COVID-19 is a dramatic global public health challenge, and in many countries has created a ramifying public health, economic, and political crisis. The numbers involved are stupefying, whether they speak of infection and mortality, the scale of public health measures such as mobility restrictions, or the economic consequences for unemployment and public sector spending. Entire economies have been put into medically induced comas, unthinkably tough public health measures have become widespread with levels of public compliance or noncompliance that often surprise, and health care systems as well as states are being put to tests many have not recently seen.
There will be no way to understand the different responses to COVID-19 and their effects without understanding policy and politics. The disconnect between scholars of politics and scholars of public health and health services is long-established and much-bemoaned (Carpenter, 2012). Thus, for example, there is a real risk that political scientists and economists will publish analyses that try to attribute morbidity and mortality to policy and politics without understanding the serious and highly political limitations on data about COVID-19 infections and attributable mortality (Karanikolos & McKee, 2020). There is equally a high risk that public health researchers will recycle theories of politics that are too macroscopic to explain much, or overlook the subtleties of policies as well as social and political contexts, omitting mid-level theories on topics such as political institutions in favour of explanations that are too local or too big and imprecise (Greer et al., 2018). The COVID-19 pandemic offers the chance to remedy these disciplinary silos across the globe, helping us to understand the public health decisions being taken now as well as better grasp global health politics in the future.
Our goal is to start to identify and explain what matters most in addressing COVID-19, across and within regions and countries (Kavanagh & Singh, 2020) (Bal et al., 2020). These multidisciplinary explanations will help to shape the future conversations about the meaning and lessons of this disease for comparative politics, health policy, and global health more broadly. Drawing on political science and health politics research, we identify four broad hypotheses for research on COVID-19 political responses:
Social policy matters to crisis management as well as recovery: It is tempting, but wrong, to think that social and economic policy is only an issue for recovery. It is also an issue for emergency response. Relatively authoritarian public health measures (such as physical distancing or temporary economic shutdowns) depend on societal compliance. That is the case even in authoritarian regimes. Compliance requires not just things like good communication and trust, but also a political economy that permits people to stay at home without starving. The pre-existing social policies of the country as well as the ones enacted specifically to respond to the COVID-19 challenge will shape the extent of compliance with public health measures as well as