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Social Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Social conflicts play a significant role in the structure of society and have a decisive effect on all spheres of life of an individual and society as a whole. Achievements of scientific and technological progress, primarily the development and globalization of communication systems, turn the world into a single complex hierarchized system, the subsystems and elements of which create a network of functional interdependencies and expand the scope of the conflict-generating field. Local conflicts thus turn into possible potentially saturated sources of widespread social upheavals and crises, and in a short time can turn into global ones, all-encompassing, often explosive. A vivid example of this is the current pandemic of the coronavirus COVID-19, which, in addition to threatening health and life of the population, carries serious socio-economic risks.

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Health Impact

Restrictions imposed by many countries for the protection of health inflict powerful blows on the income of individuals and families, on the economies of communities and countries. The coronavirus pandemic affects the state, business, society, and also those who especially need help ‑ the elderly, people with disabilities, children and adults with various diseases. They and the nonprofit organizations help them are now in the most vulnerable position.

The situation of quarantine and border closure has made adjustments to people’s current plans and opportunities. For example, there were problems with passing a special blood test to participate in the lottery program for humanitarian access to the drug Zolgensma, which stops the development of a rare genetic disease ‑ spinal muscular atrophy (under this program, the manufacturer randomly selects in 2020 100 families from around the world who will receive medicine for free) (McKee & Stuckler, 2020).

Disruptions in the delivery of consumables, equipment, food, and drugs are predicted, as many patients in developing countries and in third world countries, receive humanitarian aid or buy it from abroad. Moreover, for families in which a child with autism is brought up, the ability to interact with ordinary families is very important. Live communication cannot be transferred to the remote mode, but namely live communication is necessary for children with autism to alleviate their condition. For them, taking some breaks and then catching up is very difficult.

The economic consequences of coronavirus for the whole world may be more serious than the infection itself. The transport industry, including airlines, railway carriers, their contractors are already facing losses measured in billions. The fall in demand for services will certainly affect other sectors and the economies of all countries. The companies’ revenue will fall, and they will be forced to cut costs. This will entail an increase in unemployment, and the NPO sector will also be vulnerable (Ozili & Arun, 2020). In such an ambiguous situation, it is important that the state, business, and society interact and support each other.

Moreover, the current outbreak of COVID-19 leads to stigmatization and discriminatory behavior of society towards representatives of certain ethnic groups, as well as people suspected of contact with carriers of coronavirus infection. During an outbreak, social stigmatization can be expressed in the prevalence of bias, stereotypes, discrimination, and segregation of such people and/or in the loss of their status due to their perceived connection with the disease (UNICEF, 2020). Such treatment can have negative consequences for patients, as well as people caring for them, their relatives and immediate social environment. Stigmatization can also apply to people who do not have COVID-19, but have common characteristics with such a group of people.

The scale of stigmatization on the basis of COVID-19 is due to three main factors: (1) this is a new disease, and many of its characteristics are still unknown; (2) people tend to fear the unknown; and (3) the emerging fear is easily explained by the intrigues of “outsiders.” Confusion, anxiety, and public fears are well understood (McKee & Stuckler, 2020). Unfortunately, these same factors provoke the spread of harmful stereotypes in society and communities (Andersen & Collins, 2012). Meanwhile, stigmatization often undermines the fabric of society and activates the mechanisms of isolation of individual groups, creating the prerequisites for a more, not less intense spread of the virus.

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This can lead to more serious consequences for public health and complicate the fight against an outbreak. There is objective evidence that stigma and fear associated with infectious diseases hinder their effective control (UNICEF, 2020). Some words and phrases used when discussing coronavirus infection (for example, “suspicious case”, “isolation”, etc.) can be perceived by people in a negative way and provoke stigmatizing moods. They can aggravate existing negative stereotypes and attitudes, reinforcing perverse associations between the disease and other factors, contribute to the spread of panic and neglect of the human dignity of sick people.

This can deter people from being screened, diagnosed, and quarantined. Therefore, all means of communication, including the media, are encouraged to use language that promotes respect for human dignity, recognition of the rights and opportunities of people. The language of the media is of particular importance, since it affects the moods of society and the discussion of the problem of the new coronavirus infection COVID-19.

Historical and Prospective Implications

The COVID-19 pandemic caused by the advent of the new coronavirus is not Black Death. However, just like during the fall of the Berlin Wall or the destruction of the twin towers on September 11, 2001, now there is a constant feeling that we are experiencing something epoch-making. At such times, people inevitably turn to the past in search of patterns, and they find answers not only in medicine and economic models. History can also explain the causes of the COVID-19 pandemic social shocks and tell how it will all end.

Throughout history, epidemics have always been a combination of chance and structure. According to Daher (2020), they are associated with chance, because they can occur when pathogenic microorganisms ‑ viruses, bacteria, protozoa ‑ move from one species to another, when random genetic mutations in a blind manner improve the contagiousness or virulence of the microorganism, or when random interactions between groups of people are arranged in a special way, contributing to the rapid spread of infection. Such biological shocks have been a source of destabilization throughout the history of mankind. Infections destroyed empires, devastated economies, and exterminated entire populations (Daher, 2020). When epidemics coincide in time or cause concomitant crises ‑ climatic, political, monetary or military ‑ they become turning points in history.

Pestilence and disease have been a source of destabilization of human relations. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is worth reminding of the extent of some other similar events. In the 14th century, the bubonic plague pandemic passed through the Middle East, Europe, affected many parts of Africa, destroying half the population of both continents. Then the plague returned ‑ once or twice a generation. Bubonic plague is an exceptional occurrence, but other diseases such as smallpox, measles, flu, yellow fever, and malaria have caused extreme devastation (Seaman, 2018). COVID-19, of course, fades in comparison with these monsters of history.

Daher (2020) stresses that pre-Modern pandemics were devastating as pre-industrial societies were particularly vulnerable to mortality crises and their demographic consequences. They were equally poor, and people on the verge of survival were more susceptible to infectious diseases. In addition, in the absence of theoretical knowledge about microorganisms, there were not many medically useful ways to combat the epidemic and treat infectious diseases.

As a result, even economically developed societies until the 18th century were almost completely unable to mitigate the effects of epidemic diseases. However, they could quickly recover from the unpredictable and inevitable crises of mortality. The Roman Empire experienced a serious pandemic, presumably of smallpox in the 160s during the reign of Marcus Aurelius (Daher, 2020). This did not become the end of the empire, which existed four more centuries. The same can be said about the pandemic of the bubonic plague in the 17th century, which fell on the era of the “global crisis,” that became the melting pot for the next period in history ‑ the New Time.

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Infectious disease control is a hallmark of modernization. Knowledge, technology, rules and practices have protected humanity from the most devastating epidemics that have long remained an integral part of history. However, even with some success in controlling the growth of mortality from COVID-19, it is very difficult to restrain the devastating social consequences, in particular, due to the latency of social conflicts and negative social processes caused by the current pandemic.

The social, economic, and possibly geopolitical impact of COVID-19 will eclipse the much deadlier 1918 flu pandemic. A new disease hits the heart of our interdependent global world. Coronavirus caused the first pandemic in the era of social networks, the century of cultural and political polarization; this is the perfect new economic challenge. Modern ultra-efficient labor markets, dependent on time/project employment, as well as long, complex supply chains, debt-driven economy with extreme sensitivity to consumer, corporate and public debt ‑ none of this was ready for the chaos created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sometimes, pandemics simply speed up history or reveal the direction in which the humanity have already moved, but sometimes they completely change the path of development of human society. In the third century, the Roman Empire survived an epidemic known as the Plague of Cyprian. It became part of a complex constitutional and currency crisis that led to profound changes in the Roman state, weakening it in the confrontation with the Persians and Germanic peoples (Seaman, 2018). However, these changes were visible even before the outbreak of infection, which only accelerated them. In turn, Black Death was a historic roulette game: the plague pandemic changed the geopolitical order in a completely unpredictable way (Seaman, 2018). Humanity will need time and perspective to realize how the coronavirus pandemic will change the world. However, it will not be a mistake to say that we see how social fabric begins to crack at the seams.

Economic and Social Consequences

Tough measures involving transport restrictions and social exclusion of millions of people in themselves harm the economy. Now, in all scenarios, forecasters are trying to take into account a combination of multidirectional factors (a typical “matrix” of factors can be found, for example, in the forecast of McKinsey, the largest consulting company). Many of the factors still look extremely vague (McKibbin & Fernando, 2020):

  1. What will be the response of the healthcare system and emergencies in different countries ‑ as in China or less effective?
  2. Is the epidemic of the virus seasonal, that is, will it disappear itself when summer begins in the Northern Hemisphere?
  3. What is the real mortality rate (the ratio of the dead to the sick), taking into account cases not officially recognized and patients who have not yet recovered? How much higher is it than seasonal flu?
  4. How does the mortality rate depend on the state of the medical system in each country and its ability to cope with the dramatically increased workload?
  5. How likely is the second wave of the epidemic in territories that, having coped with the first, will cancel restrictive measures? Mostly, economists are wondering if there will be a second wave of epidemic in China.

Separately, the scenarios consider the possible economic consequences of the epidemic itself and measures to combat it, as well as the effectiveness of the tools that the authorities of different countries use to support the economy. Most of the effects are manifested in the form of sharp shocks that can cause the following consequences: stop labor markets and trade; destroy world wealth; break the production chains of complex products; undermine public finances and monetary systems; change‑ locally or globally ‑ people’s behavior and demand patterns in the economy (McKibbin & Fernando, 2020).

Scenarios of the impact of the epidemic on the economy of different countries, taking into account all the shocks, in early March, were presented by the Washington Research Institute Brookings. It is based on a model of a hypothetical high mortality flu epidemic that was created back in 2006. The model describes shocks which make up the pandemic cause a sharp drop in consumption and investment. The decline in aggregate demand, together with the original risk shocks cause a sharp drop in equity markets (McKibbin & Fernando, 2020, p. 23). The model, in fact, presents a prognosis which is more crucial than those made in the times of 2008 global financial crisis and subsequent hard recession.

Other forecasters used models of the global economy, taking into account mainly trade and financial flows between countries and international production chains (such as the production of iPhones, which are actually a joint US-Chinese product). So, the largest financial agency Bloomberg has developed scenarios based on the wide-ranging model of the global economy NiGEM, which takes into account six thousand different parameters in 60 countries and the interaction between markets of different countries (Ozili & Arun, 2020). Mild scenarios describe a situation in which China has suffered predominantly from the epidemic.

The scenarios are based on the optimistic assumption that the second wave of the spread of the virus will not happen in the country ‑ after the restrictions on the movement of citizens and taking measures of “social distance,” that is, strict quarantine, are lifted. The moderate scenarios describe the development of a pandemic in which authorities in various countries, taking the example from China, defeat the spread of coronavirus by severe restrictions on the movement and communication of citizens. However, many countries will have to endure hardships comparable to those in China (Ozili & Arun, 2020). Obviously, there is a danger that the “moderate” epidemic will imbalance world finances.

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As Morgan Stanley, one of the largest investment banks, predicts, as early as April, the central banks of developed countries, trying to support the economy, will lower interest rates to a minimum, surpassing records of soft monetary policy during the crisis of 2008-2009 (McKibbin & Fernando, 2020). This will lead to the fact that the money will become very cheap. Even more cheap money will be added by governments that will pursue fiscal stimulus policies. Trump has already announced a $200 billion business and community support program (McKibbin & Fernando, 2020). Such a pumping up of the economy with money may not affect demand, but it will cause a surge in inflation; even the half-forgotten term “stagflation” can be mentioned ‑ a mixture of stagnation and high inflation, which developed countries have not encountered since the 1980s.

Very bad scenarios based on models of connections in the global economy show that a recession will happen in the world ‑ that is, the global economy will not grow for at least two consecutive quarters. The OECD in its report presented a scenario of “falling dominoes,” according to which the peak of economic losses will generally fall at the end of the year (McKibbin & Fernando, 2020). Now the losses are caused only by a decrease in demand, but soon they will be supplemented by a deep crisis in the stock market, raw materials, and investments. Annual growth will be either minimal ‑ 0.5-1%, or zero at all (Schenker, 2020).

The loss of the global economy will amount to about $2.7 trillion in 2020 alone (Schenker, 2020). This is comparable to the losses from the Great Recession of 2008-2009, when in the first six months of the crisis the world economy was missing two trillion. The grave social consequences of these processes are definitely obvious.

Many companies have already recorded losses of 20 to 50 percent of their income, and, therefore, most have decided to reduce their employees’ wages, while some were forced to reduce staff (McKibbin & Fernando, 2020). If the restrictions and the crisis will last longer, then most companies will be forced to lower their wages. The social upheaval caused by the new coronavirus infection is disproportionate to health problems.

Mankind is facing a crisis that cannot be compared with the financial and economic crisis of 2008-2010. The real danger of the coronavirus pandemic is the social collapse that can occur if the fight against the virus extends. If the current crisis leads to an increase in the number of people without income and access to health care, this can lead to social explosions and acute conflicts, and even to a civil war in the most conflict-prone regions, as the current severe socio-economic crisis can become a catalyst for exacerbation of long-standing latent conflicts, for example, on racial and ethnic grounds.


Andersen, M. L., & Collins, P. H. (2012). Race, class & gender. Wadsworth Publishing.

Daher, L. M. (2020). Understanding social conflict: The relationship between sociology and history. Mimesis International.

McKee, M., & Stuckler, D. (2020). If the world fails to protect the economy, COVID-19 will damage health not just now but also in the future. Nature Medicine. Web.

McKibbin, W., & Fernando, R. (2020). “The global macroeconomic impacts of COVID-19: Seven scenarios.” CAMA Working Paper, 19. Web.

Ozili, P., & Arun, T. (2020). Spillover of COVID-19: impact on the global economy. SSRN Electronic Journal, 3. Web.

Seaman, R. M. (2018). Epidemics and war: The impact of disease on major conflicts in history. ABC-CLIO.

Schenker, J. (2020). The future after COVID: Futurist expectations for changes, challenges, and opportunities after the COVID-19 pandemic. Prestige Professional Publishing.

UNICEF (2020). Social stigma associated with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Web.

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