Behind every silver lining, a dark cloud lurks. Prime Minister Mia Mottley, on the sunset of April 13th 2021, to mark the rise of the crescent moon of Ramadhan Shareef, wrote that one year into the pandemic our concerns are not about unknowns. Furthermore, the patterns of spikes and falls, variants and mutants, lockdowns and eases make it vivid that eradication remains a distant goal. The tenacity of vaccines remains tenuous if parts of the globe remain vulnerable and at risk.

The COVID-19 pandemic embodies the most fundamental disruption to economic activity over the last one hundred years. It has introduced huge tests for globalization. Although that economy survived disruptions in the recent past – 9/11, SARS and the avarice that precipitated a global financial crisis – none have been as abrupt, unabated or pervasive as COVID-19. Unlike earlier calamities, COVID-19 has simultaneously devastated the front line economies of the flat world, paralyzed links between nation states, prompted a potpourri of responses among member states within customs unions and created wide uncertainty about its eventual suppression.

The troubled hurriedly amended company legislation. Others created new laws to hibernate companies. Others watched on – simply stultified. Apart from the leading minds in Cuban Universities who have little or nothing to work with as the lingering economic embargo cuts Cuban scientists off from suppliers of laboratory reagents, other regional institutions simply waited for Oxford professors to innovate and invent. Vanished are the days of brilliance when scientists like Joseph Lennox Pawan in Trinidad isolated the rabies virus from bats including the desmodus rotundus and formulated a vaccine that saved many lives globally. So much for national innovation policies and other masks and masquerade traditions that have become as widespread as the god delusion.

Paradoxically, for a global event, COVID-19 has failed to trigger an effective global response. Rather, nations have pursued disparate solution pathways based on their trade-off between the costs of virus containment and those of economic shutdown and isolation. Once more we find a signal in Trotsky’s words, “Everyone (is) defend(ing) himself against everybody else, protecting himself by a customs wall and a hedge of bayonets.” Trotsky’s admonitions resonate with our present circumstance as everywhere the precepts of liberal democracy are being torn apart amid the re-emergence of authoritarian and fascist forms of rule. The lack of global leadership may reflect the absence of a clear single global power or the ongoing tensions between the two leading contenders – the United States and China.

One consequence of COVID-19 is a reconsideration of the present globalization wave and whether it should be revived or remodelled. Globalization was already subject to considerable censure before the pandemic. Concerns highlighted its inequity, its fragility, its encouragement of maleficent wastefulness and disregard for the environment, as well as its relentless desire to advance technology. To thrive, it demanded favourable conditions – a relatively free and non-discriminatory trading environment, low tariffs, efficient market processes and supporting institutions, and a comparatively stable operating environment characterized by controllable risk, rather than disruptive uncertainty. It also required efficient infrastructure, both concrete and virtual, as well as suave technologies to coordinate intricate global supply meshworks and opportunities to exploit indigenous advantage. It needed China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Already steps have been taken to address a “mission-oriented capitalism” in which “purposeful” corporations act ethically. Before the disruption, there were indications that the current globalization wave may have reached its peak as we approach the extremes of commodification. So after vaccines, how do we deal with the consequences of the politics of catastrophe? The British Retail Consortium estimates that UK stores lost £27 billion in sales over three lockdowns, while 67,000 retail jobs were shed in 2020 alone. Seventeen thousand five hundred and thirty-two chain store outlets vanished from high street shopping centres and retail parks across the UK. Shuttered businesses that resulted in job losses and lockdowns that took away ordinary liberties forced people to flee the cages from which they were once made to whistle. Pandemics like earthquakes, the Soufriere volcanic eruption, financial crises and wars are not distributed on a bell curve. But when calamities strike, we hope always to be better prepared than the Romans were when Vesuvius erupted or medieval Italians when the Black Death struck.

Everywhere responses to COVID-19 were bungled. COVID-19 unmasked the failure of an administrative state and of economic elites who had grown myopic over decades of decadence. A post mortem of a plague year in the West Indies will uncover countless pathologies ranging from imperial inertia in education systems to bureaucratic sclerosis and digital schism. Covid-19 was a test that we failed.

Recovery roadmaps from past catastrophes couch coherent messages and memoranda that can act as an aide-mémoire if we plan to avoid the doom of irreversible decline. We are everywhere now at school, at work and at home on the banks of the Cyber River connecting everything to anyone. And not a single knot that fences our future can be unravelled from within the national. Terrorism, Greta’s extinction rebellion, technological disruption, bioengineering, the future of work, nuclear weapons and algorithms are knots that cannot be untied nationally.