Socio-cultural underpinnings of COVID policies

Different social values and cultures determined different COVID policies in the West and the East. [Photo: Getty Images]
The number of Covid-19 cases in Hong Kong has been rocketing upwards since the beginning of February this year. By the end of the month, it had increased by 30,000 new patients, with more than 80 deaths every day. It seems the curve still has not reached its peak to date. This international metropolis with almost the highest population density globally faces the same problem as Western countries when dealing with the pandemic. The overwhelmed healthcare system looks to be close to collapse. The society has been in the never-ending debate on the direction of the Covid-19 strategy. They want to choose the better one in two broadly classified policies employed in tackling the pandemic, “dynamic zero Covid-19” and “living with Covid-19”.

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GefÀhrliche Ignoranz: Warum wir nicht von asiatischen LÀndern lernen

Von den Erfolgen asiatischer LĂ€nder im Umgang mit der Pandemie nicht lernen zu wollen, kann nur als Ausdruck einer fortgesetzten kolonialen Arroganz verstanden werden.[Foto: Getty Images]
Anmerkung: Die deutsche Version dieses Artikels erschien zuerst auf Der Tagesspiegel.

Da sich Deutschland inmitten eines weiteren Lockdowns befindet, wĂ€hrend viele asiatische LĂ€nder beginnen, sich zu öffnen, stellen Gerhards und ZĂŒrn die Frage, warum der Westen es kontinuierlich versĂ€umt hat, von den Erfolgen der asiatischen LĂ€nder im Umgang mit der aktuellen Pandemie zu lernen. Unter Verweis auf die Art und Weise, wie der Westen die asiatischen Erfolge im Umgang mit der Pandemie ignoriert hat, argumentieren die Autoren, dass diese Ignoranz tief in einer aus der Kolonialzeit stammenden Arroganz verwurzelt ist; welche sich weigert, von anderen zu lernen, die sie als unfĂ€hig ansieht, Alternativen zu ihren eigenen Wegen anzubieten. Lesen Sie in diesem englischsprachigen Artikel, wie eine solche Arroganz ĂŒberwunden werden kann.

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Dangerous Ignorance: Why we learn so little about fighting the pandemic from Asian countries

Not wanting to learn from Asian countries’ successes in handling the pandemic can only be understood as an expression of a perpetuated colonial arrogance [Photo: Getty Images]
Note: The German version of this article was first published on Der Tagesspiegel.

The track record of fighting pandemics in liberal democracies of Europe  does not compare very favorably with that of Asian countries. This applies not only to the comparison with authoritarian China and the semi-authoritarian countries Thailand and Singapore, but also to the comparison with the democratic countries of Taiwan and South Korea. Since the infection figures are not easily comparable due to differences in testing intensity, country differences manifest themselves most evidently in the number of people who have died. For example, in South Korea which has a population of 52 million fewer than 1,500 have died till date whilst in Germany which has a population of 83 million more than 60,000 deaths have occurred. The differences between other European and Asian countries (e.g., between Great Britain and Taiwan) are even more pronounced. The aforementioned Asian societies are also impressively successful in overcoming the economic and social consequences of the crisis. Continue reading “Dangerous Ignorance: Why we learn so little about fighting the pandemic from Asian countries”

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The Theory of the Many COVID-Worlds

What we (think we) understand about the life-cycle of the pandemic is entangled with our ‘tools of observation’ and their function, and capacity. [Photo: Getty Images]
In 1957, Hugh Everett suggested the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum theory: each time the wave function collapses another universe is created. Given we have one COVID pandemic, and, yet, a multitude of global responses, are global populations living in respective COVID-worlds?

There’s a theory within quantum mechanics called the Many Worlds Interpretation (MWI). The many worlds interpretation is intended to resolve one of the meta-paradoxes of quantum: why do the results of quantum experiments not match our everyday experience of the world? Or, more precisely: why is the conduct of quantum experiments unlike the conduct of ‘regular,’ macro-level experiments? Continue reading “The Theory of the Many COVID-Worlds”

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INGOs Under Lockdown: (Dis)advantages of Remote Advocacy for Feminists and Conservatives


In early March, everything was ready for the 64th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW64), an annual UN gathering dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. The session’s theme was the review of the implementation of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. It was supposed to be a special moment for feminists. The Beijing Declaration is their brainchild. It was a result of their unprecedented advocacy, and it served as a blueprint for women’s empowerment ever since.

The main thing feminists feared ahead of the CSW64 was the conservative pushback. In the past decade, a strong conservative block has emerged in the UN. Often referred to as the “Unholy Alliance,” the block includes many post-Soviet, Catholic, and Islamic states, the US, and the Vatican, along with many conservative INGOs. Its members are making UN negotiations on women’s rights increasingly more difficult as they seek, among other things, to eliminate such concepts as “sexual and reproductive health and rights” from UN documents.

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New Viruses, Old Foundations. COVID-19, Global Health, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

A long history: philanthropic foundations & health organizations [Photo: Getty Images/juanmonino]
On May 19 this year, U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to permanently cancel U.S. payments to the World Health Organization (WHO). One month earlier, Trump had already announced that the U.S. would not honour its biannual 500 million USD commitment. The next day, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation stated that they would donate an additional 150 million to the WHO, on top of a previous 100 million USD. The Gates’ largesse precedes COVID19. Since 2000, their foundation has granted almost four billion USD to the WHO to support a gigantic program against polio, and additional hundreds of millions for other programs on malaria, HIV, and maternal health, and the escalated use of technology in health. The Gates Foundation is a crucial contributor to the WHO, second only to the U.S.

Despite its pre-existing involvement with the WHO, the Gates Foundation’s statement surprised many. The public wondered how it could be possible for a private actor to replace the contribution of a state to an international organization. In reality, there is nothing to be surprised about. For at least a century, philanthropic foundations have funded international organizations involved in health issues, including fighting pandemics, or even conducted what we call today global health policy. Actually, the continuities are so fundamental that the foundations from the early twentieth and the early twenty-first century seem to choose to globally fund health policies for similar reasons. Because the arguments are similar, and the means they used comparable, the criticisms raised against philanthropic foundations generally and their health policies also remain remarkably stable. The similarities between the past and the present suggest that the criticisms are here to stay. Indeed, certain observers would venture that older and newer philanthropic foundations are built upon the same questionable bases: unequal income distribution and lack of transparency and accountability.

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Neue Viren, alte Stiftungen. COVID-19, globale Gesundheit, und die Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Stiftungen und Gesundheitsorganisationen verbindet eine lange Geschichte [Getty Images/juanmonino]
Nachdem US-PrĂ€sident Donald Trump im April ankĂŒndigte, den zweijĂ€hrlich fĂ€lligen WHO-Beitrag in Höhe von 500 Mio. US$ nicht ĂŒberweisen zu wollen und am 19. Mai gar damit drohte, die Zahlungen ganz einzustellen, verlautbarte die Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation nur einen Tag spĂ€ter, dass sie den schon gespendeten 100 Mio. US$ weitere 150 Mio. hinzufĂŒgen wĂŒrde. Seit dem Jahr 2000 spendete die Stiftung fast 4 Milliarden US$ an die Weltgesundheitsorganisation fĂŒr Programme gegen Polio, zusĂ€tzlich zu mehreren hundert Millionen fĂŒr andere Programme gegen Malaria, MĂŒttergesundheit oder HIV.

Ungeachtet des vorangegangenen Engagements der Stiftung sorgte die Aussage fĂŒr Überraschung. Wie ist es möglich, dass ein privater Akteur die BeitrĂ€ge eines Staates an eine internationale Organisation ĂŒbernimmt? TatsĂ€chlich ĂŒberrascht daran nichts, denn philanthropische Stiftungen fördern die gesundheitspolitischen AktivitĂ€ten internationaler Organisationen seit mindestens einem Jahrhundert. So auch die Rockefeller-Stiftung, die in der Zwischenkriegszeit die Gesundheitsorganisation des Völkerbundes finanzierte. Warum geben einige der grĂ¶ĂŸten Organisationen ihr Geld fĂŒr Gesundheit aus? Ist das Retten von Leben schlicht moralisch gut — oder steckt mehr dahinter?

Lesen Sie mehr ĂŒber das gesundheitspolitische Engagement philanthropischer Stiftungen im vollstĂ€ndigen englischsprachigen Artikel von Álvaro Morcillo Laiz hier.

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When norms collide: The COVID-19 pandemic and difficult choices on the hierarchy of norms and values

Norm collisions due to COVID-19 inevitably lead to societal conflicts [Image: Uriel Soberanes/Unsplash]

Note: A shorter version of this post was published earlier on Duck of Minerva.

Politics, as famously defined by David Easton, is the “authoritative allocation of values”, such as welfare, security, and liberty. Politicians thus have to make decisions on hierarchies between these values – and they have to weigh values against each other in cases in which they collide. It is still too early for an in-depth analysis of the numerous norm collisions in the responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. And yet, we can already see how the previously found balance between the three aforementioned values, and the norms revolving around them, is destabilised.

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Das paradoxe Mandat der Weltgesundheitsorganisation

Die WHO: in Krisen gehört, in Normalzeiten ignoriert [Foto: Markus Spiske/Unsplash]

Die WHO gibt derzeit in vielen LĂ€ndern den Ton an fĂŒr die Strategie zur EindĂ€mmung der Covid-19- Pandemie. Ihre AufklĂ€rungskampagnen und Empfehlungen zum Umgang mit Covid-19 sind, wenngleich nicht unumstritten, doch weithin sichtbar und bestĂ€tigen eine ihrer Kernrollen: die der epidemiologischen Fachinstanz und Krisenberaterin, gerade in ressourcenschwĂ€cheren LĂ€ndern.

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The WHO’s Paradoxical Mandate

The WHO: Heeded during crises, ignored otherwise [Image: Markus Spiske/Unsplash]
In many countries around the world, the WHO is currently setting the agenda for a strategy to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. Its campaigns and recommendations on how to deal with Covid-19 are, though not entirely uncontroversial, widely distributed, while reaffirming one of its central roles: that of the epidemiological expert and crisis advisor, especially for poor countries.

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