COVID-19: A Test That Will Lead to Change

Special Envoy to the W.H.O. Director-General on COVID-19, warns that competitive diplomacy won’t help humanity find its way through the crisis

What international diplomacy needs to counter the threat of COVID-19 is a focus on establishing unified responses, according to a special envoy to the W.H.O. director-general on COVID-19 who spoke at a Duke virtual event May 28.

Competition between national leaders won’t empower people to find their way through this situation, Dr. David Nabarro said. But, he added, “some leaders seem to have decided that it is best to try to go it alone.”

The fight against coronavirus depends, for now, on the precautionary actions people take in their own lives. But Dr. Nabarro also stressed the  help people need from governments. He said humanity has an opportunity to emerge stronger from the crisis and better equipped to deal with other existential threats, like inequity and climate change.

Nabarro was speaking to Duke Center for International and Global Studies (DUCIGS) Director Giovanni Zanalda, Professor of Global Environmental Health William Pan, and Rethinking Diplomacy Fellow Christian Lara during a conversation on balancing national unity and global solidarity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here are excerpts from Nabarro’s remarks:

 

ON THE LONGEVITY OF CORONAVIRUS

“What we’ve learned about coronaviruses is they’re stable, they’re highly dangerous, they’re easy to underestimate, they’re stealthy and for this particular virus I want to stress—it’s here to stay. This new coronavirus is not going away anytime soon.”

“Everybody in the world is having to make sense of what this new virus means—in their own lives, in their families, in their workplaces, their universities and government. We’re all having to do it at the same time and we’re having to do it very quickly. It’s not easy.”

 

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF INDIVIDUAL ACTION DURING COVID-19

“People are front and center of the response. They need to be able to understand that it’s their actions which will stop the spread of the virus.”

“People need to be supported through the actions of local authorities, businesses, civil society organizations, scientists, multilateral organizations and more.”

 

ON THE IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON LOW INCOME COMMUNITIES

“COVID hits poor communities the worst: In many instances this is because they are unable to take the precautions necessary for physical distancing. They may decide that they have to go to work even if they’re feeling unwell because they cannot afford to lose their jobs. Many of the reports of fatalities show that there is a much higher mortality among poorer people and people who have less good access to health services.”

 

ON BALANCING THE ECONOMY AND PUBLIC HEALTH DURING COVID-19

“In the newspapers you’re seeing some false choices being put around. There are some leaders who say we’re either going to look after public health or we’re going to restart the economy. The economy cannot restart with any strength if the vital steps for public health are not in place and functioning.”

 

ON THE CREATION OF A COVID-19 VACCINE

“There are some suggestions that there will be an effective and safe vaccine available for everybody by the end of 2020.’ That will require an extraordinary miracle. We need all 7.8 billion people in the world to be able to have access to the vaccine once it becomes available. It’s no good if it’s just a vaccine for those who are better off.”

“Let’s be honest with people. It’s likely to be 18 months before there is a safe and effective vaccine under manufacture. It’s likely to be a lot longer before everybody in the world would be immunized. In the meantime let’s all learn to live with COVID as a constant threat.”

 

ON THE TRAITS OF GOOD LEADERS DURING THE PANDEMIC

“They’re consistent on the strategic principles that underpin their actions. They’re clear on how those strategic principles will be applied in different settings, showing what are the trigger points for changing the strategy to be adopted. And they’re transparent in sharing with people why decisions have been made.”

 

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF STRONG GLOBAL LEADERSHIP

“The people of the world deserve unified global leadership that takes the best of the science that’s being found from all over the world and analyzes it, that’s working in solidarity in the interest of the people, and that’s using evidence to offer solutions that will obviously evolve as we learn more about the virus.”

 

ON THE POWER OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT

“COVID is giving the world an opportunity to demonstrate the power and capacity of the human spirit. We as humans are amazing when we work together and combine our forces.”

 

ON DIPLOMACY AND LEADERDSHIP DURING THE PANDEMIC

“Diplomacy is not simply working for your own position and trying to get the upper hand. Diplomacy in the multilateral setting is working for all people everywhere. The first three words of the United Nations charter are ‘We the people.’

“Leaders are recognizing that competition among leaders, within nations and between nations, does not empower people to make sense of this present situation and to emerge into COVID-ready societies. This is not returning to how things were before. Life will be different. As we in our human family learn to get ahead of the virus, we will also be stronger in dealing with other existential threats – including inequity, destruction of nature and loss of biodiversity, or climate change. COVID is a test for us all. It’s a test that we can pass and in passing it we will be more effective in changing to sustainable futures, together.”

 

MEET THE EXPERT

Dr. David Nabarro is a Special Envoy to the WHO Director-General on COVID-19. Dr. Nabarro is also Co-Director of the Imperial College Institute of Global Health Innovation at the Imperial College London, and Strategic Director of Skills, Systems & Synergies for Sustainable Development (4SD). In this role, Dr. Nabarro provides strategic advice and high-level political advocacy and engagement in different parts of the world to help WHO coordinate the global response to the pandemic.

The webinar was part of the Rethinking Diplomacy Program "Science-Diplomacy Seminar Series” organized by the Duke Center for International and Global Studies (DUCIGS) with the support of the Josiah Charles Trent Memorial Foundation Endowment Fund.