When is the right time to ease off pandemic restrictions and reopen the economy? This was the question at the centre of the discussion during the webinar “The Pandemic Dilemma: Recession or Contagion?” organised by the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD) in close cooperation with the ALDE Party and Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) Korea Office on 2 June.
With the participation of South Korean MP Cho Jung-hoon, Swedish MEP Abir al-Sahlani and the Chairman of the German FNF Prof. Karl-Heinz Paqué, the experiences of these countries respectively in balancing the need to restart the economy severely devastated by various forms of lockdowns, with the necessity of containing the virus and protecting public health. The session was moderated by CALD Individual Member Emily Lau of Hong Kong.
Abhisit Vejjajiva, the former Thai prime minister and former chairperson of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD), opened the meeting reflecting: “We need to have the right strategy in terms of balancing. I think there is only one objective – to manage the situation in our countries to make sure that there is sustainable well-being for all of our people. And to do that, we have to make sure that we get on top of the contagion. We can never restart the economy if the contagion continues.”
ALDE Party President Hans van Baalen noted: “We as a liberal family need to provide ideas, suggestions and we have to work together, and I am proud that we are doing so… We liberals have to fight because we are all in this together — for surviving as a world economy, for surviving as a world community.”
During the discussion, Abir al-Sahlani MEP commented that Sweden’s strategy is not based on achieving “herd immunity” as reported but relied on “the people’s own sense of duty and responsibility”. She said: “it is difficult and exhausting for people to give up their freedoms for a long period of time… I do think it is wiser to save the very harsh measures for peak periods, and to allow people to maintain most of their civil liberties for as long as possible, provided it is safe to do so.”
Prof. Paqué argued that liberals and democrats should state clearly that they would like to go back to a globalised world economically , but it should be “safe globalisation”, characterised by appropriate flexibility to react to unusual and dangerous circumstances such as a pandemic. Cho Jung-hoon noted: “we are now trying to adjust the balance between a complete lockdown — which will have a great cost in terms of the economy — and public health. Although there is no magic bullet, there is no magic ratio. It depends on each country’s situation.”