Health and Healthcare Systems

One year on: How we're grappling with a world changed by COVID

Medical staff members wearing protective gear show their hands with the words written on gloves "Ce la faremo" ("We'll make it") written on them as they treat patients suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the intensive care unit at the Circolo hospital in Varese, Italy April 9, 2020. REUTERS/Flavio Lo Scalzo

It's been a year since the WHO declared the outbreak of COVID-19 a global pandemic – but there's hope. Image: REUTERS/Flavio Lo Scalzo

Kate Whiting
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
Joe Myers
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  • 11 March marks one year since the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic.
  • As the vaccine roll-out picks up pace, there have been more than twice as many doses of COVID-19 vaccines given as there have been cases globally.
  • The disease has impacted on all aspects of life, from work to education.
  • Here are some of recent World Economic Forum's articles which show how much COVID-19 has changed the world – and how much more it could.

"Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death."

These were the words World Health Organization Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus used at a press briefing on 11 March 2020 to announce the WHO had characterized the outbreak of COVID-19 as a global pandemic.

At the time, there were more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, and 4,291 people had died.

Dr Tedros warned: "In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of cases, the number of deaths, and the number of affected countries climb even higher."


Global impact

In the past 12 months, those figures have risen to more than 118 million cases across the globe, with more than 2.6 million deaths.

COVID-19 has also had an impact on livelihoods and education, as lockdowns have led to economic recession and job losses, while schools have also been closed – shining a spotlight on inequalities from gender to digital access.


What is the World Economic Forum doing to manage emerging risks from COVID-19?

While the pandemic is not over, there is hope that the ongoing vaccine roll-out, combined with continued testing and COVID-19 safety measures, may bring it to an end.

More than 319 million vaccine doses have been administered worldwide – the vast majority in the US, China, the European Union and the UK. And since February 24, COVAX has shipped 17.8 million doses to countries where they're most needed.

Cumulative COVID-19 vaccination doses administered per 100 people.
How the vaccine roll-out has grown since January. Image: Our World in Data

As the world marks a year since the pandemic was declared, here are 10 recent pieces we've published that show how COVID-19 has changed the world, how we're dealing with those changes – and what shifts could still be ahead.

Historic shifts in global healthcare

To learn more on what's happening now:

After vaccines were developed in record time, a new challenge remains: how to distribute it equitably. AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot, CEPI CEO Richard Hatchett and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance CEO Seth Berkley gave a recent update on the latest vaccine roll-out figures for the historic COVAX initiative – and explain how it brings together the public and private sectors to ensure everyone, regardless of wealth, has access to a safe and effective vaccine.

Much of this global health security effort is being run by women, writes Susan Brown, Director of Public Policy Engagement, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and Roopa Dhatt, Founder, Women in Global Health. The global initiative for this is COVAX, and for the design, development and initial operational phase, the women in charge were the Chair of the Gavi Alliance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and the Chair of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness, Jane Halton. Dr Okonjo-Iweala has moved on to head up the World Trade Organization, but you can bet she will continue to have a keen interest in vaccine equity.


Highlighting - and widening - equality gaps

To learn more on current research and insights:

PwC's annual Women in Work Index finds that, on average, women were more likely to lose their jobs in the pandemic and did more unpaid childcare last year, forcing some to quit their jobs altogether. Progress towards gender equality at work will not begin to recover until 2022, it concludes.

With the pandemic threatening the biggest rise in inequality since records began, this piece highlights four key takeaways from world leaders at our Davos Agenda session 'Delivering Social Justice in the Recovery', looking at the policies, practices and partnerships needed to ensure a just recovery in the decade of delivery.

Tackling an historic global recession

To learn more on how leaders plan to navigate the economy:

COVID-19 has caused the worst global recession in peacetime, since the Great Depression, writes IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva. Richer nations with access to vaccines are expected to recover fastest, which could cause a 'Great Divergence'. Georgieva outlines three main priorities for the global response, to avoid further economic inequality.

By carefully crafting the right incentives and policies, governments can expand the fourth sector – which combines elements of the public, private and social sectors – and its positive impacts rapidly and exponentially, write three experts. Doing so will both help to rebuild the economy and reinvent it, with an updated structure that will facilitate sustainable growth, improve resilience and strengthen resistance to future shocks.

Grappling with the 'new normal' of remote work

To learn more on how the workday could evolve further:

“The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we work and we must update our rules to catch up with the new reality,” said the Maltese MEP Alex Agius Saliba in December, when European lawmakers voted in favour of the right to disconnect from work-related technology after hours. “After months of teleworking, many workers are now suffering from negative side effects such as isolation, fatigue, depression [and] burnout."

Mouchka Heller, the World Economic Forum's Project Lead, Automotive and Autonomous Mobility, writes about a historic shift: COVID has removed employees’ needs for self-funded commutes, democratizing access to work. Now stakeholders must ask where the responsibility lies in terms of making commutes affordable, and therefore jobs accessible.

Rethinking the typical school day

To learn more on what experts think might be next for education:

School closures affected 94% of students at their peak in April 2020, writes Cathy Li, the Forum's Head of Media, Entertainment and Sport Industries, and Farah Lalani, Community Curator, Media, Entertainment and Information Industries. Almost a year on, it's clear that blended learning formats, including the enhanced use of technology, are here to stay.

Children have fallen behind in COVID-19 lockdowns that forced schools to close – and those from poorer households are the worst affected, according to a McKinsey report based on data from eight countries. In schools where 80% or more of students come from households that are below the poverty line, there was an average of 2.5 months of learning loss. Remote schooling scored just five out of 10 for effectiveness.

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