Interview: COVID-19 crisis has limited impact in long term, says German expert

Professor Michael Zuern, director at Berlin Social Sciences Center, believed that the ongoing coronavirus-triggered crisis has a limited long-term impact on the world, and the globalization will not end after the crisis.

“I do not expect that the crisis will change the general setups in society after it is over. We will return to many of the practices that were stable before,” said Zuern in an interview with Xinhua.

Zuern, who also works at the Free University of Berlin, said the ongoing crisis will lead only to an acceleration of some existing developments, for example, the digitalization of society and more state control of the medical industry in the near future.

Those developments, he said, have already appeared before the crisis and they will be strengthened in the short term after the crisis. But after the crisis, “we won’t see an end of globalization.” There is no question that there are alternatives to global production and supply chains. And a partial re-nationalization of business processes is possible.

However, this leads to increased costs and considerable welfare losses. “When normalcy returns, the enormous public and private debts will grow everywhere. We will be in a global recession. The cost pressure will then be particularly high,” he said.

“How to produce in the most efficient and cheapest way? In that situation, globalization will go back. That is the reason why it won’t end,” said Zuern.

Zuern said that mankind has certainly learned lessons from pandemics in history so that the health system has been built and people are more prepared. However, pandemic comes at a certain point that people cannot know in advance, not to mention that pandemics are based on different viruses.

Therefore, Zuern believed that after the pandemic people will be more careful in the way they approach each other, so that it will be fewer handshakes and kisses, and the health system may be better prepared for a crisis, but there is no way to prevent all crises.

“The virus will be controlled with vaccines, so mankind will return to normal again. But a new virus will come in an unknown form and at an unknown time.”

When it comes to politics, Zuern said the crisis did not make a change but accelerated some tendencies that have already emerged before the crisis, for instance, the growing difficulties to organize international cooperation and the change of the global balance of power in favor of China.

Regarding the future of global governance, one outcome of the crisis may turn out to be especially important. Populist governments have criticized global governance the most.

“In comparison, those countries with populist leaders perform the worst in handling the virus, thus possibly weakening the populist thoughts. That might be a positive change the coronavirus brings to the world,” said Zuern.