Brewing new wave of epidemic, energy crisis test Western governance this winter
Published: Oct 10, 2022 12:35 AM
EU rising energy prices Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

EU rising energy prices Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Imagine such an insufferable winter: You live in a freezing room without heating; you've just received your energy and food bills, and the number is impressively high; outside on the streets, not only one but several viruses are raging in the cold wind ... Unfortunately, this disastrous scene will likely be seen in the West during the upcoming winter.

As winter approaches, health experts warn that a new wave of COVID-19 outbreaks is brewing in Europe. Infections have been rising in many European countries, including the UK, France, and Italy, an eight percent increase compared to the previous week, according to a Wednesday report from the World Health Organization.

On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, despite US President Joe Biden announcing last month that the COVID-19 epidemic in the country is over, Director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr Anthony Fauci warned on Tuesday that Americans "should not be surprised" if a new COVID-19 variant emerges this winter. Clearly, Biden's victory announcement was made way too early, as the country is still greatly threatened by the novel coronavirus and humankind's fight against COVID-19 is far from over.

From soaring inflation to energy crisis, from supply chain disruption to increased geopolitical turmoil, this winter will surely not be easy for Europe and the US. However, the choice of "lying flat" in the face of a new COVID-19 variant may lead to greater social disruption, apart from exerting more pressure on these countries' healthcare systems. To "lie flat" when great efforts are needed is a huge disregard for people's lives and safety.

Take the US as an example. While US inflation stays at a high level, the country's economy is facing a recession due to difficulties, including the lingering COVID-19 epidemic. The division between different races and social classes in US society has also been magnified during COVID-19 outbreaks, triggering violence and conflicts. More directly, the epidemic caused the deaths of a considerable amount of the working force, ripping "a hole in working-age America," as the title of a Bloomberg article in January claimed.

Although the European Medicines Agency considers the epidemic "ongoing," it is impossible for European countries to change their attitude of "lying flat" - an inevitable choice for them to deal with the epidemic under the influence of factors such as individualism and capitalism, said observers.

Lü Xiang, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, indicates that the West insists on "lying flat" to deal with COVID-19 to maintain economic development. But "lying flat" policy actually has little effect on boosting the economy - China's economy has recovered faster than many countries with looser anti-epidemic policies.

This winter, according to Lü, has three significant uncertainties: the uncertainty of the epidemic, geopolitics, and the economy. "All of them have the potential to affect large numbers of people, and the situation could be worse than the Great Depression between 1929 and 1939."

The epidemic has dramatically reduced the West's immunity to addressing uncertainties. For one, the West is already in tatters under the weight of the epidemic. The world is also increasingly disenchanted with the dysfunctional Western governance model. Second, COVID-19 infections will intensify the existing conflicts in Western societies: the gap between the rich and poor, as well as the political division will widen.

"A new COVID-19 variant, along with other urgent problems, will provoke widespread social unrest in the West. Some nations' pension and healthcare systems may not be able to sustain for a long time. Plus, the growing conservative and populist forces in Europe and the US may incite riots." commented Lü.

While the weather is getting colder, dangers are getting closer to Europe and the US. The upcoming winter will truly put Western governance to the test. Hopefully, Christmas miracles will not be needed to help the West survive this winter amid possible new COVID-19 outbreaks and more crises to come.