BMJ UK BMJ Americas BMJ China BMJ India

Covid-19 virus offers the chance to reshape our world

Covid-19 virus offers the chance to reshape our world

Health is being prioritised above global economy in fight against covid-19

Countries across the world may learn useful lessons and come together to form “international solidarity” in the common fight to tackle the covid-19 pandemic, experts are predicting. 

Unusually, countries are prioritising public health over the economy and gaining a new respect for the environment and common humanity, say a group of international experts in global and public health, writing in an editorial published online in The BMJ today.

The experts describe the current pandemic as “the biggest threat in living memory to health and wellbeing, social welfare, and the global economy” which all countries are having to grapple with.

Dealing with the situation will be costly, as the authors say the global economy is braced for at least $2.7 trillion in lost output. This has led to some projections that many economies will be crippled and unable to recover quickly.

Countries are responding by taking unprecedented steps, such as making large amounts of money available to fund rescue measures such as tax cuts, extended unemployment benefits, mortgage holidays, and liquidity for small and medium-sized businesses.

In addition, the G20 has committed to take steps to help including injecting more than $5 trillion into the global economy, say the authors, while the World Bank has announced up to $12bn of immediate support for country responses to covid-19.

One perhaps unforeseen consequence of the current situation is that politicians who came to power with plans to reduce government influence, dismantle the nanny state, and privatise government functions were now discussing how to nationalise large strategic sectors, the authors argue.

“The strong state is back but there is no way to predict which political agenda, left or right, or which type of leader this development will support in the end,” they say.

The G20 has stressed that the repercussions of this pandemic can only be resolved through global cooperation.

However, so far, this has not always been evident, say the authors, who claim that some countries have taken too long to learn from Asia – where the virus originated – and failed to implement quickly enough successful measures taken by places such as South Korea, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore to tackle the virus, for example, public health lockdowns.

The editorial raises concerns about the long-term impact on democratic freedom given that in some countries, there are worries about the level of “political repression” contained within national strategies to deal with covid-19, such as Hungary where proposed new legislation will allow the government to indefinitely extend its state of emergency and elsewhere, armies being deployed to ensure compliance with lockdowns.

On the other hand, the experts argue that “international solidarity” and strengthening of multilateral institutions has never seemed more important.

Building on its successful handling of the 2018-19 Ebola outbreak, the World Health Organization (WHO) has improved its performance with highly visible leadership, calls for solidarity between people and nations, launching global initiatives and fundraising.

However, WHO’s mandate is still too weak and its funding gravely inadequate, they warn.

Nevertheless, the covid-19 pandemic, once it has passed, could force countries to unite as a global community to jointly address global health and climate change, they argue.

One lesson from covid-19 is that health is the basis of wealth, that global health is no longer defined by Western nations, and that international solidarity is an essential response rather than isolationism.

They conclude: “We may emerge from this with a healthier respect for the environment and our common humanity.

“All citizens, governments, businesses, and organisations must heed these lessons. Covid-19 is the virus that is turning the world upside down. It will destroy the world as we know it; in the process we may learn to hold it together.”


Notes for editors
Editorial: COVID-19: How a virus is turning the world upside down
Journal: The BMJ

Peer reviewed? No
Evidence type: Opinion
Subject: Covid-19 pandemic

Link to Academy of Medical Sciences press release labelling system:

Link to editorial:

BMJ Expert Media Panel

If you are a journalist needing to speak to an expert, please click here.

Browse our Expert Media Panel


Latest coverage of BMJ in the national and international media



If you are a journalist who would like to receive our press releases, please provide your details.



Email the UK media relations team for more information.