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COVID-19’s Lessons for Democracies

While pandemics are rare, natural disasters, financial crises, and industrial accidents occur on a regular basis. By assessing the response to COVID-19, governments can craft more flexible, equitable plans to manage future emergencies and strengthen democratic institutions.

BRUSSELS – For more than two years, COVID-19 has taken lives, destroyed livelihoods, disrupted daily routines, and dominated political discussion around the world. As the acute phase of the pandemic comes to an end, we must evaluate what COVID-19 has revealed about the ability of democratic systems to respond to such emergencies.

There are several lessons to be learned from a crisis that has caused the death of over six million people and produced the deepest recession since World War II. Over the past year, Club de Madrid’s Global Commission on Democracy and Emergencies brought together former heads of state and government, eminent experts, and civil-society leaders from around the world to discuss what COVID-19 has taught us, and how our countries can plan for future crises.

Just as no one ever steps into the same river twice, for it is not the same river and they are not the same person, no country ever experiences the same disaster twice. But learning from one emergency is essential to preparing for the next. Although pandemics are rare, epidemics, natural disasters, financial crises, and industrial accidents are regular occurrences. Governments, legislative bodies, judicial institutions, civil society, and international organizations must be equipped to promote resilience in the face of crisis.