02 April 2020

Experts participating in the first ever e-Symposium organised by Trends Research & Advisory late on Tuesday highlighted the ongoing struggle between forces of globalisation and protectionism but emphasised the need for a collective response to the Covid-19 challenge.

Addressing the e-Symposium — Confronting the Challenges of COVID-19: A New Global Outlook — panelists discussed the lessons learned from the pandemic and the growing need for a concerted and collective approach to tackle the challenge.

Mahmood Mohammed Sharif, Director of Economic Studies and Dr. Stephen Blackwell, Director of Research & Strategic Studies at TRENDS Research & Advisory moderated the e-Symposium, as the experts also underlined the geostrategic and economic fallout of this public health crisis which threatens to derail the global economy.

Prof. Maurizio Barbeschi, Adviser to the Executive Director, World Health Emergencies (WHE) Programme at The World Health Organisation (WHO), delivered his view in his personal capacity.

“We have been preparing for pandemic since SARS and it is impressive how not prepared the planet was,” Prof. Barbeschi said adding that it is not just the peak of the pandemic but also the bumps and re-entry to normalcy will have to be managed.

“Even vaccines may have to be handled with extreme care for not creating groups of haves and have-nots,” he said Prof. Barbeschi also said that it is obvious that travel bans did not work well. “The first reaction of governments so far wasn’t smart, quick or big or large enough to stop the exponential move of the virus,” he said.

Gulfaraz Khan, Professor of Viral Pathology and Chair, Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology at the College of Medicine and Health Sciences, UAE University, said that the scientific community is united against Covid-19 at one end of the spectrum but a lack of preparedness has also been exposed.

He stressed that it must be acknowledged that the Chinese authorities identified and made the virus sequence available to the international community within two weeks of the outbreak. “We have also seen an unprecedented number of publications on Covid-19,” Prof. Khan said pointing out that the world failed to identify the threat early.

“We had approximately a month to look at the outbreak even though the disease was spreading. The majority of the world’s cases happened after February so we need to learn lessons as a global community. It is absolutely essential to do our best in research and development to prevent another global pandemic from killing so many people,” he said.

Prof. Khan also ruled out the possibility of a vaccine coming out soon. “It could take 12-18 months if you add the time needed in mass production and in making it available around the world,” he said.

Delivering an international security perspective, Dr Hussein Ibish, Senior Resident Scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, said it is not yet clear whether parochialism will triumph over populism in the aftermath of this crisis.

“There is discourse emerging from Europe that may not reflect the ground reality. There seems to be an adrenaline rush for insularity and parochialism promoted by populism which is not helping,” he said.

Dr. Ibish said that when it comes to international cooperation, he foresees the need to revive multilateralism but the bad actors are not changing their ways.

Dr. David Meyer, Associate Professor of Security and Global Studies and Programme Director, Master of Arts in Diplomacy at the College of Security and Global Studies, the American University in the Emirates, said the US will continue to demand favourable trade deals as national interest cannot be wished away “After this crisis ends, protectionism will come back with a vengeance as more and more countries slip into recession. If the quarantine lasts more than six months then we are looking at economic depression,” he said.

Sharing China’s experience with Covid-19, Prof. Yong Wang of the School of International Studies and Director, Center for International Political Economy at Peking University, said China did the right thing by taking very tough measures such as locking down Wuhan.

“Chinese scientists shared genetic sequencing, which helped in data compilation and intelligence gathering to tackle the virus. The pandemic is under control in China and factories and companies are opening now. However, the government is still applying a very cautious approach,” he said.