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The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted patterns of behaviour, stressed established institutions, fractured economies, and radically altered the lives of people across the globe. By their very nature, federal states, with the constitutional distribution of power between two or more orders of government, react to the shock in more complex ways when compared to unitary states. While in most federal countries the constitutional power to deal with national disasters or emergencies resides with the federal government, the delivery of health services is often the remit of constituent units, such as states, provinces and cantons, as well as local governments. Thus, responding to the public health and economic crisis brought on by the pandemic has required policy interventions across all orders of government. This has necessitated unprecedented levels of intergovernmental interaction and coordination between all orders in a federation.
In the spring of 2020, when country after country virtually shut down its economy, it was the national government that possessed the clout and the reach to take the measures necessary to support citizens and businesses through the sudden and unexpected collapse of economic activity – and, in many cases, to support the states and cities as well. Sub-national governments, typically, did not have the fiscal capacity or the economic-management tools that were needed to respond, quickly and massively, to the human and economic impact of the pandemic. What impact has this had on federalism? Has the management of COVID-19 in the early stages pushed federations to centralize or decentralize?
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