The global consequences of the Coronavirus crisis

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen show how the virus has affected the countries of the world – from Mexico to Mongolia.

Mongolia

There is no spread of infection and under 150 cases of COVID-19 in Mongolia, so the country has arguably handled the pandemic better than any other country in the world.

Mongolia shares 4,630 kilometres of border with China, and yet the country has under 150 reported cases of COVID-19 and no deaths – and no one has been infected within the country’s borders. It is thus fair to say that Mongolia has handled the pandemic better than any other country.

... "foreign things", particularly from China, and all kinds of maladies are often equated

This can be attributed to an early and strict lockdown, which – for a democratic country – an unprecedented majority of the population supported. The overwhelming support, in spite of widespread corruption, is due to the fact that many citizens still recognize the former socialist government’s authority and are somewhat skeptical of the country’s health system.   

Another important factor is that the Mongolians have been extremely cautious around elderly family members and that they – perhaps – in the early phases of COVID-19 did not trust official information about the country’s low infection rates.

There is also a strong wariness about diseases and “all things foreign”. Indeed, “foreign things”, particularly from China, and all kinds of maladies are often equated, and the decision to close the border between Mongolia and China was met with approval.

It was, in fact, a foreigner, a Frenchman, who initially caused an outcry, because he travelled around the country with the infection without complying with the directions to self-isolate for two weeks upon arrival. That he was able to travel the country without infecting a single person led to stories that the Mongolians are particularly resistant to infections because they live in a highland climate, eat healthy meat, drink good vodka and are protected by their ancestors and “the blue sky”. Similar stories, also from high-ranking politicians, about the Mongolians’ resistance to HIV could be heard around the turn of the millennium.

Researcher

Lars Højer, associate professor
Comparative Culture Studies

Mexico

Many Mexicans cannot afford to stay at home. And since many of them neither trust the government nor the health system, a large proportion of the population risk infection.

Mexico is a country with 126 million citizens, half of whom work in the informal sector and earn their living from day to day as street traders, day labourers, and workers without contract. Mexico thus has difficulties meeting the demands of the Coronacrisis and cannot shut down business and industry or expect the Mexicans to accept social distancing.

... many think that the epidemic is just a media stunt

Many Mexicans simply cannot afford to stay at home from work or stay indoors. The government has therefore waited a long time before imposing precautionary measures, and it has only passed financial relief packages to a limited extent.

Furthermore, the Mexicans’ trust in the government is generally very low, and many think that the epidemic is just a media stunt, and the opposition is keen on sowing distrust of the left-wing president.

The limited access to the health system also means that many people rely on different kinds of alternative medicine that do not necessarily recognize scientific explanations and regulations.

COVID-19 arrived late in Mexico, and the country is still only in the early stages of the epidemic with under 1,000 registered deaths. But Mexican society gives the virus almost optimal conditions for spreading within the population.

Researcher
Magnus Pharao Hansen, postdoc
American Indian Studies

Japan

In Japan, there were very few infected in the early stages of the epidemic. Suspiciously few according to critics, who suggest that the authorities did not want stories about high infection rates to circulate before the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

In the beginning of the COVID-19 epidemic, Japan was known both as one of the countries, which was visited by a highly infected cruise ship, and as an East Asian country with sensationally few infected.

In fact, there were so few infected that everybody who tested positive was hospitalized. This strategy, however, did not last.

... the Japanese are increasingly critical of the government’s crisis management

The virus began to spread more and more uncontrollably, and the authorities decided that infected with “light symptoms” should not be hospitalized to ensure that hospitals could accommodate the seriously ill patients. Infected with light symptoms should self-isolate at home or be put up in facilities (it was suggested the Olympic City could be used as accommodation) with health staff.

The authorities were slow to establish such facilities. Moreover, there were examples of people dying at home while in quarantine, so the Japanese are increasingly critical of the government’s crisis management, not least now when the difficult reopening has begun.

Many point to the fact that there has been plenty of time to impose precautionary measures, because the virus has spread relatively slowly, and they do not accept explanations such as shortage of staff. In addition, the Olympic Games have been cancelled, and because the cancellation was announced rather late, critics have suggested that the Olympic Games were the cause of the low infection rate in the beginning.

Did the authorities conceal infections because of the Olympic Games?

Trust has been wearing thin in Japan, both during the lock-down and the reopening.

Researcher
Marie Højlund Roesgaard, associate professor
Japanese Studies

Russia

In the beginning, the Russian media blamed the Corona panic on the liberal and “weak” West, which had failed to handle the spread of the virus.

In Russia, the initial reaction was the well-known opposition between “us” and “them”; the problem comes from abroad, but “we” can handle it, whereas the helpless, liberal West has panicked. And the virus clearly reveals how illusory the idea of European solidarity is.

As the pandemic spread, however, Russia shifted strategy and imposed a severe lock-down. All over the country, people have been hoarding buckwheat, which is a Russian staple.   

Companies have been trying to avoid firing employees and instead offer them leave without pay and/or a sizable pay cut. Several industries have shown entrepreneurial spirit and redefined and marketed their products as “anti-viral”, such as ”disinfecting” car wash.

All over the country, people have been hoarding buckwheat, which is a Russian staple

The communists held their head high on 22 April when they gathered at Lenin’s grave to celebrate his 150th birthday without social distancing or protective gear.

As in many other countries, the Russians are worried that the Corona measures will restrict their rights, even though many of them are opposed to the idea of “(liberal) democracy”.

Researcher
Vera Skvirskaja, external lecturer
Comparative Culture Studies

Greenland and the Faroe Islands

The Coronacrisis has strengthened the Danish Realm. But both Greenland and the Faroe Islands find themselves in the global spotlight due to American interest, and particularly Greenland is considering its options outside the Realm.

As autonomous parts of the Danish Realm, the Faroe Islands and Greenland have decided their own policy during the Coronacrisis. They opted for a quick containment and mitigation strategy, which meant that the Greenlandic capital of Nuuk was shut down quickly. Until now, both Greenland and the Faroe Islands have had hardly any Corona-related deaths. 

During the Coronacrisis, President Trump offered Greenland 12 million dollars in financial aid, which Greenland accepted

The Faroe Islands have pursued an intense test strategy, and Greenland have established a laboratory via a Faroese company, so they do not need to send tests all the way to Denmark.

As for a gradual reopening, both the Greenlandic and Faroese governments follow a cautious strategy similar to the one Danish health authorities and the Danish government have laid down. The Greenlandic government takes stock of the situation in Denmark, as Greenland may have to send critically ill patients to Denmark if the crisis deepens.

In a way, the crisis has strengthened the Danish Realm, which makes for a safety net of knowledge, collaboration, obligations, and infrastructure.

The crisis comes at a time when particularly Greenland is testing the possibility of becoming an independent state and when the Arctic is the centre of increasing international attention in terms of security policy.

During the Coronacrisis, President Trump offered Greenland 12 million dollars in financial aid, which Greenland accepted. On the Faroese Islands, they have, with some surprise, received an American offer of help in the fight against Corona.

Researchers
Kirsten Thisted, associate professor
Minority Studies

Frank Sejersen, associate professor
Greenlandic and Arctic Studies

The Arab world

Pop singers in the Arab world use their fame to encourage their followers to wash their hands and to practice social distancing by making Corona versions of old pop hits.

For a number of reasons, the Arab states did not know how to deal with this new unwanted “guest”.

In the Arab countries, pop singers have a long tradition for contributing to debates about current affairs

The discussions went through several phases: from conspiracy theories about foreign virus manufacturers, to notions of Arab people as so strong and superior that they were immune to the virus; and to the current phase, when it is no longer possible to ignore the pandemic, and action is required.

With the COVID-19 epidemic, the 400 million people who live in the 18 Arab countries will have to interact with each other in a very different way than they are used to. This is particularly difficult in a culture where people greet each other with a mixture of kisses, hugs and handshakes. 

In the Arab countries, pop singers have a long tradition for contributing to debates about current affairs. Especially in times of crisis, they have used their voices to inform and mobilise people, e.g. during war or fights for independence.

Today, pop singers use pop hits to warn the public of the dangers of the Coronavirus and take it upon themselves to educate people about hand wash and social distancing and of the need to stay home while telling them to stay positive.

Researcher
Ehab Galal, associate professor
Middle East Studies

China and the West

The pandemic seems to have widened the economic, political and social gulf between China and the West.

In recent weeks, I have received calls from Chinese friends and acquaintances from the village in northern China, where I have conducted my fieldwork for many years.

The pandemic thus seems to have accelerated the widening of the economic, political and social gulf between China and the West

Having been through a month-long lockdown themselves, they were relieved that the worst part of the crisis seemed to be over, but they were also worried that the European countries did not seem to have the pandemic under control. So they called me to hear whether I wanted them to buy and send me protective gear and medicine.

In China, the pandemic serves as a reason for tightening control with information flows, increasing surveillance of citizens, and marginalizing foreigners as carriers of disease, but western media and politicians have also contributed to the mutual suspicion by depicting the Communist Party’s suppressions and Chinese food hygiene as the causes of the rising death toll. The pandemic thus seems to have accelerated the widening of the economic, political and social gulf between China and the West.

The unexpected calls from China was thus both disturbing and reassuring; disturbing because they confirmed that the Chinese news organisations praise the Communist Party’s heavy-handed crisis management and emphasize how useless other countries’ crisis management has been; reassuring because, despite political spin and mutual mudslinging, it is still possible to call from China and ask whether we need protective gear in Copenhagen.

Researcher
Mikkel Bunkenborg, associate professor
Chinese Studies

China and the controversial wet markets

It is difficult for the Chinese regime to shut down the notorious food markets because they are a multi-billion industry and because the Chinese like the freshly slaughtered meat.

The COVID-19 crisis ( 新冠肺炎症 in Chinese = ”new Corona lung inflammation”) has turned the spotlight on China’s wet markets that supply a large part of Chinese consumers with fresh meat. In many markets, animals are slaughtered on the spot.

Even though scientists have yet to reach a verdict, it seems that COVID-19 might have had its genesis at a wet market in Wuhan, where traditionally “wild” animals are also slaughtered, although often illegally, and most of the animals have, in fact, been farmed.

The unhygienic and unregulated markets make the transfer of virus from animals to humans possible.

It is, however, difficult to shut down the markets, because the consumers prefer freshly slaughtered meat, and because the markets are a multi-billion industry that rely on industrial farming of “wild” animals. This type of industry has helped many Chinese escape a life in poverty.

The unhygienic and unregulated markets make the transfer of virus from animals to humans possible

China has subsequently received a great deal of international criticism for failing to deal with the problem with sufficient speed or efficiency. Part of the criticism has focused on the wet markets, but what is probably even worse for the Chinese leadership is that the criticism of Chinese disinformation has become increasingly vociferous after China’s initial “victory” in the first phase of COVID-19.

This criticism has become part of the escalating conflict between the two superpowers China and USA, in which accusations about the causes of and the (mis)management of the crisis go back and forth. The mutual distrust may undermine the recovery of the crisis-stricken economy.

Researcher
Jørgen Delman, professor
Chinese Studies

Nepal

The Coronacrisis will be a tough test for the Nepalese government, which is the first stable government after years of civil war and a large earthquake in 2015.

We have seen the dramatic footage from India of huge crowds of people forced to walk back to their rural regions because they could not survive in the city without a daily income. But how is the situation in Nepal with its “mere” 30 million citizens?

But the four million Nepalese who work abroad have suffered the worst hardships as many of them have lost their jobs and cannot return home nor get local help

The country has had two advantages: First, it was shielded from the infection when Chinese workers and tourists went back home as early as January and the Tibetan border closed. Second, a large proportion of the population still live in small villages and do not depend on mass transportation. However, just as in China, the urban migrant workers, who did not return home when the quarantine was imposed in late March, have been hit hard.

But the four million Nepalese who work abroad have suffered the worst hardships as many of them have lost their jobs and cannot return home nor get local help

Can Nepal’s first stable government after 10 years of civil war, a drawn-out transition to democracy and a massive earthquake killing 9,000 people in 2015 survive this crisis? And how will Nepal’s new effort to attract international tourists, which was launched in the beginning of the year with much bravado, fare after this dramatic turn of events that has downplayed the expectations for economic growth from 6,7 to 2,3 per cent in the coming year?

Researcher
Dan Hirslund, associate professor
Modern India and Southeast Asia Studies

India

The world’s largest lockdown of 1.3 billion Indians has revealed big class divisions within Indian society, and the densely populated cities, where many of the poorest Indians live, are infection hotbeds.

India is experiencing the world’s largest lockdown. A population of 1.34 billion people have been asked to stay indoors, and all activities have been closed down. This also applies to access to essential goods and services.

The lockdown has exposed a vast gulf between the poorest Indians’ lives and the lives of the affluent Indian middle classes

The lockdown has revealed a huge class division in Indian society, between those who could stay home and those who had nowhere to go. The lockdown has probably caused the greatest population movement since the partition of India (into India and Pakistan) in 1947. Thousands of workers have walked hundreds of kilometres to their villages.

The lockdown has exposed a vast gulf between the poorest Indians’ lives and the lives of the affluent Indian middle classes. The densely populated urban areas, where several generations live together, risk becoming infection hotbeds.

The rural-urban divide has also stressed existing political divisions. The middle class have generally accepted the political decisions, because their lives have not changed significantly, whereas the poor, who have lost their jobs and their income, have been more quiet – even though there have been riots because of the lack of food.

Researcher
Ravinder Kaur, associate professor
Modern India and Southeast Asia Studies