Covid-19: A Look Back From 2025

Брет Стивенс, журналист газеты The New York Times, представил, как могут выглядеть последствия коронавируса в 2025 году

Bret Stephens, The New York Times

When Covid-19 first emerged as a health crisis in China five years ago, observers noted that authoritarian regimes — with their hostility toward whistle-blowers, their manipulation of data, their fear of the free flow of information — facilitate the spread of disease.

Within a few months, it became clear that the flip side of that proposition was also true: Disease facilitates the spread of authoritarianism.

In Hungary, the virus was the pretext for Prime Minister Viktor Orban to establish a dictatorship on the model of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte used the pandemic to issue shoot-to-kill orders against political protesters. In Israel, the government’s decision to use cellphone data to track the movements of infected individuals quickly became a model and alibi for other states to pick up the practice, with no scruples about the data they collected.

It didn’t stop there. The pandemic provided a ready-made excuse for democratic governments around the world to obstruct opposition parties, ban public assemblies, suppress voting, quarantine cities, close borders, limit trade, strong-arm businesses, impose travel restrictions and censor hostile media outlets in the name of combating “false information.”

Remarkably, the tactics met with comparatively little resistance, partly because they were advertised as only temporary, and partly because the concerns of civil libertarians paled next to calls to “flatten the curve.” But as the lockdowns of 2020 were extended from spring to summer and then to early fall, a process of normalization began to take hold.

In the U.S., Joe Biden accepted the Democratic nomination from his Delaware home after it became clear that holding a convention would pose unacceptable health risks. Effectively barred from campaigning by restrictions on public rallies (as well as fear among his aides that the 77-year old nominee might contract the virus), he sought to mount a virtual campaign against an incumbent who wielded the emergency powers of government to aid his re-election. Donald Trump handily won again in November.

As civil liberties receded, big government grew. Unprecedented unemployment meant unprecedented increases in Medicaid rolls, jobless benefits, housing assistance and food stamps. It was left to Trump to preside over an expansion of the welfare state the likes of which Bernie Sanders could only have dreamed about a year earlier.

Nor did things change much after the lockdowns were lifted, as people remained reluctant to venture into restaurants, shops and planes — and less able to afford them. Millions of business failures and personal bankruptcies translated to tens of millions of loan and mortgage delinquencies, which in turn caused a financial crisis. Dozens of banks had to be nationalized outright, while the government took stakes in every industry it rescued. By the time a safe vaccine was finally available, the damage had been done.

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