HAS THE CORONAVIRUS BROUGHT GLOBALISATION TO A SUDDEN HALT?
Britain has caught up with the rest of Europe. Clubs, pubs, cafés, theatres, cinemas, sporting events and gyms are shut. A total lockdown has been imposed except for key workers. No crowds of more than two people are allowed, or the police will intervene with powers to impose severe fines. Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, has said the government will meet 80% of wages lost due to the coronavirus crisis. Overnight, state intervention has reached levels that Jeremy Corbyn could only ever have dreamed of, while carbon emissions have been cut to levels that Greta Thunberg had hoped would be reached by 2050. We know it must be serious when even ISIS has instructed its Jihadist terrorists to avoid Europe because of the dangers of the coronavirus.
In Italy, where the virus has peaked, anyone trying to move from one city to another has to complete and present a form to the police or soldiers, stating their urgent reason for travel, such as work, health, family or returning home. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said that giving false information would be considered a serious crime. Spain quickly followed suit. In a televised decree the Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, told his country’s 47 million people that he was introducing a complete lockdown, confining them to their homes. He said his Government had taken on the role of total power over the entire country, due to the coronavirus pandemic, suspending the authority of Spain’s autonomous governments. He declared that people would only be permitted to leave their homes, individually, to buy food or go to a pharmacy or hospital. They would be prohibited by law from leaving their homes for any other reason. The lockdown, is enforced by the Spanish police and military. Sánchez said: “We have very difficult weeks of effort and sacrifice ahead. This is a battle we will win, on that there is no argument. What is important is that we pay the lowest possible price for that victory.” For many the price may already be too high.
Emmanuel Macron ordered a curfew in France, with people restricted to their homes. Similar lockdowns have been ordered in countries across Europe. The European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, has called for the EU’s external borders to be sealed, but even as she did so, countries within the EU were closing their own borders. These are extraordinary embargoes, forcing millions to remain indoors, possibly for months, driving cars, vans and trucks off the streets, emptying railway stations and airports, banning all but essential public transport, all in the name of national security.
Meanwhile panic-buying has stripped supermarket shelves of everyday essentials. The poor and the vulnerable and even exhausted NHS shift-workers are left with nothing. Business and industry ground to a halt as millions of workers were told to take unpaid leave, causing economic hardship and distress and triggering massive government intercession and soaring national debt. There have been Draconian interventions worldwide. Police and military checkpoints have appeared on streets in Italy and Spain. Tented infirmaries have been set up in America to house patients from overflowing hospitals. Temporary morgues have been built in “discreet areas away from houses” in London. In many countries, snatch squads of specially trained medics or even police, in masks, goggles, gloves and protective suits, whisk anyone suspected of being infected with Covid19 off to isolation units and special quarantine camps.
For how long will people accept this kind of Orwellian behaviour? Will the UK population’s national sense of emergency tolerate the imposition of a police state, even at a time of crisis like the coronavirus pandemic? Or will there be a growing sense of unease and resentment and the gradual advent of people risking arrest while they forage for food, or feral youngsters seeking to alleviate their boredom, leading inexorably to organised gangs of looters and widespread civic unrest? These are the questions governments must consider as they ponder their next moves. In the UK, our legendary ability to pull together as a nation during a time of national emergency has already been found wanting. Thousands ignored the advice to act responsibly and resorted to panic purchases of everything from pasta to toilet rolls. Thousands more ignored advice on social distancing leading to the enforced lockdown.
The EU’s response to the crisis so far has been haphazard. Maurizio Massari, Italy’s ambassador to the European Union, has criticised their lack of solidarity. He claims that not a single country in Europe responded to Italy’s call for help. China is now the only country assisting the Italians with shipments of face masks and medical equipment! Ambassador Massari says the coronavirus crisis is not just a national crisis, it’s a European crisis and needs to be treated as such. There has been little sign of that so far. In fact, the opposite has been the case, with a furious row erupting between Germany and France when Angela Merkel initially banned the export of face masks.
Meanwhile, the G7 economic nations have agreed to hold their next summit by video conference. The European Parliament has cancelled its committee meetings in Brussels and its ludicrous monthly visits to Strasbourg and has introduced a system of digital voting for its home-based MEPs. There have been outbreaks of the disease confirmed in European Commission staff. Michel Barnier, the EU’s top Brexit negotiator, has tested positive for Covid19. The Commission has now instructed its staff to work from home.
Will the coronavirus epidemic herald the arrival of a new paradigm in the way the EU and indeed the world functions? This must surely be the question echoing down the almost empty corridors of power in international capitals. The constant traffic as millions travel to and from work; the rush to sun and snow for foreign holidays; the endless movement of goods and people across international borders; can all of this be sustained in the wake of the Covid19 pandemic? Has the coronavirus finally brought globalisation to a shuddering halt? Has our inter-connectedness become a bio-security outrage as well as a climate change disaster?
The Covid19 coronavirus has shaken the world to the core. But it has also created the ideal opportunity for a major re-think of the way we live our lives.