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Sensemaker: Rebuilding better

Sensemaker: Rebuilding better

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Hong Kong will now have to screen political candidates for their loyalty to China after Beijing imposed a series of electoral changes on the territory. 
  • UK school pupils have made more than 8,000 allegations of rape, sexual assault and harassment on the website Everyone’s Invited, leading to calls for investigation into the problem of sexual abuse in schools.
  • The Ever Given, a giant container ship, was freed after a week stuck in the Suez Canal. 

Rebuilding better

An article calling for a new pandemic treaty, published jointly by a gaggle of world leaders, has appeared in newspapers around the globe. Inspired by the institution-building after the Second World War, the 25 signatories include Boris Johnson, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

In the joint article, which Politico reports was the brainchild of Charles Michel, the European Council president, they say: “At that time, following the devastation of two world wars, political leaders came together to forge the multilateral system.”

This is a reference to the foundation of the UN and its allied bodies, such as the World Health Organization. The letter states that a new treaty on pandemics “should lead to more mutual accountability and shared responsibility, transparency and cooperation within the international system and with its rules and norms”. 

This plan, which is intended to live within a beefed-up WHO, is in line with the approach supported by Johnson. This sort of ambition is expected to shape the agenda he presses when the G7, of which he is currently chair, meets in June in Cornwall. He has also called for richer nations to give more vaccines to Covax, the UN’s distribution system. 

There are big potential wins here for actual people. The article references “alert systems, data-sharing, research…”. A new set of rules and regulations setting out obligations on countries to report disease outbreaks would be a huge gain. 

The difficulty here would be keeping people honest. Perhaps it could be combined with a fund for suppressing any dangerous diseases that turn up. There might be grounds to set up something similar to the International Monetary Fund’s missions, which do regular reviews of countries’ economic positions – and are sometimes quite brutal in their candour. 

The article also refers to mechanisms for “local, regional and global production and distribution of medical and public health counter measures, such as vaccines, medicines, diagnostics and personal protective equipment”. One signatory, Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, has already criticised richer countries’ poor performance at helping poorer nations. 

Mechanisms for maintaining enough capacity to make medical products – and parcel it out – might also be necessary. A Nato-style obligation to spend a certain quota each year on building and maintaining capacity to make pandemic gear might be part of the answer. 

Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

George Floyd
The prosecution of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer accused of killing George Floyd, began yesterday. Floyd died after Chauvin kneeled on his throat. His death ignited the Black Lives Matter surge of last summer. The prosecution opened by alleging that Chauvin was “grinding and crushing him until the very breath, the very life, was squeezed out of him”. Prosecutors showed a 9-minute 29-second video of the killing, and told jurors to “believe your eyes”. The defence is taking this head-on, and has argued that Floyd was under the influence of drugs, and the force used was reasonable. This is not going to be a case that turns on technicalities. The court case would always be important, but the two sides are now lined up in a way that will maximise the political impact of the court’s decisions.

New things technology, science, engineering

A cause close to my heart is the trend for UK government ministers and officials to use private email and messaging systems to evade transparency laws. A long time ago, some devious young reporter at the FT fought the Department for Education to establish that private email accounts are covered by the Freedom of Information Act if they are being used for government business. Now a campaign group is going further – and seeking to ban the use of private messaging platforms that destroy data automatically in the public sector on the grounds that they do not meet archiving and record-keeping requirements.

The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

Mask up
The US vaccine roll-out is one of the fastest-moving in the world but, even so, the country is facing rising caseloads of the virus. 63,000 new cases a day put it back at where it stood in the autumn. The NYT ($) reports that the White House is pushing for states to reintroduce mask mandates: Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control, pleaded tearfully for people to stick with disease control measures. Joe Biden himself has appealed: “Please, this is not politics – reinstate the mandate. The failure to take this virus seriously is precisely what got us into this mess in the first place.”

Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Cameron’s descent 
David Cameron entered office a rich man and, in retirement, he could have made a lot of money from boring speeches and in uncontentious directorships. Maybe he thought his association with Greensill, the collapsed supply chain finance company, would be that when he signed up. But the FT (£) reports today that he decided to go on a desert camping trip with Lex Greensill, his paymaster, and Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince who by then had already had Jamal Khashoggi murdered. The trip, in either January of February 2020, moves Cameron from the category of “greedy dupe” into something altogether worse. 

Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Dolphins in Venice
The lagoon is clearly a bit cleaner than usual: a pair of dolphins has been sighted in Venice. The return of animals to abandoned habitats was a feature of the early lockdowns. Cheerily, the goats that took over the town centre of Llandudno are still on the hunt for bargains. I quite like the pelicans parading in London too. 

Stay safe, wash your hands, open windows when you can. 

Chris Cook

Slow Views