Since its emergence in Wuhan, China in December 2019, the COVID-19 novel coronavirus disease has spread around the world. With over 3 million cases and more than 217,000 deaths worldwide as of April 30, the disease has strained public health systems, impacted global markets and made its way into political discourse. As countries and citizens work to combat the spread of the disease, SFS professors and experts have been at the forefront of tracking the outbreak, suggesting public policy solutions, keeping the public informed and analyzing its implications in unique political contexts.
From the initial stages of the outbreak in China to exploring how the world will look once the pandemic is over, SFS faculty have been sharing their expertise and policy recommendations with the global community. We will continue to update this article with the latest commentary and analysis on COVID-19 from our experts. Read how SFS has responded so far in the following sections:
The Initial Stages: China Faces COVID-19
The World Responds to Global Spread
Disease-Preparedness in Africa: From Ebola to COVID-19
Assessing U.S. Efforts to Tackle the Pandemic
Countering Prejudice and Building Solidarity in the Time of Coronavirus
Implications for the World’s At-Risk Populations
Cooperation or Competition?: Managing Global Resources
The Pandemic and International Power Rivalries
COVID-19 and Climate Change
Virtual Transitions: Working, Learning and Teaching Online
Building Public Trust
The Search for a Cure
The Initial Stages: China Faces COVID-19
When early reports of a respiratory illness originating in Wuhan, China started to emerge, SFS Global Human Development adjunct instructor Jeremy Konyndyk (MSFS’03) was one of the first experts to warn that the outbreak would continue to spread. On January 22, in an effort to contain the spread of the virus, Chinese officials began a quarantine operation that would encompass multiple cities and impose movement restrictions and other lockdowns, affecting more than 760 million people.
Even as the Chinese government announced the operation, Konyndyk was skeptical of its effectiveness. “Mandatory, involuntary quarantines can be difficult to enforce, and counterproductive,” Konyndyk told Wired Magazine. In a Bloomberg article about Chinese travel restrictions, Konyndyk said that “past precedents suggest it could lead to more hiding of cases and less voluntary compliance with public health measures.”
As the lockdown continued in Hubei Province and the government ordered all residents to remain in their homes, Reuters reported that the ban on movement was taking a toll on the community. Commenting on the movement restrictions, Dr. Rebecca Katz, SFS professor and Director of Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University Medical Center, told Reuters that basic human rights and needs must be taken into account. “You have to address the basic rights and well-being of people: can they get their food and water? What is their mental health status?” she said.
In a separate interview with On Point, Katz said that quarantines, which limit individual rights, will not be easy to enforce everywhere. “I think we have to be really careful when we talk about these types of measures. That we’re not just focused on the spread of disease, but also on the population that’s impacted,” she said.
Some argue that the severity of the outbreak in China could have been avoided. In an article in Foreign Policy, MSFS Professor Paul Miller, Co-Chair of Global Politics and Security at the Master of Science in Foreign Service program, makes the case that Chinese President Xi Jinping “did not create the novel coronavirus, but his government’s missteps are directly responsible for its global transmission and uncontrolled spread.” Miller argues that pandemics are inherently political, characterizing them as a “failure of governance,” rather than a “blind force of nature independent of human agency.”
Looking back at the initial stages of the outbreak in December 2019 and January 2020, SFS Professor Charles Kupchan thinks that while China could have been more forthcoming, much of the Western world erred in its response as well. “Democracies on both sides of the Atlantic were slow off the mark…Europe and the United States should have taken more urgent steps,” Kupchan said in an article by Agence France-Presse. He continues, “They waited way too long when it came to procuring, allocating, and distributing medical equipment and to sharing best practices on testing and isolation.”
The World Responds to Global Spread
With its disregard for national borders and rapid international spread, COVID-19 is throwing some international relations tensions into sharp relief. At a time when governments need to share data and coordinate responses, SFS professor Evan Medeiros told NPR’s Jackie Northam that two key players, the U.S. and China, are “suffering from a deep deficit of trust.” While there has been some cooperation between U.S. and Chinese scientists on modeling the virus’s spread and analyzing COVID-19 medical cases, China initially restricted access to the country for teams from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
China has also taken pains to restrict the flow of information about the scale of the pandemic, according to Professor James Millward in an interview with KRWG’s Newsmakers. “Local authorities just wanted to put the lid on this, but as a result, they put a lid on the information, but the disease got out,” Millward said. “And the political system that suppresses or strongly controls information this way…that is the bigger root of the problem.”
Elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region, the disease is illuminating existing geopolitical tensions. Evan Medeirosjoined Asia Chessboard, a podcast co-hosted by SFS Director of Asian Studies Michael Green, to talk about the disease’s implications in the region and the future of Asian economic growth. Medeiros challenges the assumption that China will emerge from the pandemic as a world leader, but predicts that “Asian economies who had a lot of experience, who had very effective containment, mitigation, bureaucracies, even democracies like South Korea and Taiwan,” will experience an acceleration in growth and leadership in the pandemic’s aftermath.
Many in the international community have commended South Korea for its response to the virus and its efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19. Victor Cha, SFS professor and Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), created a timeline for CSIS mapping South Korea’s policy actions, efforts to develop a test, border control measures and methods of informing the public. Cha also joined CSIS’s The Truth of the Matter podcast to discuss the response to the pandemic in both North and South Korea. Cha highlights South Korea’s experience with MERS as a key factor in their quick response to the virus. “They moved early and they moved quickly…Nine days after the January 20 case, the government established a national call center to increase transparency and awareness about this, and two weeks after the first case, they started producing test kits,” Cha said.
Iran has been hit particularly hard by the virus, and had some of the highest case numbers and death rates in the early stages of the pandemic. In light of this humanitarian crisis, there have been calls for the Trump administration to reconsider Iranian sanctions. In an op-ed in The Hill, SFS adjunct associate professor Katherine Bauer and Dana Stroul write that “sanctions relief is not a cure-all.” They note that, under current sanctions, Iran has ways to access funds and loans to pay for humanitarian and medical supplies. They write that “The Trump administration could, therefore, do much more on the public diplomacy front to signal that it has no intention of blocking firms and companies for working with Iran to address its coronavirus outbreak.” Above all, Bauer and Stroul say, “In the case of Iran, there are a range of actions that the United States can and should take—it is both a security issue and a moral imperative to do so. But sanctions relief should not be at the top of the list of these remedial actions.”
In India, the government has imposed an unprecedented nationwide lockdown to try to contain the spread of the virus. Dr Jishnu Das, SFS professor, joined the Center for Policy Research’s ThoughtSpace podcast to discuss the Indian health system and how prepared it is for COVID-19. Das worries about India’s poorest populations. “It’s going to be really hard in India to do something like contact tracing the moment this spreads to a slum…the fact of the matter is that there’s nothing ‘at home’… so you have to go out to a public bathroom or to the railway tracks.” Addressing India’s preparation efforts, Das says two things need to happen. “People need to be asked to help, and I think they’re ready to help when the ask is made. And second, they need to have data to work with.”
Former Secretary of State and current Michael and Virginia Mortara Distinguished Professor of Diplomacy Madeleine Albright sees the pandemic as a “wake-up call” for the world’s leaders. In an op-ed for TIME, she described coronavirus as “a reminder of a lesson we should have learned long ago: that, to thrive, people of every nationality must combine strengths. We have been taught this lesson over and over again through history, only to forget when our tribal instincts resurface and wisdom is lost.”
Director of the Asian Studies Program at SFS Michael Green similarly urged international cooperation. “Pandemics could foster greater suspicion or cooperation,”he wrote in a Korea JoongAng Daily article. “This time suspicion appears to be winning, and that adds more friction to international relations.” The proliferation of conspiracy theories, ideological competition and early mismanagement of the outbreak could all contribute to weakening bonds of global cooperation, he says. In a follow-up Korea JoongAng Daily article assessing his initial predictions, Green says he sees reason for both pessimism and optimism. In regards to international cooperation, Green notes that there is “stunningly little altruism among world leaders—a reflection of the sudden panic caused by the pandemic but also the growing influence of populism and nationalism across the globe.” But, he is hopeful that the crisis will underscore the important of facts-based public communication. “Doctors and scientists…are emerging as the most credible voices in the crisis rather than politicians,” he says.
As many continue to critique the lack of international cooperation in some quarters, some leaders are calling for a U.N. Security Council resolution on the pandemic. Melanne Verveer, director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security, was one of a group of women leaders to sign an open letter calling for leadership to address the crisis. In an interview with Devex, she discussed her thoughts on the Security Council’s inaction. Verveer called its response “really troubling,” saying, “the Security Council has the primary responsibility for peace and security and there’s so many threats to peace and security this pandemic represents.” She continued, “A signal from the Security Council would be very meaningful. The Security Council was there on Ebola, was there on HIV/AIDS. And it had tremendous import and impact.”
Disease-Preparedness in Africa: From Ebola to COVID-19
As the pandemic swept across the globe, many experts looked to West Africa’s experience with Ebola for lessons on how to respond to the crisis. W. Gyude Moore, a former Liberian top public official in Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s administration and current SFS Centennial Fellow, played a critical role in supporting the Liberian response to the West Africa Ebola outbreak and helped to shape its post-Ebola strategy. Moore, now a visiting fellow at the Center for Global Development, talked to Quartz about how Ebola, though devastating, left Senegal, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria better prepared for COVID-19 than richer countries with more sophisticated health systems. He reflected on his experience battling Ebola in Liberia, saying, “It’s better to over-prepare than to overreact. In Liberia, we based our preparation on what we knew of outbreaks that had happened in the past and, when the outbreak exceeded anything that had happened before, we were grossly unprepared.”
Moore also emphasized the importance of collaborating with trusted community and national leaders to encourage public compliance with prevention measures. He recalled how the Liberian government worked with the country’s head Imam to inform Liberian Muslims about the risks associated with bathing the bodies of deceased loved ones, a key component of Islamic burial practices.
In an interview with Devex, Moore, who now lives in Washington, D.C., expressed frustration that countries involved in fighting the Ebola outbreak seem to have forgotten the lessons West Africa learned. “During the West Africa outbreak, people came from the U.S. to help us respond, and people here [in the U.S.] know what needs to be done, but what’s been missing is central guidance,” he said. He believes there is a misconception that African countries were overwhelmed during the Ebola crisis due to poverty, but Moore says that “only accounted for how quickly the system was overwhelmed, not that the system was overwhelmed.” The U.S. may come to a similar realization if it does not take the necessary steps to anticipate the demands of the virus on the healthcare system, according to Moore.
Konyndyk, who was director of USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance from 2013-2017, led the U.S. government’s humanitarian response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. In an article in The Economist, Konyndyk drew on his experience in the response to Ebola, suggesting that ordinary citizens are unlikely to follow quarantine restrictions if they do not feel cared for and respected.
When the quarantine in Wuhan was imposed, many countries chartered airplanes to evacuate their citizens from the region. But for the more than 80,000 African students attending university in China, many African embassies do not have the capabilities to send their citizens home and responsibility for their care has fallen on the Chinese government. In a Today News Africa article, Moore says the scenario is a reflection of the increasingly important relationships between China and African nations that extend beyond the business and economic ties often emphasized when assessing the regions’ relations. “China’s relationship with Africa was not just business-oriented, it’s human,” he said.
Professor Ken Opalo believes that the African response to the pandemic has highlighted the need for more descriptive studies of the continent’s economies. In an article for Daily Nation, Opalo explained that, although most African economies differ greatly from their counterparts in other regions around the world, the pandemic response of government and development agencies on the continent was “eerily similar to those in wealthier economies.” He argues that efforts such as lockdowns, hand washing advice, tax breaks, business loans and interest rate cuts are largely ineffective in regions where a large proportion of the labor force is dependent on daily earnings and many do not have reliable running water sources. Opalo calls for greater data collection and knowledge production on the continent to better inform government responses. “African governments should invest in making their economies more legible,” he said. “Policymakers must understand that their economies are not simply Denmark waiting to happen.”
Assessing U.S. Efforts to Tackle Coronavirus
The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the United States was reported on January 20, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. In the following months, U.S. policymakers and public health officials have mobilized responses to face the crisis. But experts question domestic preparedness levels in the United States.
The Trump administration convened a special coronavirus task force to direct the U.S. response, but Dr. Rebecca Katz tells TIME that the task force was “missing some major players in the world of global health security.” No one from the Department of Defense, the U.S. Agency for International Development or the Department of Agriculture was included.
In the New York Times Dr. Katz also fact-checked statements by President Trump, including his assertion that the virus will likely disappear by April. “I think there is a lot we still don’t know about this virus, and I’m not sure we can say definitively that it will dissipate with warmer weather,” said Katz.
Jeremy Konyndyk also questions the decisions that led to the loss of top experts in pandemic response from key government positions. “These moves make us materially less safe. It’s inexplicable,” Konyndyk told the Washington Post back in 2018, when Rear Adm. Tim Ziemer, National Security Council senior director for global health security and biodefense, and his team left the body. Dismantling the office, Konyndyk added in a comment to TIME in February, meant that “they actively unlearned a key lesson” from the 2014 U.S. efforts to respond to Ebola. “The institutional memory that was there is gone. Now they are behind the eight ball and retrying to reconstitute that,” he told TIME.
As statewide shelter-in-place orders and closure of all non-essential storefronts threaten the livelihoods of many people and businesses across the country, the federal government has introduced policies aimed at combating the economic consequences of movement restrictions. In an opinion article in The Guardian, Karl Widerquist, an associate professor of philosophy at the School of Foreign Service in Qatar, called on legislators to institute an emergency Universal Basic Income (UBI). Widerquist says UBI would not only help the economy, but also slow the spread of the disease. “The sooner our government acts, the sooner we start to recover. We don’t know how bad coronavirus will get. We shouldn’t have to worry about how we will be able to buy food and pay rent as well,” he wrote.
In some quarters, experts feel that the U.S., as well as the world, should have seen this coming. As MSFS professor and former member of the National Security Council Paul Miller writes in The Dispatch, a 2004 National Intelligence Council report about what to expect in 2020 warned that it was only a matter of time before a pandemic akin to the 1918-1919 influenza virus broke out. Miller says the prescient report should be sobering, as it was “accompanied by dire speculation about the political, economic and military effects of such an event.”
Miller also discussed the intelligence community’s predictions in a Federal News Network podcast. He credits the intelligence community with getting it right, but also notes, “they got it right in part because they were able to draw on the work of other experts, of scientists and doctors and epidemiologists who all saw that this could come.” Looking to the future, Miller calls for better surveillance to prevent future diseases from spreading. “We have satellites that circle the earth…we are able to keep track of foreign armies because we don’t want another Pearl Harbor. But we lack the same kind of equipment or the same kind of systems or infrastructure to detect novel diseases around the world,” he says.
Some worry that the virus could prompt an increase in executive authority that continues even after the crisis is over. In fact, the U.S. Department of Justice has petitioned Congress for vast emergency authority that includes changes to the statute of limitations, asylum and the way court hearings are conducted. Matthew Kroenig, SFS Associate Professor, notes that this type of consolidation of central authority has played out in other countries in times of crisis. “The real question is, when the crisis passes do things snap back or does the executive branch try to hold onto those powers?” Kroenig commented in a Quartz article. “That’s one of the ways we’ve seen democratic backsliding [in other countries], where the president declares emergency powers, the crisis passes, and he or she doesn’t give them back,” he said.
Countering Prejudice and Building Solidarity in the Time of Coronavirus
As the U.S. government outlines new public health and spending policies, leaders are also calling on officials to take action on social unrest and violence caused by the pandemic. A number of Georgetown professors, including SFS Professors Oriana Skylar-Mastro and Evan Medeiros and SFS Adjunct Professor Joel Wuthnow, signed an open letter in USA Today, calling for an end to the uptick in hate crimes against the Asian-American community. The letter states that the crisis has “exacerbated prejudice and stigmatization in the United States,” and calls for “all Americans to redouble the fight against those forces.” They go on to call on all U.S. leaders to take action against anti-Asian racism, and to follow CDC guidelines that layout how to respond to the coronavirus in ways that do not fuel anti-Asian discrimination, including not using the term “Chinese virus.”
Mobashra Tazamal, Senior Research Fellow at the Bridge Initiative, also notes a surge in Islamophobia as a result of the pandemic. In an article in Truthout, she writes about the use of images of mosques and Muslims in reporting about the pandemic. The images, she says, “convey subtle, indirect messages that link Muslimness and Muslim religiosity to panic around mass sickness, infection and deadly contagion.” In addition, Tazamal notes the claims made online and in news articles linking extremism and Islam to COVID-19. She concludes, “As the global pandemic continues, we must push back against the affinity to construct Islam as a threat and Muslims as a contagion. Dangerous rhetoric that fans the flames of Islamophobia and further dehumanizes Muslims will only add to the ever-increasing global death count.”
Amongst these worrying trends, Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs Senior Fellow Katherine Marshall still sees cause for hope in the midst of the pandemic. In an op-ed in Religious News Service, she writes that “the pandemic has also caused many people to turn to their ancient traditions to find wisdom and connection.” She points to inter-religious groups across the globe who are working to spread awareness of preventative measures against COVID-19, monitoring and responding to rising domestic violence, and participating in government task forces to coordinate government responses. She concludes, “Let’s hope that the rich diversity of divine expression on display in these recent holidays will inspire us all to come together across religious lines in solidarity.”
In addition to lauding religious communities’ efforts to build a sense of connection and spiritual togetherness, Marshall has also called upon some religious leaders to do more to stop the spread of the virus. In an article for The Conversation, she outlines how leaders in some orthodox Jewish, evangelical Christian and Hindu nationalist communities have been encouraging worshipers to continue to meet in large gatherings, despite public health warnings. “As these situations demonstrate, millions of people worldwide look more to religious authorities than health officials for guidance on how to behave and what to believe in a crisis,” she writes. Marshall draws on the example of Ebola in West Africa, where training for Christian and Muslim leaders on safe burials practices may have saved thousands of lives, to argue for the importance of working with faith leaders to inspire public trust on public health measures.
While Marshall’s research explores the role of faith leaders in pandemic responses, other SFS scholars have been examining how lay community members have been reacting to COVID-19. In an entry for The Times of Israel, anthropologist and ethnomusicologist Professor Jessica Roda documents how Orthodox Jewish women artists are adapting to lockdown measures, despite leaders’ slow response to coronavirus. Many musicians, singers and filmmakers have shifted their Passover performances online, hosting women-and-girls-only sessions on Zoom and Instagram Live. “They have provided us with another narrative about sisterhood and religiosity in a time of pandemic,” Roda writes of these artists.
COVID-19: Implications for the World’s At-Risk Populations
While COVID-19 threatens the health of people across the world, some communities are more vulnerable to its potentially devastating effects than others. SFS Professor Victor Cha says that the virus poses a unique threat to North Korea, which shares a border with China. “The porous nature of the border with China and frequent travel is a clear vector for the virus’ transmission. If there are reports of the virus inside of North Korea, we should expect that the virus would spread rapidly given the state’s inability to contain a pandemic,” Cha said in an article in CSIS’s Beyond Parallel.
In Xinjiang, China, COVID-19 could be especially lethal in China’s secretive internment camps and could compound the suffering of Muslim Uighurs and other minority groups who are being held in them. The close and unsanitary conditions are a breeding ground for the spread of the virus among a population that is already subjected to a myriad of other health risks. SFS Professor James Millward, quoted in Vox, said, “cramped conditions, poor hygiene, cold, stressed immune systems — this could [cause] a massive disaster.”
Responses to coronavirus have largely been coordinated on a national scale, with nations overseeing the protection and treatment of their citizens. But for the approximately 70 million displaced people worldwide, the disease poses an unprecedented threat. As SFS adjunct instructor and journalist Ishaan Tharoor wrote in an article in the Washington Post, “Crammed refugee camps are especially vulnerable to the spread of disease, and national governments, which, at the best of times, have limited resources to spare for asylum seekers and migrants, will be even less inclined to expend them amid the crisis in support of noncitizens.” Tharoor points out that the disease could be most devastating for at-risk populations like migrants, asylum seekers, displaced persons or populations recovering from wars, who “face an all the more precarious existence in the shadow of the pandemic.”
SFS Assistant Professor Rajesh Veeraraghavan and his team at the Urban Spatial Observatory (USO) in Delhi, India, have been using socio-spatial data to connect informal settlement communities in the city with public services during the lockdown. The researchers, including SFS faculty and alumni, created a digital map detailing the locations of night shelters and hunger relief centers. The maps were shared across social media and hosted on a Delhi government website, and allowed relief workers and government officials to access the information on their phones to quickly point individuals to locations where they could get help. SFS graduate Sky Colloredo-Mansfeld (SFS’19), a member of the USO team believes that the pandemic has emphasized the importance of the Observatory’s work. “The current situation…demonstrates the way the consequences of unequal access are amplified in times of crisis. Unfortunately, these issues will not go away with the COVID crisis,” he said.
In an article in collaboration with the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security and George Washington University’s Global Women’s Institute, George Washington University research scientist Alina Potts also called for informed, inclusive responses to the pandemic that consider people in already-fragile settings. Potts urged policymakers, particularly those at the UN as they administer $2 billion in humanitarian assistance, to consider the heightened risks facing women and girls. “These range from increased risk of domestic violence due to household stressors and quarantine measures, to growing care burdens often falling on women, and risks to female health workers on the front line,” she said.
Emily Mendenhall, a medical anthropologist and professor of global health at SFS, researches how social trauma, poverty and social exclusion become embodied in chronic mental and physical illness. COVID-19, she says, is syndemic: a combination of the words synergy and epidemic that “emphasizes the fact that no disease exists in isolation, and the interaction and clustering of two or more conditions is exacerbated by broader factors like social inequality.” Mendenhall says COVID-19, which disproportionately affects those with type 2 diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, targets America’s most vulnerable populations, an effect exacerbated by social, political, economic and public health factors. In an article in Think Global Health, Mendenhall looks to the future of syndemic response. She recommends “strengthening safety nets and security for low-income people, making health care a reality for everyone, and caring for people holistically—focusing on people as opposed to singular diseases. By imagining a more equitable society, we can strengthen how we respond to emergencies now and every day.”
Cooperation or Competition?: Managing Global Resources
Stock exchanges across the world have fallen sharply as the pandemic continues to spread and countries struggle to contain the damage. Some analysts see this as the beginning of another recession while others worry about exposed flaws in the global financial system. With medical supplies in high demand, many countries are competing against one another for existing stocks. Abraham Newman, director of the Mortara Center for International Studies at Georgetown,explained some of these vulnerabilities in a Foreign Affairs article. With shortages in testing kits and safety masks, “these beggar-thy-neighbor dynamics threaten to escalate as the crisis deepens, choking off global supply chains for urgent medical supplies,” Newman warns.
Some countries are taking drastic action to shutter nonessential businesses and travel, creating major losses for business owners all over the world. Just as global interconnectedness is making it difficult to contain the virus, it also creates supply chain bottlenecks and issues for industry. Newman sees this as the impetus for a new geopolitics and writes, “The lesson of the new coronavirus is not that globalization failed. The lesson is that globalization is fragile, despite or even because of its benefits.” Newman also joined the This is Democracy podcastto discuss the future of globalization. Newman expressed his concern that markets have over-emphasized efficiency while ignoring vulnerability. “There is a point where the, let’s call it a neoliberal delusion, has made people discount the potential security and vulnerability consequences of market activity,” he said.
The Trump administration has blamed U.S. dependence on the global supply chain for lack of progress in combating COVID-19, contemplating an executive order that would require the purchase of domestic medical materials using Congressional funds. But in an op-ed for the New York Daily News, Marc Busch, the Karl F. Landegger Professor of International Business Diplomacy at SFS, warned that this executive order would be a mistake. “Global medical supply chains are not a threat, but rather an opportunity…In the face of this pandemic, more international cooperation, not less, is needed,” Busch wrote.
In The New York Times, Professor Jamie Martin, an SFS and history professor at Georgetown, also calls for greater cooperation and points to historical precedents that could serve as examples of how to manage global medical supply shortages. He highlights that many countries have adopted nationalist economic policies in response to the pandemic, preventing the sale of scarce medical goods to other governments around the world. Martin argues that history shows that in moments of international crisis, global cooperation, not competition, can ensure that everyone gets what they need. He uses a WWI case, when the Allies created institutions to jointly purchase scarce goods and re-allocate them around the world to where the need was greatest. These actions, “effectively…ensure[d] that goods were provided to whichever country was facing the worst shortages — not whoever could pay the highest prices,” he writes.
In a Global Trade magazine opinion article, MSFS adjunct associate professor Andrea Durkin makes the case for free trade of medicines and their ingredients. Though the WTO Pharmaceutical Tariff Elimination Agreement ensures free trade for many medical ingredients, Durkin says it is not comprehensive enough. “Some 1,000 finished products and 700 ingredients are not covered under the agreement,” she writes. Ultimately, Durkin concludes that trade is critical, particularly in the face of COVID-19, concluding, “no single country, not even the United States, can discover, produce and distribute diagnostics, vaccines and cures for everything that ails us—or invent every medical intervention that improves the productivity and quality of our lives.”
According to Professor Marc Busch in an opinion piece for RealClear Policy, upcoming negotiations for a bilateral trade agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom might present an opportunity to explore the effects of lifting trade restrictions on vital products and services. Busch writes that a prudent deal would facilitate the exchange of data and digital products and create a permissive regulatory environment with strong intellectual property laws for pharmaceutical development. “It shouldn’t take a pandemic to draw attention to the tariffs, taxes and other costs that countries impose on the well-being of their citizens,” Busch writes, but the U.S. and U.K. have the opportunity to rise to the occasion.
An April 23 European Union summit may also be critical in determining how Europe responds to the economic instability accompanying COVID-19. Lack of member state consensus on the efficacy of Eurobonds may prove to be a major obstacle in reaching agreement on how to provide financial relief within the EU, writes SFS Professor Kathleen McNamara. In an article in the Irish Independent, she outlines how the fallout of the 2008 financial crash “framed the politics of Eurobonds as a contest between profligate southern ‘sinner’ nations, which wasted their money, and thrifty northern ‘saints.’” The EU’s April 23 summit, she suggests, “may well be a defining moment for the future of the EU itself,” as French President Emmanuel Macron attempts to convince the EU’s “frugal four,” Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Finland, to reconsider their opposition to Eurobonds in light of the pandemic.
Shantayanan Devarajan, Chair of International Development at the Master of Science in Foreign Service program, thinks that the pandemic will cause major shifts in the global economy but is hopeful that countries will enact policies that expand healthcare and other services to their populations. In an AlJazeera article, he notes that the pandemic “is forcing many countries to reconsider their social policies, especially social protection and healthcare.” Devarajan predicts, “If these policies, or some variant of them, persist after the outbreak, this will help reduce inequality.”
The Pandemic and International Power Rivalries
There is a lot of speculation about what the world will look like after the pandemic. Michael Green, director of the Asian Studies Program, articulated his vision for the future of the Asia Pacific region in an article for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Green envisions one of three scenarios: either “intensified Sino-U.S. strategic competition but no major reorientation of major powers,” a resurgence of American leadership and multilateral institution-building or, lastly, a “pax Sinica” in which American power atrophies and China becomes the global hegemon.
Green further outlined his predictions for the U.S. and China’s standing after the pandemic in an article for Foreign Affairs,which he co-wrote with Penner Family Chair in Asian Studies Prof. Evan Medeiros. They argue that, while some political commentators have suggested that China’s apparent ability to contain the spread of the virus would lead to increased Chinese influence globally, “there are real limits to China’s capacity to take advantage of the current crisis.” Green and Medeiros point to the CCP’s bungled propaganda strategy, its failure to win favor with international leaders not already supportive of the Beijing government, the relative success of its democratic neighbors in Asia (such as South Korea and Taiwan) in tackling the pandemic and economic uncertainty in the country as signs that China is unlikely to emerge from the crisis as the predominant global power. Despite these limitations on Chinese influence, however, Green and Medeiros warn that the U.S. must not be complacent, “lest Beijing further expand its role in global governance and institutional design at a time when Washington is stepping back.”
Matthew Kroenigsimilarly emphasizes the importance of framing to the sphere of influence the U.S. and China will possess once the pandemic is over. As COVID-19 spreads, both China and the United States have engaged in coordinated messaging campaigns about the virus. In a CNN article co-written by Alex Marquardt (SFS’04), Kroenig discussed the proliferation of disinformation surrounding the disease, its origin and how it spreads. Kroenig suggests that China is using disinformation about the virus to advance its geopolitical goals. Instead of offering an opportunity for global cooperation, Kroenig claims that the pandemic has “just become a new arena for this great power rivalry to play out.”
Kroenig elaborates on this great power rivalry between the two nations in an article in The National Interest, contending that “how well Washington and Beijing manage the ramifications of the Coronavirus in the weeks ahead may determine who leads the international system decades hence.” Kroenig says that the economic ramifications, political responses and military readiness of each country will determine the outcome of a U.S.-China power struggle. He predicts that the United States will outperform its competitor, but warns that “as U.S. leaders formulate their response to the coronavirus, they must think not only in terms of the immediate public health crisis, but also about the very future of American global leadership.”
Others are worried that the Trump’s administration’s decision to step back from key international institutions during the pandemic will lessen U.S. global influence after the crisis subsides. On April 14, President Trump announced that the U.S. would withhold funding from the World Health Organization, pending a review of the WHO’s response to coronavirus. In an article in the Washington Post, SFS associate professor Daniel Nexon and co-author Alexander Cooley analyze the implications of this decision on the global stage. They argue that the Trump presidency has accelerated the decline of U.S. global leadership, a trend exacerbated by COVID-19. “Rather than coordinate and underwrite international responses to a global health emergency as the disease covid-19 spread, the United States has instead competed for goods, at times undercutting its own allies,” they write.
In an interview for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Michael Green acknowledges that the WHO’s response to the pandemic has been flawed. However, he argues that the most effective way to improve the organization is not to withdraw, but instead work with other countries on making important changes. He goes on to suggest that Trump’s decision to withdraw funding is likely influenced by the upcoming U.S. Presidential election, when Green believes that Trump will push a line blaming China for the pandemic. “The Harris poll that was published by The Washington Post last week shows a pretty clear deterioration in the American public’s views towards China. The Trump campaign is going to use this,” he told host Caleb Diamond.
As the pandemic reframes questions over the U.S. and China’s global influence, it is also impacting U.S.-Russia relations. COVID-19 has resulted in some of the most sustained contact between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin since 2016, a sign that the Russian leader might be using the global crisis as a chance to normalize relations between the two countries. In an article in CNN, Director of the Center for Russian and European Studies Angela Stent indicates that the conversations, which often leave out key administrative or Congressional participants, reflect a well-established pattern. “Obviously as we’ve seen, Trump and Putin have met and discussed things together where the rest of the people were not in the picture,” Stent says. Putin’s efforts to communicate with Trump may be a calculated attempt to gain leverage: “If Russia is seen to be treated by the US as a major player and relations improve, maybe that will help him,” Stent predicts.
Prof. Nicole Bibbins Sedaca, co-chair for Global Politics and Security at the Master of Science in Foreign Service program, argues that strengthening democracy will be a vital component of rebuilding the world after COVID-19. In an article for the George W. Bush Presidential Center, she stresses the importance of addressing generational divides in support for democracy as a form of governance. As a professor, Bibbins Sedaca says she often encounters skepticism about democracy, especially in light of current and historic challenges such the Iraq war, the slave trade and the coronavirus pandemic. She acknowledges these are important issues to engage with, but emphasizes that the “right lesson is not to doubt the ideals of democracy, but rather to identify how to ensure a government lives up to these ideals.” Looking toward the challenge of recovering from the pandemic, Bibbins Sedaca says that it is now more important than ever to support democracy to provide “long-term economic growth, stability and protection of human rights.”
COVID-19 and Climate Change
Many commentators have argued that global reductions in air travel, driving and coal-burning caused by travel restrictions and quarantines may have some positive impacts on greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, especially in China where the COVID-19 strain of coronavirus originated. However, Joanna Lewis, an SFS professor, Director of the Science, Technology and International Affairs program and expert on China’s energy sector, told the Washington Post that, overall, the outbreak may not lead to a significant reduction in these important climate metrics. “The [immediate] reductions are substantial, but they are most certainly only temporary, and there will likely be a rebound effect,” she said. “Once people go back to work and factories restart, they may try to make up for lost time. This could result in a surge in emissions.”
Lewis further addresses the environmental impact of the COVID-19 slowdown in an article published by Georgetown University to commemorate Earth Day. She warns against loosening environmental regulations in an effort to spur economic growth. Rather, she argues, governments should take this opportunity to invest in the clean energy sector and recognize that “there does not need to be a tradeoff between economic growth and environmental protection.” In the same article, SFS Professor John McNeill explores how understanding environmental factors can help to prevent the next pandemic. “One way to reduce the frequency with which viruses circulate and become human pathogens would be to reduce the trade in wildlife,” he writes. Wildlife markets, which have been linked to COVID-19 as well as the 2003 SARS outbreak, are often the source of infectious diseases, he explains.
Virtual Transitions: Working, Learning and Teaching Online
As workplaces and education institutions move their daily work online, students and employees are learning to cope with new learning challenges. Institutions with greater resources or network infrastructure may be able to make smooth transitions, but many have to contend with connectivity issues, travel arrangements and access barriers.
Students are caught in the especially difficult position of trying to finish an education and build their post-graduate career. Dr. Mrim Boutla, career coach at Georgetown’s Graduate Career Center, outlined these obstacles and strategies to overcome them in a National article. “Transitioning from college to a career during an economic crisis has long-term negative consequences across the board,” she says, a phenomenon which was demonstrated more than a decade ago during the Great Recession. However, Boutla emphasizes that employers and higher education institutions can take steps to mitigate the potential risks, including moving career recruitment online and encouraging students to set up strong online professional profiles.
In a piece for TradeVistas, MSFS adjunct associate professor Andrea Durkin describes how the surge in use of platforms like Zoom, Slack and Google Hangouts is transforming the face of international trade. Services like telecommunication and information and communication technology comprise one of the most dynamic sectors of international trade, and they are likely to continue to grow. “Every day we engage in or benefit from some form of globally traded services, though we rarely think of it,” Durkin writes. As more people turn to online platforms to conduct business or exchange goods and services, she says there is “no better time to appreciate this major component of global trade.”
Building Public Trust
In an interview with MSNBC in late February, Prof. Konyndyk outlined the key messages he felt the U.S. public needed to know about the COVID-19 outbreak. “First, the risk is real,” he said. “This is not a hoax, it’s not a political ploy, this is a real risk and it is likely to spread in the U.S.” He continued by emphasizing the need for the U.S. government to clearly set out its strategy to the public and reinforce the message that citizens should be listening to advice from public health officials.
Educating the public is an important component of disease prevention. In a Vox article from early March, Rebecca Katz walked readers through what to expect in case of a quarantine. According to U.S. law, “public health is actually a police power that is delegated to the states,” Katz said. “You could end up with someone coming to your door and saying, ‘You’ve been exposed, and you’re either coming with me or you have to stay in your house,’” Katz warned, but added that these powers are rarely used in the U.S.
Alongside Georgetown Law professor Lawrence O. Gostin, Katz and Konyndyk warned that preserving public trust in authorities may be more effective than aggressively enforcing quarantines. In a paper for the Journal of the American Medical Association, they note that “involuntary restrictions…are likely to erode community trust and undermine cooperation with health authorities.”
Responding to concerns raised about Americans stuck overseas, SFS Professor and Director of the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy Ambassador Barbara Bodine urged patience and resourcefulness in an interview with WAMU in March. Faced with supporting more than 5,000 Americans out of Kuwait when she was deputy Chief of Mission in the country during Iraq’s 1990 invasion, Bodine said, “Our job is to help find a way for citizens to get out safely, but unfortunately not necessarily cheaply.”
As the public faces a real-life pandemic, some have been turning to fictional accounts, like the movie Contagion, to see how society might respond. But SFS Professor Gary Shiffman, who researches the relationship between behavioral science, violence and national security, predicts that real life will not resemble the movie, where shortages and panic lead to widespread chaos and violence. In a Fortune Magazine article, Shiffman says that “Americans are translating their fears into a positive communal response. When we fall short of a scenario ripe for violence, what we often get instead is the formation of subcommunities in which members look out for one another.”
In late April, as protests against movement restrictions took place in cities across the United States, and some states prepared to lift restrictions, Rebecca Katz joined WAMU radio show On Point to talk about how ordinary people can prepare. She warned against lifting restrictions, citing the importance of “gating criteria”, including a sustained reduction in cases over two weeks, a well-supplied healthcare system, sufficient testing and the ability to contact trace, isolate and treat the virus. “I don’t really think there’s anywhere in the country yet that has met those gating criteria. That being said, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be doing aggressive planning to reopen society,” Katz said.
But, as countries and companies work to develop a vaccine or other treatments to fight the disease, Mortara Center Director Abraham Newman fears that the search for a cure will become a competition, rather than a cooperative mission. In a Harvard Business Review article, Newman asserts that “everything depends on whether governments continue to recognize that they benefit from working together, or whether they instead start to fight with each other over business and the goods that it supplies, turning to a new era of autarkic hoarding.” He concludes, “the better world for business, for governments and for citizens would be one in which governments stop competing for control of resources and turn instead to competitive generosity.”