Paradox in the COVID-19 era

The United States, Israel and some European countries are gradually stepping out of the COVID-19 crisis, while many others still remain stuck at the peak of the pandemic. The inequality in access to COVID-19 vaccines globally has shown a paradox in the way nations are dealing with the disease.

A healthcare worker from the El Paso Fire Department administers the Moderna vaccine against COVID-19 at a vaccination centre near the Santa Fe International Bridge, in El Paso, Texas, US May 7, 2021. (Photo: Reuters)
A healthcare worker from the El Paso Fire Department administers the Moderna vaccine against COVID-19 at a vaccination centre near the Santa Fe International Bridge, in El Paso, Texas, US May 7, 2021. (Photo: Reuters)

Once being the “eye” of the COVID-19 storm, the US, with its strong health and economic system, is now been on track to escape from the crisis. Over the weekend, the US media said that many states in the country have begun to ease mask-wearing guidance. Accordingly, those who are fully vaccinated – two weeks after their second dose in a two-dose series – will no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in most places. Some states such as Washington, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky, have applied the new rules mentioned above. Minnesota’s governor signed off on removing the statewide mask mandate from May 15. Together with the alleviation of disease prevention measures, US companies are planning to recruit workers to leapfrog a period of economic boom after the pandemic is brought under control and the economy reopens. Many have even announced new salary and bonus schemes to attract and retain employees.

However, in contrast to the bright picture in the US, the pandemic is still casting a “shadow of death” over many countries. The number of new infections and deaths related to COVID-19 is increasing sharply in India, Brazil and some other nations. The cause of the aforementioned paradox is that rich countries like the US have better and faster access to and coverage of COVID-19 vaccines than others, especially the developing ones. The latest US statistics show that 58.9% of adults in this country have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, while the percentage of population fully immunised is 45%.

In the US, people are even “coaxed” into getting vaccinated by the government. Maryland state recently promised a US$100 financial incentive to state employees who get fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. The governor of Ohio state tweeted over the weekend that the state will be holding five separate US$1 million lotteries for those receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Meanwhile, in New Jersey, the state governor announced a “Shot and a Beer” programme for any New Jersey resident aged 21+ who gets their first COVID-19 vaccine dose in May.

The US’s “rich man’s style” economic recovery and anti-epidemic policy has also led to another remarkable paradox, many people do not want to re-enter the labour market. According to a report by the US Department of Labour, the number of job vacancies in the country is now at a record high of 8.1 million, while there are still nearly 10 million people in official unemployment. The reason for this situation is that the US government’s US$1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package has pushed the labour market into a state of “disconnection” as a large number of American workers are leisurely enjoying unemployment benefits instead of deciding to go to work.

The aforementioned contrast between the situation in the US and that in developing countries is partly attributed to the inequality in COVID-19 vaccine access. According to AFP data, nearly 1.4 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been given to people in at least 210 countries and territories around the world. However, more than 44% of the vaccine doses have been administered in high-income countries (accounting for 16% of the global population). Inequality in access to vaccines is directly related to the uneven economic recovery globally. At the recent sixth edition of the Delphi Economic Forum in Athens (Greece), economic experts stated that in recent months, the global economic outlook has recorded many bright spots, but there remains uncertainty. The speed of economic recovery in each country and the world at large still depends on the speed of COVID-19 immunisation coverage.

In the abovementioned context, the World Health Organisation and international experts have repeatedly called for the enhancement of international cooperation to promote equal access to COVID-19 vaccines for countries around the globe. To ensure the success of the anti-pandemic fight and sustainable world economic recovery in the coming time, governments of all countries must promptly adjust their policies and join hands to share common difficulties. Only in this way can the pandemic be soon expelled and all countries return to the “old normal”.