National health security a post-pandemic priority
The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has taken multiple assets from the world and forced its people to feel vulnerable. The world is now living in greater fear and citizens are concerned for their safety. People are afraid of using public transport and, if one thought airport security was intense before, just imagine how much more complicated it will be in the post-COVID-19 environment, with all the additional health checks that will be required.
The comfort zone that citizens enjoyed before the pandemic, where perhaps their greatest distant fear was the rare possibility of a terrorist attack, has been ended. Civilians are now scared to enter their local supermarket without wearing a mask and they wipe down their shopping trolleys with a sterilized cloth. People are trying to avoid getting close to others in stores and are purchasing their items as quickly as possible.
However, the post COVID-19 world also has many positive opportunities. The pandemic has shown us that what we thought was almost impossible for human beings — the possibility of quickly changing our fundamental behaviors and cultural traditions — is not only possible, but actually easy.
Now more than ever it is clear that anything is possible and many of our long-standing dreams can actually come true. Perhaps we can now also change the behaviors that are causing the environment to be destroyed. Most likely, we can change the way the human race treats animals and nature, and be more humble, modest and moderate to consume less of the world’s resources. This could also save money that, in time, could be used to save lives.
We can change our habits to reduce the amount of pollution and waste that we each produce daily. Perhaps we could have new and more effective global governance policies; by creating new ones and improving those we already have. We could then, for example, improve opportunities for all human beings by securing increased budgets to allow for real global health security in countries with failed health systems, while at the same time creating many new jobs in the health industry.
Now more than ever it is clear that anything is possible and many of our long-standing dreams can actually come true
Mark C. Donfried
Similar to the context of war, which brings people together to fight against a common enemy, the battle against COVID-19 has brought human beings from all cultural, ethnic and national backgrounds closer. The feeling is that we have a common enemy that is not of the human race. We all share the same risks and the same suffering. From people dancing on their balconies in major cities to those volunteering to support those at great risk and others sharing in the mutual grief of lost loved ones — COVID-19 has actually brought us, at a micro and a macro level, closer together.
However, in order to make sure that the lessons learned are applied and the proper measures taken in order to protect societies from future pandemics, we need a comprehensive legislative process. Relevant legislation will need to be proposed and passed in parliaments at the national, regional and global levels, otherwise all of the opportunities that have presented themselves in the context of the coronavirus pandemic will simply be forgotten. The legislative process should be guided by the leaders who have learned from the COVID-19 crisis and who are creative and courageous enough to break from old cultural habits and adopt new and innovative strategies. The necessary budgets must be secured in order to fund new institutions and measures. New jobs and professions must be created and secured in order to better manage and defeat the next pandemic.
After COVID-19, the world will be forced to reanalyze and check the process of globalization in order to avoid the uncertainties that have come about with this pandemic and to optimize its benefits for all citizens. There must be analysis of every factor related to the process of globalization that failed in preventing the spread of the coronavirus, as well as a pin-pointing of the successes and correct measures that were taken and applied.
The post-COVID-19 period will definitely be characterized by increased governmental efforts to address global health issues, heightened suspicion of possible virus carriers, and more aggressive foreign policies by nation states. In fact, we must assess the possible need for a new Ministry for National Health Security in each country, whose responsibilities would be similar to homeland security but with a focus on health, in order to provide the necessary research, analysis, investigation and enforcement. The risk of a new global pandemic such as COVID-19 is now far greater than any single military or terrorist attack.
The coming era offers a chance for the younger generations to take action and seize the opportunities presented to them. They can create the appropriate positions and establish new institutions that will make the reforms needed for a stronger tomorrow. The politicians will have to cooperate with them, no doubt, as it is clear that those politicians who stick to old habits will soon find themselves without electoral support. The youth, which is so interested in more pro-nature solutions, will soon find out that parliamentarians suddenly understand that. Similar to the period after the Second World War, if the right actions are taken and the right legislation passed, we have the possibility to regain — and more — all that we lost during a period of unprecedented global change.
* Mark C. Donfried is director general at the Berlin-based Institute for Cultural Diplomacy.