Pandemics tend to make politics more “turbulent”, says Robert Guest in The Economist. When the Black Death wiped out a third of Europeans in the 14th century, the surviving labourers were able to negotiate higher pay. When influenza killed millions of Indians in 1918-19, the resulting misery helped kick-start Mahatma Gandhi’s campaign to end British colonial rule. A study of 133 countries between 2001 and 2018 found that political unrest tends to peak two years after an epidemic starts. “If so, 2022 will be a bumpy year.”
The risk of turmoil is “greatest in middle-income countries”. Rich nations are largely vaccinated; the “very poor have so many troubles that coronavirus is just one of a long, grim list”. By contrast, ordinary citizens in middle-income countries expect “decent public services” and feel angry that the vaccine remains out of reach. They know their elites received priority jabs, with some even flying abroad to get them. These frustrations may well “bubble over” in next year’s elections in Brazil, Kenya, the Philippines and India. If their governments want to avoid this, they need to speed up their vaccination rollouts – pronto. “Magic bullets in politics are not supposed to exist, but the coronavirus vaccines come awfully close.”
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