The post-COVID world this week: A new pass to fly, the first COVAX vaccine shipment reaches Ghana, and the world’s collective trauma

The future is here: A guide to the post-COVID world 02/26/2021

Welcome to your guide to where the world is headed during the pandemic era and beyond. Each week, we’ll bring you the latest and most significant expert insights and international news about how coronavirus is reshaping international affairs. To stay updated each week, sign up to the newsletter here.

Let’s take a spin around the globe, in seven minutes or less.

In top stories this week:

  • Even as rates of infection decrease, airlines are burning through cash as restrictions continue. Plus, something to add to your pre-flight checklist: the new COVID-19 travel pass.
  • The COVAX Facility’s plans are underway, with the first shipment headed to Ghana.
  • Millions may need to retrain for new careers post-COVID.
  • But first…

The big story

This week’s key theme: As the world faces the prospect of mass trauma, what will start the healing?

We are living through the first mass trauma in decades, and it is probably the most severe event we have known in our lifetimes, BBC Future reports.

In addition to the more than two million lives lost, the pandemic has wrought havoc on economies, international relations, mental health, and, as the broadcaster puts it, “the pitter-patter of everyday life.”

COVID-19 has pushed young adults and teenagers with anxiety to the brink, The New York Times says, citing an analysis of surveys of young patients in emergency rooms.

The pandemic’s effects on the mind reach beyond anxiety and are ultimately inflicting trauma, the BBC Future article explains. And what separates trauma from general stress is how we relate to the events on a fundamental level of belief: Trauma is enough to rupture how you see yourself, the world, and other people. If this happens for many people in the same time span, the collective disruption amounts to mass trauma. And COVID-19 is a textbook case of that for the world, the BBC says. 

With grim milestones on COVID-19 reached worldwide, grief has been widespread and the usual rites to cope with grief have been upended because of social-distancing curbs. The economic impacts of the pandemic have inflicted their own traumatic blows, as people face unemployment, bankruptcies, and upended life plans. 

“The countless individual tragedies of the virus come together in a cumulative and mutual loss to which few of us are immune,” reads the introduction to an interview with Debra Kaysen, a professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford. Kaysen, for her part, says people are experiencing “a collective stressor rather than a traumatic event, but that some people are also experiencing traumatic events” caused by the pandemic.

Even then, Kaysen outlines that traumatic stress is evident in people who experience the sudden death of a loved one or time in the ICU or on the frontlines of the crisis. And according to a Financial Times editorial, the pandemic has created a second epidemic of trauma among carers and survivors. Countries with “rampant transmission,” as the newspaper puts it, face a chronic burden for decades ahead on both a physical and a mental level. Even mild cases of COVID-19 can lead to so-called “long COVID,” with symptoms including breathlessness and fatigue that drag on for months. “COVID-19 could have a long-term impact on the brain. We need more research,” reads the title of a Washington Post opinion piece.

How can the world cope with the collective trauma of the pandemic and move on? 

History is instructive here. After the last global pandemic, the 1918 flu that claimed at least fifty million lives, media interest dried up and public acknowledgements were sparse, the BBC reports. Only one country, New Zealand, put in place any type of national memorial. “Now is the time to begin a national conversation about how we will grieve and memorialize the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to an editorial on news service Stat

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The world in brief

Insights from across the planet, in ten bullets or fewer

  • A French business-support plan is intriguing Europe. Paris is preparing a plan of state guarantees to back 20 billion euros of participative loans, which offer investors a mix of equity and debt, Bloomberg Businessweek says. The loans, used in France in 1978 but never deployed on such a large scale, have other European governments intrigued, the newswire adds. Pressure is increasing on governments to come up with more targeted measures to support business as the pandemic ebbs.
  • Airlines are burning through cash. Airlines could burn through as much as $95 billion in cash this year, almost twice the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) previous estimate, as new variants of COVID-19 lead to extended travel curbs, Bloomberg reports, citing the IATA. Even if flights are restored between developed economies this year, carriers may still incur $75 billion in costs, according to the IATA.
  • Boarding pass, passport, and COVID-19 travel pass: a new requirement for flying. The IATA plans to launch a COVID-19 travel pass at the end of March, deploying a digital system that tracks vaccine certificates and test results, Reuters reports. But the system won’t be without its own challenges: Governments must start issuing digital-vaccination certificates to their citizens for the travel pass, IATA said.
  • QUOTE: “Although travelers may be keen to get away, they’ll need resorts to open their doors to them. That’s not looking too likely [in Europe] right now,” Andrea Felsted writes in Bloomberg. “But caution may be outweighed by economic need. Countries such as Greece, Turkey, Portugal, and Spain rely heavily on international tourism and have an incentive to open their borders to travelers and keep them out of quarantine.”
  • Governments are feeling pressure to get employees back to work in person. Working from home is an “aberration” rather than the “new normal,” David Solomon, chief executive of Goldman Sachs, said at a conference, saying that remote work does not suit the bank’s culture, the BBC reports. Solomon, who was speaking at a Credit Suisse conference, has been among the more vocal business leaders urging governments to act more quickly to get employees back to work, Bloomberg reports.
  • QUOTE: “Not everyone has access to the internet, flexible work schedules, and cars. These things should not be barriers to vaccination, but they are,” Paul Adamson, a physician and a fellow in infectious diseases at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine in Los Angeles, writes on news service Stat. “[C]urrent vaccination programs are perpetuating existing health disparities.”
  • COVAX is underway, first heading to Ghana. The country received its first shipment of vaccines from the World Health Organization program that aims to immunize 20 percent of developing countries’ populations, The Wall Street Journal reports. The delivery of 600,000 doses of the Astra Zeneca-University of Oxford vaccine will be used to inoculate healthcare and frontline workers in the West African country.

The inside scoop

Insights from the Atlantic Council


Feb 12, 2021

Time for transatlantic trade to take off

By Ole Moehr

Trade tariffs continue to pose a threat to a transatlantic economy weakened by COVID-19, but there may now be some light at the end of the tunnel. Keen to rebuild transatlantic ties, Washington and Brussels must walk the talk to reach an agreement on aircraft subsidies and move the US-EU trade agenda forward.

European Union Trade

New Atlanticist

Feb 16, 2021

This economic crisis is also a crisis for democracy

By Amanda Dickerson

The COVID-19 pandemic is inflicting economic damage across the world. And that damage may be having an insidious knock-on effect: eroding faith in democracy, especially among young people.

Economy & Business Inclusive Growth

New Atlanticist

Feb 19, 2021

Recovering from COVID-19: Can India’s 2021 Union Budget rise to the challenge?

By South Asia Center

The Indian government recently announced a new budget aimed at providing a major boost to healthcare and infrastructure development. Here’s how Atlantic Council experts are assessing the budget.

Economy & Business India