Unity of purpose?

October 4, 2020

The IMF head emphasises the importance of global unity in this pandemic

Dear All,

 There’s a strange sense of general foreboding here in the UK as coronavirus cases have begun to rise again and there is an expectation that things will only get worse as the weather gets colder. Several towns and areas in the northeast are under lockdown and the existing rules are subject to change at any time…

Already, restrictions on the number of people allowed to meet for social occasions have been tightened up, and it is widely accepted that rules and directives can change from one day to the next. But, the whole situation is very confusing because up to a few weeks ago the government was saying that people ‘who could’ should go back to work, everybody was being encouraged to go to pubs and restaurants and dine out and schools and universities were opened.

This attempt to return to ‘normalcy’ has had its own problems: university students were at one point told that they could not travel out of campus (so not visit home) but were obliged to remain where they were (trapped on a campus beset by its own regulations). Now the Education Secretary is trying to sort out some sort of a plan to safely allow students to travel back to spend Christmas with their families. And, education itself is so limited that there is unrest in many students about what exactly they are getting for their money as fees are the same but the educational experience has been considerably curtailed.

It was the desire to return to some sort of ‘normalcy’ that perhaps motivated the government to get students back to schools and universities but really, in view of the global pandemic, it might have been wiser to create some kind of ‘new normal’ rather than do things in fits and starts. Some people argue that schools needed to reopen so that parents could go back to work, but if the priority was actually public health then surely the better thing to do would have been to provide free universal wi-fi, strengthen technological systems and connectivity and come up with more innovative ways for people to continue to work and study remotely but also stay healthy?

While the government goes on and on about ‘saving the economy’ there is very little talk specifically of the fact that hundreds of thousands of people have been made jobless during the crisis. Why one wonders doesn’t the government devise some sort of scheme or set up national industries to create jobs?

As it is, this pandemic is widening inequalities all over the world. Last week the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned of this in an article published in The Guardian. Kristalina Georgieva, who is managing director of the IMF, warned that financial support had to be stepped up for the most vulnerable countries and failure to do so would result in social and economic upheaval.

Georgieva said that this international effort was crucial in order to stem the damage caused by the situation as it threatens to roll back and cancel out all the anti-poverty efforts of recent decades. The IMF head called for a four pronged approach by governments: making health their priority in order to be able to get through the pandemic, ensuring budgets are maximised by making education a priority and clamping down on corruption, making long term plans and implementing measures to speed up the transition to ‘green’ systems and climate-resilient, low carbon digital economies, and thinking globally i.e. ensuring that rich countries continue to support poorer countries.

Georgieva’s warning comes at a time when united global action is desperately required yet not championed by many countries. The way various governments have reacted to the World Health Organisation’s directives and guidance during this pandemic showed just how divided the world is now and how a ‘league of nations’ and the vision of a united world with countries working together has become a thing of the past. The way US President Donald Trump continues to belittle and undermine the United Nations and uses divisive language routinely shows this; so too does the whole process of Brexit. At a time when the world needs to unite and work together, alliances are falling apart and being fragmented. And here in Britain, as we anticipate a bleak winter with the worst-case scenario of a second wave of Covid-19 cases coinciding with the misery of a no-deal Brexit, we wait and watch. And if there were not enough to worry about with all this happening, rumours now abound of attempts by various ambitious Tories to oust Boris Johnson (Michael Gove’s name always comes up in these reports and rumours). Unity is definitely out of fashion…

Best wishes,

Umber Khairi

Unity of purpose?