Life ‘beyond Covid’ is strangely different from what went before the pandemic.
Most obvious is the reluctance of governments and national leaders to relinquish their newfound powers of decree. What a wonderful time it was, for despots and democratically elected leaders alike! Given a golden opportunity to declare states of emergency and national disasters, most presidents, prime ministers, and potentates flexed their muscles, and quickly migrated from stay-at-home advisories to lockdowns, crackdowns, and curfews. To say nothing of border closures.
With little opposition to measures designed to ‘save lives’, even liberal democracies were soon a quagmire of crisis regulations, some more reasonable than others, but all guaranteed to give the state more control over people’s lives and livelihoods. Politicians and bureaucrats were firmly in control of your movements, your economic activity, and even what products you were permitted to consume.
As the pandemic peaked and passed, gradually the iron-fisted grip relaxed, but there’s a litany of laws, by-laws and ‘special measures’ still on the books. In the worst cases, continued enforcement of these rules is entirely discretionary in the hands of police and security agencies. Power is addictive, and it’s a difficult habit to break.
On the other side of things, many western nations were determined to reduce reliance on China and the east. “We must ensure we are self-sufficient in times of crisis,” came the call, and national agendas came first, resulting in isolationist policies and trade barriers.
Except in Africa, where the need for international cooperation – especially on the economic front – was so painfully laid bare. To speed recovery, the agreement establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area was accelerated into operation, opening borders, removing barriers and stimulating the flow of goods and capital. And it worked wonders.
For it remains true, as one wizened economist put it: “Trade is the only free lunch,” where both parties benefit.