Eighteen Ways COVID-19 Is Reshaping the World
Explore the far-reaching effects of the global pandemic, from food security and oil markets to the future of democracy, and much more.
Globalization may be bringing us all closer together, but the reality remains that the world is a remarkably diverse place—home to nearly eight billion people and almost two hundred countries.
World101’s second unit—Regions of the World—delves into these unique identities through six thematic lenses: modern history, people and society, politics, economics, geopolitics, and U.S. foreign policy.
As COVID-19 continues its march around the world, these regions are changing, seemingly faster than ever before. Food insecurity is on the rise in sub-Saharan Africa. Extreme poverty is spiking in South Asia and Latin America. And across the globe, authoritarians are working to undermine once-vibrant democracies.
Although we don’t know all the ways COVID-19 will change our lives, here are eighteen ways the pandemic has already reshaped the world:
- Health-Care Challenges: Sub-Saharan African countries are using lessons learned during the Ebola crisis to combat COVID-19; however, many governments face uphill challenges due to under-equipped health-care systems. Ten countries in the region lack a single ventilator, while the Democratic Republic of Congo has just one for every twenty million citizens as of May 2020.
- Food Insecurity: The United Nations warned in April 2020 that COVID-19 could result in famines of “biblical proportions.” This challenge particularly threatened sub-Saharan Africa, where the pandemic jeopardized food supply chains and exacerbated food insecurity.
- Domestic Violence: COVID-19 has driven an increase in gender-based violence, as monthslong lockdowns forced survivors to live in close and constant confinement with their abusers and distanced survivors from critical support networks.
South and Central Asia
- Extreme Poverty: COVID-19 was projected to push nearly seventy-one million people into extreme poverty in 2020, with workers in the informal economy at particularly high risk. In India, the informal sector makes up as much as 81 percent of the country’s economy.
- Empowered Authoritarians: In Central Asia, authoritarian leaders have used COVID-19 as an opportunity to consolidate their power by targeting journalists, activists, and other political opponents under the guise of emergency pandemic procedures.
East Asia and the Pacific
- Propaganda Wars: Journalists, diplomats, and world leaders have accused China of carrying out a deliberate political cover-up of its early handling of the COVID-19 outbreak. China is fighting to reshape that narrative in order to protect its global reputation, international partnerships, and billions of dollars in trade and investment projects.
- Promising Technological Solutions: Not every country has been equally hard-hit by COVID-19. Several countries in East Asia quickly controlled the spread of the novel coronavirus through early and extensive infection testing as well as innovative technological solutions.
- Unprecedented Test for EU: COVID-19 was projected to plunge the European Union (EU) into its deepest recession ever—a challenge so severe that it has threatened to tear the institution apart. But this existential threat has also become an opportunity for greater EU political integration.
- Threatened Harvests: Seasonal work across Europe—an arrangement facilitated by EU policies promoting free movement—was restricted amid coronavirus-related travel restrictions. As a result, fruits and vegetables rotted in fields, and an entire continent’s food supply was under threat.
- Democratic Backsliding: Leaders in Hungary and Poland have used the COVID-19 crisis to seize greater political power and erode already fragile democratic institutions. Experts fear these expanded powers could replace a public health crisis with a political one.
The Middle East and North Africa
- Oil Market Chaos: Throughout the first half of 2020, global oil consumption plummeted as air travel dramatically reduced, factories shuttered, and millions quarantined around the world. The result was an oil market—a vital source of revenue for many Middle Eastern economies—in disarray.
- Tourism Suspended: Pilgrimage sites and tourist attractions bring millions of visitors and billions of dollars into the Middle East each year. However, two shocks have destabilized this industry over the past decade: the 2011 Arab Spring protests and the COVID-19 global pandemic.
- Disjointed U.S. Response: COVID-19 has killed nearly as many Americans as all wartime battles in the country's history. Why is it that the United States—home to just 4 percent of the world’s population—accounted for over 15 percent of all COVID-19 deaths as of July 2021?
- Economic Collapse: In addition to the enormous public health toll, COVID-19 is fueling the worst economic downturn in Latin America’s history. The result could be an additional sixteen million Latin Americans falling into extreme poverty.
- Gangs, Cartels Strengthened: Several Latin American leaders have refused or failed to implement meaningful public health responses to the COVID-19 crisis, furthering public distrust of their political leadership and democratic institutions. In the absence of a strong government response, criminal elements have sought to capitalize on the power vacuum and win public support.
- Inequalities Exacerbated: New York City’s minority, immigrant, undocumented, and poorest residents disproportionately suffered as the city became the global epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Mass Incarceration: Prisons are particularly dangerous during a pandemic given the challenges of socially distancing in many facilities. As of September 2020, prisons accounted for the fifteen largest COVID-19 clusters in the United States, with over 125,000 incarcerated Americans contracting the disease—on par with the total numbers for many European countries.
- Effect on Indigenous Communities: The Navajo Nation—a semiautonomous territory home to nearly two hundred thousand people in the southwestern United States—brought one of the country’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks under control in September 2020 despite generations of underfunding from the federal government.