COVID-19: An International Overview

On December 31st, 2019, the World Health Organization’s China Office reported a case of pneumonia of unknown cause originating in the city of Wuhan in China’s Hubei province. As of Friday, March 20th, 2020, more than 209,000 people have been infected by the coronavirus globally and more than 8,700 have died. Aside from creating a completely new world for many, what are the effects of what has been announced as a global pandemic?

To understand the potential impacts of COVID-19 on the relationship between countries like the United States and Turkey, we can look to a similar occurrence. In late 2002, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) broke out in a similar fashion to COVID-19, infecting over 8,000 people across four continents and killing almost 800 in a matter of months. Though it was contained before it could reach anywhere near the numbers of today’s virus, SARS’ impact on state interaction was undeniable. Because mainland China hosted the majority of SARS cases, the Chinese economy was hit the hardest out of any country. In the long term, the months lost in which SARS spread caused losses of USD $12.3-28.4 billion and an estimated 1% decrease in China’s GDP. Socially, much of what we see in our environment today took place in China in 2002 – schools were closed, events were cancelled, internal turmoil mounted. Globally, reports show that the short-term global cost of SARS due to lessened economic activity was approximately $80 billion, though the global economic damage has not been pinpointed.

With this information in mind, take a case like SARS and blow it up to the circumstances the world is facing concerning COVID-19. Though SARS had a higher mortality rate than COVID-19 (with sars at 9.6% and COVID-19 hovering between 0.25%-3%), COVID-19 has infected more than 25 times the number of people that were affected by SARS, causing 3 times as many deaths in 8 weeks as SARS did in 8 months. 

Using these comparisons creates a bleak future for international relations. Considering the worldwide spread of the coronavirus, very little is safe – from the global economy to the communities that make up the bigger picture. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s March 2020 interim report estimates that the effects of COVID-19 will lower global GDP growth by one-half a percentage point for 2020 (from 2.9 to 2.4 percent). Bloomberg goes even further in estimating a worst-case scenario drop in full-year GDP growth to zero.

Day to day life everywhere around the world is expected to change just as much, and already has. Self-isolation and taking great care for health shows patterns in political systems where potential gaps may have previously been overlooked by the majority. COVID-19 has revealed new levels of distress in the state of the U.S. healthcare system that is causing citizens to rethink their stances, moving topics that were previously on the margins of political debates to the center. The impact of state instability and political change on the international system lies in liberalist international theory, which dictates that external relations of a state that constitute overall global affairs are reliant upon the individual actors within the state. Translated, this means that what goes on within a country is very important in determining how that country interacts with others.

The future of international relations amid current circumstances under COVID-19 is nebulous. There is no doubt that there will be much to repair and address in the coming months, from the fragile state of the global economy to the social impacts of weakened communities. For now, though, we can work to keep ourselves and those around us safe, healthy, and informed.