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Reopening and Concerns in the Post-COVID-19 Period

Jeremy Youde, Ph.D., joined the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) as dean in July 2019. From 2016 to 2019, Youde was an associate professor in the Department of International Relations in the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs in the College of Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia. Before going to Australia, Youde was a member of the Department of Political Science at UMD from 2008 to 2016. He earned tenure at UMD in 2012 and served as department head for three and a half years. He previously held appointments at Grinnell College and San Diego State University. An internationally recognized expert on global health politics, Youde is the author of five books, and the author of more than 40 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters.

With the gradual normalization of COVID, the importance of openness to the economy, interconnection and communication in the context of globalization has become increasingly prominent. However, at the same time, the reopening in the post-COVID-19 period has also caused many concerns. In response to this question, the Center conducted an exclusive interview with Professor Jeremy Youde to learn about his views on the reopening in the post-COVID-19 context and what role the WHO can play in this period.

Jeremy Youde: Reopening and Concerns in the Post-COVID-19 Period

After more than two years of fairly restrictive rules limiting the ability of people to cross international borders due to COVID-19, there is a high degree of understandable excitement at the prospect of international travel and tourism coming back in a big way. There is also a high degree of anxiousness about what such opening might portend and whether it will exacerbate existing pandemic-related problems.

Global health governance does not mean that all countries must adopt the same health-related policies, but it does imply that there should be some degree of coordination and collaboration. That will likely prove to be one of the biggest challenges as borders reopen.

Under the terms of the International Health Regulations, states are not supposed to impose more restrictive policies than those recommended by the World Health Organization. This mandate runs into a number of challenges, though. First, the World Health Organization has the power to recommend policies, but it cannot require that states adopt particular policies. WHO’s power and authority rests largely on a normative commitment to the underlying values that undergird the global health governance system and our shared recognition that countries must work together in order to stop any global outbreak. In most cases, this normative consensus holds, and states cooperate. In the era of COVID, though, we have seen challenges emerge.

Second, countries may not reopen their borders to all at the same time. The question is whether any disparities regarding whether citizens of certain countries can travel to other countries are based on epidemiological evidence or on arbitrary decisions that are more rooted in foreign policy or prejudice.

Third, and relatedly, these efforts underscore the vast disparities related to access to COVID-19 vaccines. Despite the efforts by COVAX and national governments in low- and middle-income countries, there remain gross inequities in vaccine access–and those inequities will continue to persist for years. The opening of borders will bring even more attention to these inequities, such as vaccinated people from wealthy states in the Global North being able to travel to countries where less than 10 percent of the adult population has had access to even a single vaccine dose.

These sorts of scenarios are exactly what the World Health Organization was designed to address. While it is not a policymaker itself, WHO has the power to bring countries together, to gather and disseminate data and information about best practices, and organize opportunities for collaboration. This is a moment when WHO could assert itself in an effort to reclaim some of the legitimacy and authority that it has lost during the COVID-19 pandemic. To do this, though, WHO will need to be proactive and build strong relationships with leading member-states. It could also provide WHO with a key moment to reinforce to member-states the centrality of vaccine access and distribution if we are to get back to something resembling normal.

This reality also underscores the important relationship between globalization and health. On the one hand, globalization facilitates the ease and speed with which goods and people can cross borders–which can increase our vulnerability to infectious disease outbreaks. On the other hand, globalization builds the connections and information-sharing opportunities that provide us with the tools we need to fight back against disease outbreaks. Neither outcome is pre-ordained, though; which direction we go is ultimately based on political decisions made at the local, national, and international levels. Globalization is thus the cause of and solution to global health problems.

Interviewers: Li Yuhan, Zhang Ran

Translators: Xu Houkun, Wang Xuetong




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