent except Antarctica. The global record as of April 27, 2021, stands at more than 147 million cases and over 3 million confirmed deaths from Covid-19.
Since the rollout of vaccines against Covid-19—which is regarded as what will lead the way in arresting the pandemic—a number of new variants of the virus have emerged (See Figure 2). Several hybrids (recombinants from merged variants) have also been reported. These developments may render the existing vaccines less effective, if not ineffective, against the newer stains, potentially increasing the challenges of controlling the pandemic in the coming days.
The Spanish Flu, which happened a century ago in 1918, reduced life expectancy at birth in the United States (US) by 11.8 years. Since then, scientific and medical advances have helped the world increase life expectancy at birth significantly. In the 1920s, life expectancy was 55.4 years in the United States (US) and 57.3 years in the United Kingdom (UK); by the 2000s, it increased by over 20 years in the developed world, and consequently, there was a rise in the proportion of people aged 60 and above in these countries. It is in this context that the impact of Covid-19 must be viewed, as it has disproportionally affected the elderly. While age is not the only risk factor, eight out of 10 Covid-19 deaths in the US have been of adults over the age of 65.9 Similarly, over 95% of the Covid-19 deaths in the European Union (EU) have been from the 60+ population. Thus, the pandemic has effectively wiped out much of the gains of the last century in terms of increasing the average lifespan.
According to a report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), life expectancy in the US fell by a year in the first six months of 2020. Preliminary data released by the agency in February 2021 reveals that life expectancy at birth for the total US population declined from 78.8 years in 2019 to 77.8 years in 2020. Thus, within a span of six months, the nation was pulled back by nearly 14 years, to 2006 levels. In particular, the average life expectancy for African Americans went down by 2.7 years, exposing wide gaps in the country’s access and equity. Indeed, the Covid-19 pandemic is expected to have lingering effects on life expectancy, with long-term health and economic implications that will likely increase the mortality rates in the coming years. One study estimates that life expectancy will drop by three to nine years in North America and Europe.
The spread of the Covid-19 pandemic across almost all countries of the world has left economies in dire states. With many governments now struggling with new lockdown measures to tackle the succeeding waves of the pandemic characterised by mutant and possibly more virulent strains, the UN has said that the world is facing a global health crisis unlike any in its 75-year history. The economic impact has resulted in many countries going into recession, and it will likely be years before employment levels return to pre-pandemic levels.
While there has been a recent recovery in the stock markets, the projections for the long term remain grim, with most economic sectors facing severe restructuring. The scale of disruption caused by the pandemic, the shrinkage in demand, and the increased unemployment will continue to drastically alter the business landscape. In big, services-reliant economies hit hard by the outbreak, recovery is expected to be slow.
Furthermore, the pandemic has attacked societies at their core. Bereavement, isolation, loss of income and fear are triggering mental health conditions and exacerbating existing ones. The shutting down of schools and the consequent shift to digital platforms is exacerbating learning inequities among children, pushing many of them out of the system due to the digital divide. The shift to remote learning has also removed the human element from education, and the loss of social connections has affected the overall wellbeing and social development of children. Indeed, the ways of living and working across societies have been transformed in unalterable ways.
(The study has been authored by Rajiv Pathni)