Of all the lessons we’ve learned from this pandemic, the most significant is how unequal its effects have been
If you wanted to run an experiment on Earth to understand human behaviour, the pandemic would be the perfect opportunity. In some people, the virus that causes Covid-19 has no symptoms. In others it leads to deadly disease. The virus pits the healthy against those with underlying health issues, and the young against the old. Infectious diseases can bind us together or drive us apart. Low-income countries know this too well; many face multiple outbreaks of infectious diseases each year. But richer countries such as Britain are still painfully learning that a virus doesn’t just attack the human body: it holds up a mirror to national weaknesses and runs havoc across society and the economy.
Across the world, the pandemic has resulted in a perverse “Hunger Games”, where countries have competed in mortality rate league tables while also trying to save their economies and cope with successive waves of this disease. In February and March, European governments chased down limited PPE stocks, ventilators, oxygen, out-of-stock reagents for their labs, and experimental steroids and drugs. The US was accused of stealing ventilators from Barbados, PPE from Germany and it bought up the rights to remdesivir, limiting the supply available to other countries. At the World Health Assembly in May, governments committed to sharing research products and working collectively to address Covid-19. But when governments were faced with tough decisions about how to share resources, their promises of cooperation broke down.