In partnership with Dragonfly


COVID-19 contributes to new forms of protest

Disruptive protests and unrest remained common in 2020 even amid COVID-19-related restrictions on movement and gatherings. But the fate of political protest movements was mixed: while new campaigns emerged in the US, Thailand and Belarus, others in Latin America, Asia and parts of Europe ground to a halt. The pandemic also pushed fringe grievances fostered by misinformation and conspiracy theories into the mainstream. These fuelled protests on both wings of the political spectrum and sustain the potential for civil disorder through 2021.

COVID-19-related restrictions on large public gatherings were a key obstruction to the civil rights protest movement in Hong Kong last year, even before a new national security law in June 2020 effectively thwarted the remaining resistance. The new law will probably further deter activists from staging renewed anti-government protests in the territory in 2021. By contrast, far-left activists in Santiago, Chile, have tried to use COVID-19 to reinvigorate their campaign by piggybacking on grievances around socio-economic hardship. The protests forced President Sebastián Piñera to agree to a referendum on rewriting the constitution inherited from General Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship. In October 2020, over 78% of Chilean voters approved the constitutional change and in June, they elected the constituent assembly. Such attempts to merge political concerns with hardship issues are likely to remain common in most of the world, particularly in emerging economies.

“The main source of disruptive protests in Europe and North America are likely to remain the convergence of long-standing left-wing and right-wing extremist resentments - with COVID-related grievances compounding the issue.”

Looking ahead, the convergence of long-standing left-wing and right-wing extremists resentments - with COVID-related grievances compounding the issue - is likely to drive disruptive protests in Europe and North America through 2021. In particular, suspicion over lockdown measures, COVID-19 vaccines and claims that the pandemic itself was ‘planned’ by ‘global elites’ have resonated with anti-globalisation, anti-immigration and anti-liberal rhetoric across the political spectrum.

Aon insights

The rise of civil protest, driven by populations’ need for equality, social justice, frustration with government pandemic response or a reluctance to accept a changing political landscape, delivered unanticipated impacts for many of our clients, and the property markets for whom coverage for civil unrest was silently or explicitly offered for many years. These multi-region events, generating significant losses in Latin America, Asia and the US, has challenged the appetite of the property market for the peril, retaining it in some geographies, restricting or excluding it in others. The analysis here indicates that the potential for further large-scale events, and as such losses, will increase as countries move out of lockdown. The terrorism and political violence (TPV) market has stepped in to support clients. Appetite and capacity have grown in response to client demand over the last 12 months. Clients will see differences with limits (aggregate limits in the TPV market) and pricing that they and their brokers need to navigate in advance of renewal. By making use of the data and analysis from our partners at Dragonfly, Aon and our clients build defendable programmes that best fits our clients exposure, appetite and spend. Scott Bolton Director – Terrorism Global Broking Centre, Aon

Figure 1 Countries affected by anti-lockdown / vaccination protests 2020-2021

Source: Dragonfly

Germany and the US are notable hotspots for this type of protest and accompanying civil disorder, following the riot at the US Capitol in January 2021 and an attempt to enter the parliament building in Berlin in August 2020. These new protest trends and dynamics could well align with new grievances as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Slow economic recoveries or stagnation in more advanced economies ease restrictions as vaccination programmes progress will probably also be a significant driver of protest and unrest. In such countries and emerging economies alike, this will probably fuel anger over governments’ handling of the crisis, bringing new causes of political protest or reigniting popular grievances that pre-date the pandemic.

Figure 2 Trends in global civil unrest: actions and tactics have spread and proliferated

About the map and the methodology