Springing in and out of COVID

The anticipation around opening up the country has all the bubbles talking. On the day of the announcement, 4/20, the whole country tuned in. The big prize for moving to level 3, takeaways! After the coming long weekend, Level 3 would last for an initial duration of 2 weeks, one COVID cycle to see how the curve evolves.

Little changed for our household. Home cooked food was so good throughout lockdown that we were less enthusiastic about eating out than we had anticipated. Our tragic comedy played out in 3 hour long lines for McDonald's and KFC which made international news.

Instead of new cases, the daily press briefings began to report on the number of infractions and the number of students returning to school. And specific attention to the still the number of tests, including random testing at record breaking levels. ThankyouHealthCare is set up to for the public to sponsor businesses offer products and services as donations in gratitudes for health care workers. Consideration shifts to the reopening of the economy and the plans and analysis done on the various ways to respond to the economic downturn. All salaries of government staff will be frozen to cushion the shortages coming.

On the flip side the Trump threatens to bankrupt the postal service. It would have a convenient flow on effect to upcoming elections as vote by mail will be required for upcoming elections. It’s an important strategic move because unemployment is set to reach 16.5% in April and there is no slow down to the spread or the economic downturn in sight. As of May 1st, 1 million cases in the US equate to a third of cases world-wide and a quarter of all COVID deaths world wide.

Large corporate workers try to drum up support for a mass strike on Labor Day. People are encouraged to strike on rents and mortgages as well. I saw little news of those protests but I did read that on that day Trump signed an order declaring meat production an essential service. And as an essential service, requirements for on the job safety measures to protect workers are deprioritized. The CDC filters it’s data to reflect Trump’s wishes and waters down health mandates to meat packing houses so that everything is merely recommended, per convenience. Workers who choose not to return to work will loose entitlement to collect unemployment.

McConnell forces congress to convene to pass the next Coronavirus relief package which needs to include liability protections for companies whose workers become ill or die when they force them to go back on the job. 90% of small businesses will be cut out of paycheck protection program.

Pence violates a clinic’s rule to wear a mask because he gets tested all the time. Trump cuts funding to the World Health Organisation so they are going to withdraw medical support to Yemen. That makes sense in optics given that USA will surpass the death toll of the entire Yemen war to date, in a matter of 3 months. Global warming is on track to be the hottest year on record but don’t waste any time slashing EPA regulations.

The curve projections for deaths in the US by the University of Washington are amended to remove the assumption that people will stay home to prevent spread which causes the predicted death toll to double from 74 to 134 thousand by June 1st. The difference between those two will be the degree to which America’s decision as a confetti of different local, state and federal approaches and challenges chooses to acknowledge science and health over freedom and business. There is certainty that hot-spots across the country will balloon in areas surrounding meat packing plants, elderly care facilities, and prisons for the underprivileged. For the privileged, it will spread by those who can’t be inconvenienced — churches, freedom protesters and self interested business owners will contribute to America’s exceptionalism with world dominating death toll statistics. If only Trump could order silence from Fauci and the Corona virus task from testifying before congress.

By mid May in New Zealand the health care emergency seems to be behind us. New cases went below 10 per day in early April and then by May there were 11 new cases nationwide in the entire month. The administration refocuses from considerations to decisions on a recovery plan. In Level 2, retail and restaurants reopen and adjust to the new normal. How many people can gather in what sort of spaces and what sort of hygiene changes need to be made so that everyone continues to respond to the threat of COVID? Even though there are 0 cases in Wellington and less than 50 active cases countrywide, there is still quite a bit of adherence to the spirit of the guidelines.

From an economic standpoint, an Analytical note is published estimating the Economic impacts of COVID-19 containment measures. Even though the economy is small and generally easier to define I was impressed to be able to access and absorb the information so easily. The economic system and impact of the recent shut down seem to be well understood. The budget would be released in mid May with intent to respond to the worst national decline since the Great Depression. Grant Robertson, the Finance Minister, begins the big reveal by setting the scene with world wide projections by international agencies about contractions in global growth and trade. In order to invest in jobs the debt-to-GDP ratio will double, ballooning from around 20 to 50% of GDP. But 50% will still hold as one of the best performers in the world.

The 80% wage subsidy is extended to endure another month and then tapered off so that affected businesses can continue to use the wage subsidy as a free runway to generate revenue from reopening. Even so, unemployment may reach up to 10% and GDP is likely to drop 6% and see significant business failures. R&D investments will cater to the areas of infrastructure for international trade and digitization of small business and eCommerce enablement. With 40% of the tourism industry affected, it would help tourism all around the country if the 4 day workweek could contribute to economic recovery. Jacinda drops the hint,

“Ultimately, that really sits between employers and employees, but as I’ve said there’s lots of things we’ve learnt about COVID, and just that flexibility of people working from home, the productivity that can be driven out of that [has] really encouraged people to think about, if they’re an employer and in a position to do so, to think about whether or not that is something that would work for their workplace.”

In the end of May, only one contained case would remain in New Zealand and bars and groups of 100 are free to reconvene. The US would surpass 100,000 dead just after Memorial day weekend and there is no end in sight.

Having and losing faith and trust in your country's institutions has a significant impact on my sense of patriotism and anxiety. There is so much speechless anger, hopelessness, disgust, pride, privilege, and enthusiasm that the mental rat wheel seems to power itself through its own polarity. Isn’t it ironic how critical it is for everyone to acknowledge both alternate realities, accept the consequences and promptly disengage emotional reactions? We cannot invest heavily in what we cannot change so we are forced to divest from the delusions what should be.

Until George Floyd is casually murdered in broad daylight by a police officer with his hand in his pocket. After the flurry of outrage from inaction around Ahmaud Arbery’s murder on film and in broad daylight by an off-duty police officer, the country boils over. In the middle of the world’s epicenter of the pandemic, riots and protests break out in the streets in almost every major city across the country. Police throw tear gas at protesters and the message from above is to escalate and assert control and with military force and threaten looters with more murder.

I have no words left but my heart is breaking for America. The civil society is exasperated and to survive another 6 months of this capitalistic fascist racist choke-hold, it will require a fight to the very last breath. I don’t know if America can right itself but even if it does, it will be permanently scared and diminished for at least a generation. With that perspective, I question how to balance that reality with the pride and enthusiasm I feel and want to share with everyone for what New Zealand has accomplished.

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Open Letters

Open Letters

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Slow Traveler, Tree Hugger, Flawed, Productivity Enthusiast, telling my story