International affairs and COVID-19: What are experts concerned about?

  • Over 1,100 experts have shared with us their concerns about COVID-19 and COVID-impacted areas in the immediate and longer term future.
  • This report outlines concerns about international affairs.
  • Experts are concerned about how the COVID-19 outbreak might affect relations between countries, as suppression strategies drift. This could create international tensions and lead to a rise in populism. There are also concerns about how criticism of the UK response might impact the the country’s global position.
  • Experts are also concerned about a lack of international cooperation. They worry that the UK will not consult evidence from other countries. They note that there is a general need for greater data sharing between countries to coordinate the response.
  • Other areas of concern include international economy, trade and development. There are fears of a global recession and concerns over the lack of a unified response from the G20 and WTO. Low- and middle-income countries are also likely to be further impacted by the outbreak, as contributions to international development funds drop or are re-directed to COVID-19.
  • Finally, experts are concerned about international travel and migration. There is uncertainty about what the effects of the outbreak on international travel will be and experts are concerned about impacts on migrant and seasonal workers. They are also concerned about the health of refugees and a potential increase in refugee numbers in the long-term, due to geopolitical instability.
  • You can find all our horizon scanning work on COVID-19 here.

Our survey of over 1,100 experts asked them what their most important concerns were in the short (next 3 months), medium (next 3 to 9 months) and long-term (beyond the next 9 months) relating to the COVID-19 outbreak. Their responses were analysed and synthesised. This synthesis comes from survey responses submitted between 3 and 30 April. Experts raise 129 concerns relating to international affairs. Below are the areas of concerns that experts have relating to this area.

International relations

Experts express 22 concerns about relations between countries over the short, medium and long-term. Short-term concerns are that there could be tension between countries that are tackling the outbreak in different ways. Medium and long-term concerns focus on how politics may change within countries and between countries as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. Some experts are concerned that there will be a rise of populism, authoritarianism and isolationism in some countries. This could increase the risk of conflict between neighbouring countries in unstable regions and create new instability in others. These experts note that the outbreak may also generate distrust in global governance structures (such as NATO, the UN and the G20). They are concerned that some countries may use this distrust to withdraw funding or cooperation from these structures. This could create further global instability.

Long-term concerns focus on the UK’s future position in a changed global political landscape. Experts note that if there is international criticism of the UK’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, it could have less international influence. Some experts suggest that this reduction in influence could be exacerbated by the UK leaving the EU.

Example of a typical long-term concern in this area: The most important concern is deciding if the existing global governance architecture is suited for purpose and, if not, what change might need to be made […]

International cooperation

Experts note the need for international cooperation in the short and medium-term to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak. They raise nearly 30 concerns in this area. Some experts express concern that the UK had not used policies trialled in other countries during the early stages of the outbreak. They are also concerned that the UK will continue not to consult evidence from other countries when making decisions. Some experts are concerned that there is not enough international data-sharing to create an agreed global response to the outbreak. They suggest that the UK has a duty to other countries to record and share data about the outbreak. In the medium-term, experts suggest that developing and producing treatments and vaccinations requires international collaboration. They are concerned that some countries could withhold the evidence or resources required for these treatments and vaccines because of political motivations. In the long-term, some experts are concerned that future pandemics could come from wildlife trading. They suggest that there should be cooperation to agree international standards on how to manage the wildlife trade to prevent future cross-species transmission of diseases.

Example of a typical long-term concern in this area: Despite knowing something like this was coming, COVID-19 is a result of a failure to have proper global health governance structures.

International economy and trade

Over 40 concerns focus on international economy and trade. In the short-term, experts are concerned at the lack of a unified response from global governance structures (such as the G20 or WTO) to protect the global economy. In the medium and long-term, many experts are concerned that the COVID-19 outbreak could lead to a global economic recession. Experts note that an economic downturn would affect every country. However, it would have the biggest effect on low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) whose economies are already struggling. This would set back economic progress in some countries. Experts are concerned it could lead to a greater number of deaths from poverty. They also express concerns that increased poverty could lead to political instability, particularly in LMICs and low-income regions. In the long-term, experts suggest that countries will have to work together to ensure the global economy recovers.

In the short-term, experts are concerned that some countries may reduce exports of medical equipment and food. In the medium and long-term, they are concerned that some countries may introduce policies that restrict imports and/or exports. They note that this could be damaging to the UK, which is currently reliant on imports and exports in many industries. In the long-term, some experts are also concerned that there will be an increase in the number of international trades requiring dispute resolution.

Experts are concerned in the medium and long-term about future UK trade deals. Some experts are concerned that the COVID-19 outbreak will negatively affect trade negotiations between the UK and the EU. They suggest that the UK will be in a weaker position because it will be reliant on imports at a time when countries are likely to reduce exports. Some experts are concerned that some countries may leverage a slowdown in international trade to push for trade agreements that are less favourable to the UK. For example, they could insist on the relaxation of product standards or insist on a particular company being given a government contract.

Example of a typical short-term concern in this area: In the short-term, I am most concerned with how multilateral institutions can be take emergency measures to limit the extent of the global recession[…]

International development

Experts raise over 20 concerns about the short, medium and long-term impact on low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). They note that issues from the COVID-19 outbreak faced by high-income countries will be amplified in LMICs. For example, food supply issues could lead to mass starvation, while overburdened healthcare systems could lead to many more preventable deaths. Lockdowns are also likely to be harder to enforce in countries with less stable governments. This means that a greater proportion of the country is likely to be affected by the virus. Some experts are concerned that this could also translate into civil unrest, military interventions or coups. This political instability could also lead to greater numbers of displaced people, refugees and asylum-seekers.

In the medium and long-term, experts are concerned that contributions to international development will drop because of a global economic downturn. This would coincide with a greater need for international development funds in LMICs. Experts note that the virus is likely to become endemic (always present in a percentage of the population) in some regions. They are also concerned that funding for other development activities will be diverted to managing the COVID-19 outbreak. This would result in progress stalling in other important areas, such as sexual health or education. Experts note that the COVID-19 outbreak could delay or prevent countries from achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Example of a typical medium-term concern in this area: Ensuring that funding for sexual and reproductive health services and programmes as well as wider investments in health systems in low income countries provided through ODA [Official Development Assistance] continue.

International travel and migration

There are nearly 20 concerns that focus on international travel and migration. In the short, medium and long-term, experts are concerned about what the effects on international travel will be. They suggest that countries need to consider what measures need to be put in place to ensure international travel is safe and does not spread the virus between countries. Some experts express concerns that there will be reluctance to engage in international travel for business, study or leisure in the future. This would be especially damaging for economies reliant on tourism, and education systems reliant on international students.

Experts are also concerned in the medium and long-term that there will be less migration in the future. They note that this would create problems for industries that rely on migrant or seasonal workers. These industries include the health and social care system and agriculture. Some note that the UK leaving the EU may reduce its access to migrant workers. They suggest that the UK will require immigration policies that attract enough migrant workers for the industries that need them.

Experts are concerned in the short and medium-term about the health of refugees, whose living conditions tend to be poorer than average. They are concerned that data are not being collected on whether health outcomes are worse for refugees, especially those living in refugee camps or detention centres. In the long-term, they also note that economic decline or political unrest could increase the number of refugees, especially in regions already experiencing instability. Some experts are concerned that if there is an increase in the number of displaced people, some countries may attempt to suspend international conventions on refugees.


You can read the methodology of this work here. All researchers who contributed to this survey are listed under Acknowledgements.

You can find rapid response content from POST on COVID-19 here.

You can find more content on COVID-19 from the Commons and Lords Libraries here.