The Spectator

The dangers of post-Covid isolationism

[Getty Images]

There is something bizarre about a sporting event designed to bring people and nations together but from which spectators have been excluded. Most foreigners are currently forbidden from setting foot inside Japan, let alone inside the Olympic stadium. In many senses, Tokyo 2020 — which like the Uefa Euros retains its original name, despite a year’s delay — encompasses the worst of our pandemic-ridden world: the global elite can attend while the rest of us have to settle for watching it on TV.

Yet a successful Olympics — even a week in, it looks as if the Tokyo Games will be judged a kind of success — could provide the impetus the world needs to re-establish normal working relations. In reminding us of what we have lost over the past 18 months, it might spur us on to escape the insularity the pandemic created before it is allowed to become a permanent feature of our existence.

It is ironic that the pandemic was preceded in Britain by a charged political debate over national isolation. Many who campaigned to remain in the European Union accused Leavers of having a drawbridge-up mentality, of trying to cut Britain off from the rest of the world. In America, too, Donald Trump was attacked for isolationist policies. Such attacks had a point: to pander to isolationism would be a tragedy for globally minded countries like the US and Britain.

It is too easy to imagine the world settling down into a semi-permanent system of bio­secure bubbles

Yet when Covid arrived, the isolationist instinct prevailed throughout the West. Many of those who were most critical of tough immigration policies and withdrawal from trade deals and trading blocs have turned out to argue the loudest for closed borders. When President Trump first announced he was going to close America’s borders to European travellers, the EU complained bitterly.

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