People wearing protective face masks walk on the main shopping street in Munich during the coronavirus crisis on April 30, 2020.

Alexander Hassenstein / Getty Images

LONDON – The “inward national agenda” of certain countries in response to the coronavirus pandemic threatens post-crisis global resilience, suggested a panelist behind the 2021 World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report.

Carolina Klint, head of risk management for continental Europe at Marsh & McLennan, told CNBC’s Geoff Cutmore on Monday that the collaboration needs to learn lessons that are needed to develop coronavirus vaccines at an “unprecedented rate”.

However, she added that the “inward-looking national agendas” of some countries were “cause for concern”.

Their comments come from activists criticizing some wealthier countries for “hoarding” more doses of coronavirus vaccines than they need, while lower-income countries struggle to get enough shots to immunize their populations. A December report by Amnesty International raised concerns about “vaccine nationalism” with the UK, US, EU, Japan, Canada and Australia cited as the largest advanced vaccine doses buyers.

On Tuesday, Co-Chair of the World Health Organization’s Independent Pandemic Review Panel, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, shared her disappointment that “vaccine adoption is currently benefiting wealthy countries.”

Zombie company; Asset bubbles

Klint said the “substantial” stimulus packages that governments put in their respective economies in their immediate response to the pandemic also coincided with the “ongoing trend towards self-sufficiency accelerated by Covid-19”.

She added that there is a risk of “business zombification” if the stimulus packages are not “properly structured”.

“So it really is a perfect storm brewing here,” she said.

So-called zombie companies are considered to be the lagging companies that need debt to operate or earn just enough to survive and service their debts. This has been an issue in the face of the pandemic with increased corporate support from governments and central banks.

Similarly, Klint warned of asset bubbles – when an asset rises in price quickly based on market dynamics rather than underlying fundamentals – as another potential risk.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, infectious diseases were ranked as the most impacting threat for the next decade in the WEF’s annual global risk report. For comparison: In January 2019, the spread of infectious diseases was classified as the 10th largest risk in terms of possible effects over the next 10 years.

In its very first global risk report in 2006, the WEF highlighted pandemic influenza as one of four main risks. It warned that “fatal flu, the spread of which is facilitated by global travel patterns and not prevented by inadequate warning mechanisms, would pose an acute threat”.

The annual report is based on the WEF’s Global Risks Perception Survey conducted by more than 650 members of the forum’s “diverse leadership communities”.

In this year’s risk report, infectious diseases along with livelihood crises were also identified as the top short-term threats to the world, according to 60% of those surveyed.

Klint added, “The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way we think about risk. It has raised awareness that disasters, which could potentially lead to mass death and destruction, can indeed happen.”

Extreme weather, climate protection failures and man-made environmental damage were seen by respondents to the WEF survey as the most likely risks for the next decade. This continued the trend seen in last year’s report, in which all five of the biggest long-term global risks were related to environmental issues.

Alongside employment and livelihood crises, digital inequality and youth disillusionment were cited as one of the most immediate threats to the world, with the report focusing on the larger societal gaps created by the pandemic.