The international community is facing an unprecedented challenge with the Covid-19 crisis — perhaps the first global crisis in the age of new social media. The challenge has turned international agendas and priorities upside down. Headlines are no longer dominated by war, conflict and terrorism. Governments’ foremost concern these days is to control the spread of the virus and prevent infections at home as international stock markets tumble, trade slows and the global economy veers towards recession. The impact of all this on growth rates and the standards of living of the poor and middle classes may be felt for years to come.
Some economies can sustain the stiff measures needed to curb the spread of the virus. Other economies will be able to handle them for only so long after which hardship will set in. A third type of economy will be hit so hard from day one that it will require intervention on the part of international agencies such as the World Bank.
Coronavirus will probably have a major impact on salient features of globalisation such as open borders and unprecedented freedom of movement. What with the levels of precautions taken by some countries at the epicentres, it is hard to imagine the world returning to business as usual, as was the case following other viral crises, such as SARS and MERS. Governments will be reviewing many policies related to travel and border controls, even if the international fight to combat Covid-19 proves quicker than some predict. On the other hand, some argue that while Coronavirus is a global crisis, it would be wrong to see it as a crisis of globalisation and they warn against reactions that hamper a rational and collective international response.
In Egypt, the measures announced by the prime minister and other competent officials were timely and in line with measures taken by other countries. School and university classes have been suspended for two weeks. Football matches, concerts and other such activities have been cancelled. All government facilities are being sanitised. People have been urged to stay home as much as possible and avoid malls, clubs and other areas where they might come into contact with large numbers of people.
In addition, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi announced last Saturday that the government would allocate LE 100 billion to fund a comprehensive containment and prevention plan. Noting that President Al-Sisi’s decision to suspend classes was a necessary precaution to prevent contact between large numbers of people, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli said that the rate of infection in Egypt is still limited compared to other countries.
Social media was instrumental in prompting swift action on the part of the government. Parents and guardians initiated a hashtag campaign calling on schools to suspend classes, a campaign that acquired momentum after the World Health Organisation announced that 300 million students were out of school worldwide due to temporary closures of educational institutions as part of precautionary measures undertaken in many countries.
The Covid-19 pandemic is not just a test of how prepared societies are domestically to handle a dangerous illness, but also of the world’s ability to work together as a single system to combat threats that no country can handle alone. This is both a lesson and an important opportunity. Hopefully, the world will learn how to unite effectively on this as well as other critical threats, such as global warming and, of course, armed conflict, which claims many more times the amount of victims as viruses.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 March, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly