The world is still in the early phase of the vast Covid-19 crisis. Deaths and infections continue to mount (JHU, 2020; Worldometer, 2020). Economies are in a deep and growing crisis. Inequalities within and among countries are rising, as the poorest suffer a disproportionate share of the infections and deaths, and struggle more to make ends meet. Poverty and hunger are soaring. And global tensions are rising. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has rightly called this crisis the worst since World War II. The economic ramifications could rival those of the Great Depression in the 1930s (IMF, 2020a).
The implications of the pandemic encompass public health, economics, social stability, politics, and geopolitics. The crisis is unprecedented in severity at least since the influenza epidemic at the end of World War I, and still very uncertain in its trajectory. The world will change markedly. However, if we take the right approach to crisis management, we may learn important positive lessons for the future – and if not, we may fall into a downward spiral of crisis. The Sustainable Development Report 2020 (SDR2020) presents some early thoughts on the Covid-19 crisis and the future of sustainable development.
This opening section is divided into two parts:
In the first part, we review early responses and identify short-term priorities for action by governments and their partners around the world, including the international community. We also describe how the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can help chart mediumterm and longer-term responses to recover from the health, economic, social, and environmental impacts of the pandemic. We believe that success will require deep changes to how countries and the international community operate, which we try to outline.
In the second part, we review how governments have responded to the immediate health crisis and describe emerging lessons for public health authorities, governments at large, and the public. The crisis has shown profound weaknesses in our public health systems, including in many of the richest countries that were deemed to be well prepared for such a pandemic. Meanwhile, some countries, particularly in the AsiaPacific region, have (so far) been successful in containing Covid-19 and minimizing the damage to their societies. We present a novel approach and a pilot index to measure the effectiveness of the OECD countries’ early responses to Covid-19 which integrates health and economic considerations.
Poor performance on this index does not necessarily mean that countries have not responded appropriately to the Covid-19 outbreak under the circumstances they were confronted with. In countries where personal protective equipment (PPE) (e.g. masks) and test kits were lacking and where capacities in intensive care units were more limited, a strict and prolonged lockdown was most probably required for containing the spread of the virus and reducing death rates. Yet, we also underline how some countries that were better prepared (e.g. South Korea) managed to deal with the disease outbreak more efficiently so far by testing, tracing, and isolating rapidly confirmed Covid-19 cases and through the immediate use of PPE among most of the population, which has greatly help in mitigating the negative economic impacts. Besides government actions, other factors can explain lower mortality rates from Covid-19 such as geography, demography, and other contextual factors including recent experiences with viruses’ outbreaks.