Covid 19 is a truly global challenge. Its spread has immediate implications for almost every aspect of society and presents policymakers with urgent choices. The virus does not respect borders and so can only be truly defeated when it is defeated everywhere. Failure to suppress the virus in just one country poses an immediate threat to the security of all. Accordingly, an effective response can only come through greater international co-ordination and communication, rather than attempts to retreat into national isolation.
The Helsinki Policy Forum is of course unable to convene face-to-face meetings at the present time. However, to remain an effective channel of dialogue that responds to pressing issues, we have sought to use video-conferencing technology to convene a virtual meetings of the Forum. The first of these took place on the 24th of March.
The meeting brought together government officials and current and former parliamentarians from a number of countries for an initial discussion on the response to Covid 19 thus far. Participants were present from Britain, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Turkey and the UAE, ensuring a wide range of perspectives were heard.
Significant commonalities emerged, not least the need for more effective communication with the public to clearly outline the health advice they need to follow. These can’t be disseminated only through traditional forms of media but need to be online and digital. Individual countries and leaders have taken important actions but have sometimes appeared to be behind the pace of the crisis. In particular there has been a distinct lack of international co-ordination which contrasts unfavourably to previous global challenges such as the 2008 financial crash. However, there is still time for leaders to address this deficit and begin to improve co-ordination. This is an urgent necessity, given the crisis will likely peak at different times in different countries, placing a premium on the ability of international medical resources to change focus at short-notice.
The Gulf-MENA region has a unique vulnerability to Covid 19 – the high rate of conflict and large populations of refugees. If the virus takes hold in fragile states or large refugee camps, it could spread rapidly and inflict a terrible human cost. The risk is clear and so policymakers need to take action now – speaking with all relevant actors to ensure preparations are in place and exploring the possibility of pausing conflicts to allow an effective medical response.
We hope this will be the first in a series of regular virtual meetings contributing to efforts to strengthen cooperation between Europe and the Gulf-MENA in combating the shared threat from Covid-19. We also aim to take other aspects of the Forum’s work online in the coming weeks and months.