Challenges, principles and cooperation in the time of COVID-19

DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Nicolas Galey (The Philippine Star) - May 28, 2020 - 12:00am

France, which is the 4th country with the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Europe, has been facing major, unprecedented challenges: implementing the two-month lockdown of the entire country in order to prevent the national hospital system from being overwhelmed; conveying accurate and relevant information to the population; enforcing physical distancing measures and ensuring the sufficient supply of medical equipment and material, especially for health workers; preventing huge layoffs among businesses through public aid programs and partial unemployment schemes; and finally, achieving genuine, operational solidarity within Europe and with the rest of the world.

Although it may be too early to assert that the worst is behind us, France has already seen a substantial decline in deaths, confirmed cases, and critical hospital admissions, paving the way for a gradual “de-confinement” of the population, the re-opening of schools, and eventually, the progressive recovery of the French economy.

This crisis is disrupting our societies and challenging several norms, attitudes and traditional ways of functioning. The pandemic leads us to consider radical shifts in the outsourcing of medical supply production, in our consumption habits, in our usual modes of social interaction, and in the resilience of social security nets.

Despite the current emergency situation, it remains of utmost importance to maintain the principles of democracy and the rule of law. Access to reliable information and to a free and independent media is crucial for transparency and accountability, to combat misinformation and contribute to public confidence, and to support government efforts to combat the pandemic. The participation, protection and empowerment of all women and girls must also be at the center of response efforts.

With that in mind, long-term solutions must be crafted at the global, regional, and national levels. The pandemic will indeed have a deep impact on our economies and on international economic relations. Keeping markets open will play an important role in economic recovery. On the bilateral level, the continued collaboration of French and Filipino companies can contribute to post-pandemic recovery. The French government has also supported the Philippines’ efforts to obtain much needed COVID-19 tests manufactured in France.

Cooperation is welcome in the health sector. The French Development Agency has allocated an additional €2 million funding in grants to the ECOMORE II project implemented by Institut Pasteur to support frontline laboratories in Southeast Asia, including the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine (RITM) in the Philippines.

In the international level, the COVID-19 pandemic should serve as a wake-up call for multilateralism. The multilateral system needs to adapt and reform in more general terms to ‘recover better’ from this crisis. The 2030 Agenda and the achievement of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, as well as the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, must remain as the common development roadmap of the international community.

France has several initiatives on its agenda to further encourage and strengthen multilateralism. In November 2020, the Paris Peace Forum will be one of the first international events to address the building of a better world after the COVID-19 pandemic. A call for projects has been launched to highlight projects and initiatives from around the world addressing the COVID-19 crisis and improving our collective resilience.  On environmental issues, France will be hosting the World Congress of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in January 2021 in Marseille, as well as the One Planet Summit to raise public and private financing for climate initiatives. On women’s rights and empowerment, the Generation Equality Forum jointly organized by UN Women, Mexico and France – initially scheduled this year – will take place in the first semester of 2021, marking a historical gathering of thousands of participants from the international feminist community.

For its part, the European Union joined its global partners last May 4 in hosting the Coronavirus Global Response, a pledging event which has raised over 7.4 billion euros to support the deployment of COVID-19 diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines worldwide.

Viruses know no borders. A co-operative, transparent, science-based and coordinated global response is therefore essential in responding to and recovering from this great challenge of our times.

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(Nicolas Galey is the French Ambassador to the Philippines and to Micronesia.)

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