The Politics Behind the Coronavirus

With 319 confirmed cases in the UK at the time of writing, it is easy to forget that this is only 0.0005% of the population of the United Kingdom, but with the domination of headlines, depleting stocks and self-isolation on the rise comes a new set of challenges for the still relatively fledgling UK government.

This is a pivotal time for the government to decide it’s course of action, up until now the response has been relatively measured compared to other European countries, with the NHS suggesting the washing of hands for forty seconds and not touching our faces. All while France bans gatherings of over 1,000 people and Ireland introduces a €3 billion aid package to combat the virus, despite only having 24 confirmed cases. But with panic rising here in the UK, should the government do more? And how will it affect the politics surrounding it?

The government’s chief medical advisor, Prof Chris Whitty, has said in a recent press conference “We are now very close to the time, probably within the next 10 to 14 days, when the modelling would imply we should move to a situation where everybody with even minor respiratory tract infections or a fever should be self-isolating for a period of seven days”. This will have major repercussions across the country and likely lead to the isolation of those unnecessarily. Economically, this will have major impacts, already we can see stocks across the world plummeting, this will only add fuel to the fire and could put a halt to basic services such as bin collection. Depending on the scale of economic impact and how much the government does to cushion the economic impact on everyday people we could see a disastrous performance for the conservatives at the upcoming local election. At current the May local elections are set to go ahead as planned, but with Prof Whitty admitting that the virus is likely to spread  “really quite fast”, it is unlikely that the turnout for the May local elections will be on par with the usual levels of turnout, raising the question of their democratic legitimacy.

While some worried of the financial implications of self-isolation, by the government announcement of statutory sick pay from day one from those self-isolating, this does not extend to those on zero hours contracts, all 883,000 people. They have been advised to claim universal credit, which takes a minimum of one calendar month since the date an application is submitted. For people living pay check to pay check this could have disastrous repercussions for them as they self-isolate without the funds to remain above the breadline, especially in light of the recent panic buying which has seen prices of basic house hold items such as toilet paper, skyrocket.

The coronavirus will have major implications on the global stock market with the FTSE100 expected to fall 6.3%. Stock markets in the US and Europe are expected to see their biggest falls since the 2008 financial crisis following huge loses in the Asian market in Monday. This could have effects on both domestic politics and international relations across the world. If we do see a global recession, as many fear we will, this could see a major turn in the US general election and create similar circumstances to the 2008 US general election which saw Obama’s ascension to the white house and the democrats winning the senate. Trump is currently riding the wave of a good economy, if this is to change, we could see a want in the US for change. So much so that it could sway the democratic primaries in Bernie Sanders’ favour if the US public see a need, such as an economic downturn, to move away from the status quo. The same could be seen in the UK in the May local elections. On an international level, production could be brought into the fray as states that would not usually be able to compete but are not as effected by corona virus are suddenly able to bode a challenge to states such as China, Russia and the US. For example, Saudi Arabia have made the decision to increase their crude oil production in an attempt to drive the US and Russia out of the market. We have also seen a major drop in production on china as workers remain in isolation. This has caused a major decrease in the region’s CO2 emissions amid the economic downturn.

One of the biggest side effects of the coronavirus has been the rise in racists attacks and abuse against people of Asian heritage in the UK and across the western world. While there is not yet a national number in relation to the coronavirus, there are at least six reports of attacks to Devon and Cornwall police, with other reports in London, Birmingham and across the UK. The UK Government has given little to no response on the rise in these attacks, whilst charity Tell MAMA, which records and measures anti-Muslim incidents in the United Kingdom, steps up to bring these cases to a national level alongside Asian student groups to campaign for support and stronger police presence to protect Asian communities in the UK.

Written by Josh Trood

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