COVID-19: National Restrictions with Transnational Resilience

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COVID-19: National Restrictions with Transnational Resilience

  • March 19, 2020
  • By Admin: Osman
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By Abdulkadir Osman Farah, PhD

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A mysterious virus, classified by WHO (World Health Organization) as COVID-19, wrecks global health and potentially endangers the global social, political and economic order[i]. In countering the risks and protecting their populations, nations across the world adopt drastic national restrictions. Authorities temporarily suspend national as well as transnational encounters and connections. The virus, as well as how authorities and societies respond to, might have greater long-term impact.  However, If the virus spreads transnationally, why then nation-states favour national protectionism instead of exploring common multilateral solutions? Could the application of national tools solve a seemingly transnational pandemic?

Almost worldwide reverberations of state-decrees take effect- unleashing cancellations of public and private gatherings and events. So far, most of the alert and ensuing explanations and justifications mainly concentrate on the affluent world.  In parts of the developing world, the ruling elites often ignore pre-consultations. Millions (already suffering from traditional curable malaises and inequalities) confront additional virus-related existential threats. Among the most disadvantaged include the internally and externally displaced refugees in the world. Many of them live in derelict encampments scattered across the Middle East and Africa.

Such vulnerable groups would have benefitted from more inclusive and horizontal global order. A world in which diverse nations and states pursue transnational solidarity in combatting global risks. In contrary, under the current crises, stronger sates prioritize domestic apprehensions, herewith also the idea of eventually compensating transnational corporations for potential financial fallout. Meanwhile, online circulating conspiracies on the invention of the virus foster widespread farcical miscomprehension and anxiety.

Consequently, qualified information, disseminated by transnational organizations such as WHO, fails in preventing people (both ordinary civilians as well as state authorities) from independently projecting their own explanatory causes and implications for the virus. Often subjective human interrelations, discourses- whether dealing with health risks or otherwise, requires the establishment of social and political recognition as well as legitimation from the passively/actively involved and embedded networks. Legitimation crises and trust therefore remain particularly crucial when authorities disseminate information and exercise control. Information and knowledge sharing might depend on the knowledge of existing stated facts and the coordination of the different- often competing- gatekeepers- within the “system world”[ii]. Nonetheless, state-society dynamics also depend on coping with communication as well as legitimation obstacles in relation to the more complex and often plural social and political contexts within the “life world”. Eventually, in much more open societies, the most rational and qualified arguments might become the norm, in which most of the society could accept and eventually implement[iii]. This rationalist, discursive and communicative approach to current and emerging societal crises, whether it is related to dangerous viruses or else, overlooks the impact of entrenched social and traditional routines as well as the practices and the historical institutionalization of social and political relations in the society. The crises, and the way in which the societies deal with actual and potential risks, might therefore often unfold within the framework of unequal institutionalized structural mechanisms. Consequently, situated structural positions in the competing fields of politics, economy and cultural preferences determine both the interpretation and the outcome of the crises[iv]. Those privileged (in terms of social, economic and political conditions) before the malaise infliction, might most likely further consolidate.   

The beginning and state responses        

Yet formally unconfirmed story postulates that COVID-19 originate in a wild animal market in Wuhan, China. In responding, Beijing mobilized its vast resources in controlling the virus- at least within its borders, failing to prevent a virus-transplant to other countries[v]. In comparison to other powerful countries, though often nationalistic and authoritarian, China engages transnational collaboration regarding the virus prevention. The country, for instance, sent experts to Italy and sanctions beleaguered Iran, two of so far most affected countries. Markets plummeted triggering transnational pharmaceutical companies promising vaccination and even cure. In offering re-assurances diverse nation-states imposed national emergencies. Among such leaders include the Danish prime minister whose justification, referred to comprehensive consultations, and in vivacity, insisted on the protection of the society from an extraordinary health menace. Reacting to the historic move, a Danish journalist implied potential societal consequences on the prime minister’s “de-facto state of emergency”. In reference to the historic early 1940s German coercion of occupied Denmark, in a much more severe and comprehensive “state of emergency” he writes that “On August 28, 1943, at nine o’clock, Werner Best delivered a letter to Prime Minister Scavenius demanding state of emergency in Denmark. The Germans wanted the prime minister to introduce Jewish laws, banning more than five people at a time, banning all congregations in confined spaces, curfew nights and closing restaurants and a number of other draconian measures such as the death penalty for sabotage. Erik Scavenius rejected the German demands”[vi].

Certainly, the current Denmark, as a functioning democratic welfare state, remains stable and prosperous. Comparatively, the society is also generally more cohesive with lesser gaps between state and society. However, critics such as Robert Dahl once considered Nordic countries, hereunder Denmark, as “partial democracies”. Often people in this part of the world rely on and loyally obey state instructions. In the preservation of public order, Danes, more or less, normally comply with demands from authorities. Despite this fact, Denmark, similar to other western countries have in recent decades become more diverse politically and transnationally. Different groups within the society might therefore react differently to normative or practical state decisions. On one hand, over the years, transnational ethnic communities often felt targeted by exclusionary state policies specifically on issues of migration and integration. Some of them might therefore feel relieved that debates and policies triggered by the virus-threat universalizes the society cohesion. Unlike in the past, emphasis rest on principle citizen-commonalities. In temporarily suspending particularistic tendencies/policies in for instance dividing the nation into diverse conflicting ethnicities, the nation acts as one entity[vii]. The protection of the wider public, including constituents that often in policy debates and formations feel outsiders, becomes a priority. Even harshly and hastily planned deportations targeting refugees, many of them nervously waiting in refugee camps, are suspended for the sake of focusing the bigger and more threatening risks for the overall well-being of the society.

Transnational communities belong to multiple nations that deal with the pandemic in various contradicting ways. Their concerns, therefore, not limit to national boundaries and what a particular state might or might not undertake. While, for instance, experiencing the national coordination efforts in Denmark reasonably intact, communities simultaneously and apprehensively, through online media, follow more or less accurate reports from their native nations. Some of these states and nations have always had state emergencies all the time- mainly designed not for public protection but for policy appropriation. The spread of the virus therefore just adds to the suffering of the populations in these countries. Not just that they are infected by the virus in mass numbers- but authorities might also punish independent explanations and justifications for the spreading virus.

Thus, transnational challenges such as the current virus demands more than temporary national state emergencies and public sanctioned quarantines. For human existence to flourish, the world needs balanced transnational recognition and responsibilities. First, people need to recognize each other as transnational nations with equal rights and obligations[viii]. Citizenship rights should thereby be comprehensive and inclusive. Second, recognition should extend to the nature, particularly animals that share this planet with humans. Scholars even call for wild animals potentially procuring separate protected ontology in the wilderness, while authorities should provide sort of citizenship to domesticated animals that live among humans. These include animals that better understand and often socially accompany and interact with humans[ix].

In retrospect, if the theory that the spread of virus started with animal mistreatment, then closing borders and declaring emergencies might not change much. Serious transformations might consider the significance of both humans, at least those who transnationally suffer from poverty and exclusion[x], as well as those animals- within the wilderness or beyond, who also suffer from exploitation and extinction. Currently, both the majority of humanity, and most other non-human inhabitants of the world, seemingly suffer under the prevailing transnational social, political and economic order/disorder[xi].

In the end, hopefully the world learns from this latest and similar crises that humans need not pretend as unique superiors in this fragile world. Basic obligations and responsibilities should be reassessed a the local, national and transnational encounters as well as connections.         

[i] The world’s preeminent transnational agency of global health referred to as WHO (World Health Organization) describes the Coronaviruses (CoV) as “a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). WHO adds that “Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is a new strain that was discovered in 2019 and has not been previously identified in humans”. On the 11th of March the Ethiopian born Director General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in a press conference concluded that “We have made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic


[iii] Habermas, J. (2015). Between facts and norms: Contributions to a discourse theory of law and democracy. John Wiley & Sons.

[iv] Bourdieu, Pierre. 1989. “Social Space and Symbolic Power.” Sociological Theory 7:14–25.




[viii] Kymlicka, W. (2017). Multiculturalism without citizenship. Multicultural Governance in a Mobile World, 139-161.

[ix] Donaldson, S., & Kymlicka, W. (2011). Zoopolis: A political theory of animal rights. Oxford University Press.

[x] Pogge, T. (2016). Are We Violating the Human Rights of the World’s Poor?. In Ethical Issues in Poverty Alleviation (pp. 17-42). Springer, Cham.

[xi] Piketty, T. (2020). Capital and Ideology. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.