Coronavirus is teaching us a lesson

Coronavirus is teaching us a lesson

As the new coronavirus, known as COVID-19, continues to spread, it's exposing some uncomfortable truths about our increasingly interconnected and globalized world.

Here are two:

Fragile supply chains: Decades of fine-tuning global manufacturing have given billions of people access to quality consumer goods at affordable prices. That's the upside of globalization. But the same trend has concentrated production of important items in certain countries, creating new vulnerabilities. For example, regions of China and broader Asia that produce most of the world's smartphones have been forced to idle or cut manufacturing because of the outbreak. The decline in Chinese factory activity has been so pronounced, it's actually visible from space. And US officials recently warned of drug shortages due to the shuttering of factories in China that make essential ingredients for some important medicines.


Fragile safety nets: Well before the new virus emerged in China, an annual report by the World Health Organization warned that the chances of a global outbreak were rising and that the world was "not prepared for a fast-moving, virulent respiratory pathogen pandemic." It cited the usual problems – a lack of funding for public health monitoring and prevention, bureaucratic hurdles, and weak medical infrastructure, especially in poor and middle-income countries. But it also warned of "a breakdown in public trust…exacerbated by misinformation that can hinder disease control communicated quickly and widely via social media." In the US, the safety net is further weakened by a lack of mandatory paid sick leave, which some people fear will compel sick people to show up at work, where they can infect colleagues and customers.

It's no big mystery why the world works this way: Money doesn't grow on trees. Taxpayers worry about their wallets, companies worry about the bottom line, and politicians worry about voters or special interests. In normal times, no one has much appetite to fund big investments in public health or other preventive measures. No one wants to build extra factories in far-flung places, "just in case." What's more, reorienting our economic and political systems to be more resilient is a massive and long-term undertaking. As crises recede, it becomes hard to convince people or governments to make sacrifices for the long-run good. In a sense, the efficiency of our 21st century economies in normal times comes at the cost of resiliency in extreme circumstances.

Still, something's got to give. Coronavirus won't be the last global pandemic. And it's part of a bigger trend of looming cross-border challenges like climate change and cyberattacks that will also stress systems designed for simpler times, as severe weather and threats to critical infrastructure grow more frequent. Finding the political will and the money to build stronger, more resilient systems won't be easy, but what will it take to convince a critical mass of voters and leaders that it's essential?

Ken Burns discusses Muhammad Ali's background and how the journey of boxing's greatest champion is just as relevant today—in sport, culture and beyond.

"He is speaking to us with a kind of force and clarity...that to me is just so enduring." - Ken Burns

No country in the Western Hemisphere is more closely associated with disaster and misery than the Caribbean nation of Haiti. Its latest upheaval centers on news that the country's top prosecutor wants Haiti's prime minister to answer questions about the murder of the president in July. Haiti is again locked in a power struggle among competing factions within its ruling elite.

Why is Haiti still so poor and disaster-prone?

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For Michael Chertoff, former US secretary of Homeland Security from 2005 to 2009, the fact that America has not experienced a single attack by foreign terrorists since 9/11 proves that the US was "successful" in its strategy to prevent terrorism. That "was not [an] accident and there was a deterrent effect to be honest — had we been lax, more would have tried." Although he admits the US government wasn't transparent enough about the intelligence it was collecting, Chertoff credits US intelligence agencies with helping to foil the plot to blow up airplanes mid-air from Heathrow to the US in 2006. The US mission in Iraq, or what came after was not clearly thought out, according to Michael Chertoff, who served as the Secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security under George W. Bush. The Iraq war made it difficult to focus on the US mission in Afghanistan and absorbed resources that could have been used more effectively elsewhere, he said.

Watch the full episode: Is America safer since 9/11?

Listen: In a frank interview on the GZERO World podcast, António Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, speaks with Ian Bremmer at the UN ahead of the annual General Assembly week. Guterres discusses COVID, climate, the US-China rift, and the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan, and does not mince words when it comes to the dire state of the world. "We are standing at the edge of an abyss," Guterres warns. COVID is "defeating" the global community and a climate catastrophe is all but assured without drastic action. Amidst this unprecedented peril, there remains a startling lack of trust among nations. And yet, there is still hope.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.


"Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still." — Harry S. Truman

The former US president's warning feels particularly prescient as world leaders prepare to gather at the 76th United National General Assembly in New York City, the first such in-person event in over 18 months. The importance of apt leadership in determining societies' ability to cope — and survive — has been on full display since COVID-19 enveloped the globe, decimating communities and killing some 4.5 million people.

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As the 76th UN General Assembly gets underway, dealing with the pandemic is still the top priority for world leaders. But for John Frank, vice president of UN Global Affairs at Microsoft, COVID is not the only major challenge the world faces today.

One of them — included in the UN Secretary-General's new Common Agenda for strong, inclusive pandemic recovery — is a different way to measure economic growth beyond the traditional productivity-led GDP model by taking more into account the cost of pollution, one of the main causes of climate change.

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For UN Secretary-General António Guterres, the pandemic has made the world even more divided than it was before COVID. That's especially true on climate, in his view, because rich and poor countries simply don't trust each other anymore. If we want COP26 to succeed, Guterres says we must rebuild that trust — or face the consequences of inaction. "If you are on the verge of an abyss, you must be careful about your next step." Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World.

"Pandemic" was the most used word of 2020. "Delta" looks set to inherit this year's title.

Vaccination rates are ticking up slowly. Governments aren't talking to each other enough. Parts of the world are back to normal, while others are still locked down.

Have we actually made any progress since the COVID-19 outbreak?


Unfinished Business: Is the World Really Building Back Better?

Wednesday, September 22nd, 11am ET/ 8am PT

Our speakers:

Special appearance by António Guterres, UN Secretary-General.

Visit gzeromedia.com/globalstage to watch on the day of the event.

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