On December 15, we hosted a really interesting discussion on some of the major issues that will be shaping the news in 2022, including COVID-19, the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, and major elections and political events in the US, China, France, Brazil and more. Our fantastic panel helped highlight some of the things journalists should be looking out for and the broader themes that will drive these stories. Scroll down to watch the discussion in full.
A quick note before we get to the writeup: if you’re planning your coverage for next year, we’ve also launched our 2022 news calendars! You can download a UK or US version, each featuring over 500 events to help you plan for the biggest diary stories of the year.
- Dr Matifadza Hlatshwayo Davis, Director of Health, City of St Louis
- Dr Ed Owens, Royal historian and author, The Family Firm: Monarchy, Mass Media and the British Public, 1932-53
- Tom Standage, Deputy Editor, The Economist, and Editor, The World Ahead 2022
- Nicole Wilkins, Publisher, Foresight News (chair)
Look out for: new variants; vaccine inequity; TRIPS waiver; travel disruption; trusted messengers; what the return to work looks like
Key dates: UNGA high-level meeting on universal vaccination (January 13); Austrian mandatory vaccination law takes effect (February 1); Cyril Ramaphosa State of the Nation (February 10); Coronavirus Act 2020 expires (March 24); UK COVID-19 public inquiry begins (March); WHO World Health Assembly (May 22-28); WTO Ministerial Conference (TBC – postponed from 2021)
We started with a discussion on COVID-19 and how the pandemic will continue to develop in 2022 as the world deals with the rise of new variants. Dr Matifadza Hlatshwayo Davis, Director of Health at the City of St Louis, was clear that we will continue to see new variants if we don’t find a way to address ‘absolutely unacceptable’ global vaccine inequity, which has seen richer parts of the world vaccinate their populations while poorer countries have struggled with access to vaccines. This creates a breeding ground for variants that will continue to adapt to their environment, potentially leading to overwhelmed health care systems, and Dr Mati outlined the key things to look out for when it comes to addressing Covid next year:
- Vaccine supply and distribution. Stop focusing on global supply as a scapegoat – richer countries highlight doses they’ve donated, but Dr Mati says these are often close to expiry and given to countries who do not have the infrastructure in place to get them out quickly. We need to deal with funding and systems for distribution and access, and also waive intellectual property rights to allow countries to manufacture vaccines independently. People in richer countries also need to understand that the world is connected and they’re affected by vaccine supply in poorer countries, whether they care or not; as long as people travel between countries, all of our lives are affected by what happens in other countries. The focus on boosters in richer countries is irrelevant in most of the world – we can’t fight new variants with boosters that are just a drop in the bucket worldwide.
- Misinformation and trusted messengers. In poorer countries, there needs to be funding to address education and combat valid post-colonial mistrust aimed at the vaccines produced and distributed by richer nations. Across the world, governments need to tap into trusted messengers to help people understand why local politicians should be enforcing the recommendations made by experts, rather than giving their own advice. Dr Mati has been shocked by having her expertise called into question by politicians – ‘Most of whom don’t have fifth grade biology!’ – and having them be the ones people are taking their recommendations from. She said the focus in 2022 needs to be on finding trusted resources and people who understand how to talk to the public and educate them.
- Standardising recommendations. ‘Inconsistency will see us stuck in the very same place,’ Dr Mati said. In the US, public health measures vary widely by state, and this is the case between countries as well. Intervention at a national and global level is needed to standardise what is expected of people in terms of vaccinations, mask mandates, quarantine and isolation in order to allow the world to get to a state of herd immunity – without it, Dr Mati said we’re going to be ‘stuck in this up and down pattern of surges and relative areas of ease’.
Tom Standage, Editor of The Economist’s The World Ahead 2022 issue, also discussed some of the non-health issues that we’ll see some focus on in 2022. The first of these is travel, and particularly the innovation we might see as countries try to adjust to living with coronavirus and new variants without simply closing borders. He pointed to the Maldives and Thailand as two places that have implemented ‘sandbox’ approaches which allow tourists into some parts of the country under very stringent testing and vaccination requirements, and only allow them to travel on from there once they’ve been cleared.
The second issue is on work, which Standage said will see the biggest long-term impact outside of health as companies figure out what hybrid working looks like, a change he likened to people going to work in factories and the rise of big offices. But there’s an equity issue here, too; firstly, because only half of people in even the richest countries can actually work from home, so it’s important to acknowledge that, and secondly because the hybrid workplace ‘will be unfair, unless it’s designed not to be’. Standage pointed to statistics on how keen different groups are to return to the office, with women and ethnic minorities in the US less enthusiastic than men and white workers, and cautioned that groups who want to go back could end up being favoured by management, reversing progress that has been made on gender pay gaps, diversity and inclusion.
THE QUEEN’S PLATINUM JUBILEE
Look out for: a national moment and event; focus on the Prince of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge; push to project stability and continuity; Prince Andrew’s legal case; Prince Harry’s memoirs; Prince Charles cash-for-honours scandal
Key dates: Prince Andrew’s motion to dismiss arguments (January 4); The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee (February 6); UNBOXED Festival of Creativity in the UK (from March 1); Commonwealth Day Service (March 14); The Palace Papers book (April 26); Jubilee equestrian show (May 12-15); Jubilee celebrations and bank holiday (June 2-5); Duke of Cambridge turns 40 (June 21); Commonwealth Games (July 28-August 8); 25th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana (August 31); Prince Andrew trial (September TBC); Remembrance Sunday service (November 13); Duke of Sussex memoir (late 2022)
February marks 70 years since Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne following the death of King George VI, though the main celebrations are taking place over a four-day bank holiday in June. Following on from our discussion on everyday life in the Covid era, Royal historian Dr Ed Owens said that if the UK isn’t beset by restrictions by summertime, he can see the jubilee weekend as being ‘a blowout, a moment of national jubilation after six difficult years’, pointing to the division caused by the Brexit referendum in the years before the pandemic. Owens said the House of Windsor will use the occasion to try to project an image of stability, strength and unity after a difficult couple of years for the family, and that the government is also likely to try to use the occasion to project their ‘Global Britain’ agenda.
We talked about the likely attention on the direct line of succession during the celebrations. Owens said that there will be a lot of focus on the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Cambridge, and their respective spouses, reminding the public that The Queen’s long reign is coming to an end, and that a new reign is on the horizon. Asked whether this might present a problem for the monarchy, Owens said there is unlikely to be a serious challenge to the institution in the UK because the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are immensely popular; in the Commonwealth, he said there doesn’t seem to be any great momentum for countries to follow Barbados’ lead in getting rid of The Queen as head of state. On the legacy of Empire and colonialism that the jubilee will inevitably raise, Owens said Prince Charles has been more willing to engage with those conversations, which could lead to ‘productive catharsis and reconciliation’ rather than a huge push away from the monarchy.
But the celebrations around the jubilee are going to be contrasted with several negative stories for the Royal family that mean it won’t be a year of great PR – Owens said that in some ways it’s a question of to what extent the jubilee can cover up the cracks. Most difficult will be the case against Prince Andrew in the US, where he has been accused of sexual assault by Virginia Giuffre; a high-profile hearing kicks off in January, with a trial likely in the autumn if it goes ahead.
There’s also the ongoing cash-for-honours scandal involving the Prince of Wales’ former aide Michael Fawcett, and two new books coming out that are likely to cause headaches: Tina Brown’s latest volume, The Palace Papers, looking at the 25 years since Princess Diana’s death, and Prince Harry’s own memoir, due toward the end of the year, which will guarantee that the negative press around the princes’ relationship continues. While Owens suspects that the Duke’s book won’t be the bombshell that everyone is expecting, he pointed to his ongoing lawsuits against News UK and the Mirror over phone hacking allegations as another Royal news item to watch for next year.
ELECTIONS AND FOREIGN POLICY
Look out for: democracy vs autocracy; the fate of populist candidates; domestic stability in China; the role of COVID-19 in politics; Russia and Ukraine
Key dates: Belarus constitutional referendum (February); Chinese ‘Two Sessions’ (March); France presidential election (April 10 and 24); Hungary parliamentary elections (April); Philippines elections (May 9); Brazil presidential election (October 2); Chinese Communist Party National Congress (October); US Congress midterm elections (November 8)
Looking at the wider world in 2022, we spoke to Tom Standage about the major elections happening next year. Standage said one of the ways to look at it is through the prism of the state of democracy versus the rise of autocracy, particularly in the contrast between the ‘carnival and chaos’ of the US midterms and the ‘careful stage management’ of the Chinese Communist Party National Congress. China is focused on projecting stability domestically as it prepares for what will essentially be a coronation of President Xi Jinping, allowing him a third term in office, and this means highlighting the contrast between Beijing’s centralised system and the ‘instability’ of American democracy as the Democrats look set to lose control of the House and Senate.
Standage said democracy has been in recession since the 2008 global financial crisis, which has seen people turn to more populist, autocratic leaders, and 2022 will give us an opportunity to evaluate how that’s going. Key elections to look out for include: France (April), where we have the rise of ‘French Donald Trump’ Eric Zemmour and can see how much traction he’ll gain; Brazil (October), where ‘Brazilian Trump’ Jair Bolsonaro has done an ‘appalling’ job of (not) managing the pandemic, and is polling really badly, but preparing to contest the result; and Hungary (April), where Viktor Orban has taken a more subtle approach to dismantling guardrails and subverting democracy but faces a unified opposition and could lose.
We talked about France and the US in a bit more detail with our other panellists. Standage and Owens, who lives part-time in France, both said Macron is the favourite to win again, with the right-wing Les Républicains candidate Valérie Pécresse likely to pose a greater threat than Zemmour. Dr Mati said that in the US, Covid will remain a hot button issue, with the country split across party lines on how they want to see health measures pan out, and the pandemic will continue to be weaponised as it’s key to the success of individual governors as well as the parties overall.
We also had a bit of time to touch on a few other key issues:
The Olympics (February) and the World Cup (December). Both huge global sporting events are being held in countries with bad records on human rights (China and Qatar, respectively). Standage said in both cases we’re more likely to see protests aimed at advertisers than at the events themselves, since spectators aren’t allowed at the Olympics and athletes are unlikely to pull out. He said Olympic sponsors have been very quiet, although Airbnb has already been targeted by Amnesty International for its involvement due to China’s actions in Xinjiang – his recommendation to the marketers listening was to steer clear.
Russia and Ukraine. There is currently a lot of tension around Ukraine and the possibility of a Russian invasion, which Standage said is a lot more likely than any action from China against Taiwan, another area that has attracted worry. He said that while China is pushing for stability at all costs, Russia has the opposite problem – President Vladimir Putin is deeply unpopular and has a domestic region to ‘do dodgy things in his backyard like sending troops into Ukraine’. Putin has come up with a list of demands for NATO and western powers that he knows they won’t agree to, such as ruling out ever allowing Ukraine to join NATO, which Standage said he can use as a pretext to invade Ukraine.
Thanks again to our panellists for sharing their insight!
Watch the full discussion:
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