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Pandemic Governance and Human Development: Early Lessons from Asia

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues its second-year course with multiple variants claiming over 5.27 million deaths (as of December 2021), it has exposed the longstanding fragilities and fractures in the national and global governance systems. As a result, the inequalities in healthcare, education, employment, and the increased burden on unpaid care work and low-wage workers have worsened.

This paper reviews how countries in Asia have responded to the public health and socio-economic crises at the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020 and identifies some key strengths and gaps in national and global institutions. The importance of institutional strength in states and societies has been a key factor in implementing basic public health strategies. State capacity in public health infrastructure, together with social norms and competence in society to take action in pursuit of common interest, have been crucial in countries at all levels of income in Asia, including least-developed countries with little technological and financial capacity. Although, these factors have not received much attention in the international policy response that has prioritized investments in vaccines and material supplies.

The paper further explores the unequal effects of the pandemic: the resulting global recession which exposed gaps in national and global governance, including the inadequate support for low- and lower-middle income countries; the lack of preparedness in protecting worker rights in the face of multiple crises; and the failure of the international institutions to provide vaccines as a global public good that is accessible to all.