22 March 2020 – Sunday – #7

It may be a little early to call the Italian Covid-19 lockdown a success, but there is a glimmer of hope that the increases in cases and in deaths are decelerating (with Google Translate).

In #Lombardia, new ICU admissions are slowly falling (today +43, last Saturday they were +85 in one day).

The peak of hospitalizations on Monday 16 March (+1273 in one day) has not been repeated so far (today +523).

We must hold on. You will win.

If that continues for a few more days, the world will have evidence that another country’s style of lockdown is effective. As the US is about to learn, it takes 2-4 weeks from the beginning of a serious lockdown to see the infection rate decelerate.

Here in Catalunya, I’ve had some confusion over a new government form. I’m not alone. The confusion started on one of the Facebook Expat pages where someone posted that we now have to present a new form to police when we go out. Lots of questions on the Facebook page about things like whether this was fake news and how we print it without a printer–my situation since, along with pretty much everything else, the neighborhood copy store where I print and scan is closed. The original poster provided links to Telegram pages alleged to be official regional government communications about said form. Besides the fact that it didn’t make sense to distribute official pronouncements by Telegram, I couldn’t access the link anyway.

To be safe, I checked with a local who said, to my relief, that he hadn’t heard of this form. An hour later he messaged me that such a form, in fact, does exist, but said, again to my relief, not to worry about it. In Spain, it’s important to know which forms are essential and which aren’t because there are many forms. It saves a lot of time to know which ones are compulsory and which can be skipped. If I’m challenged by law enforcement, my friend said, I need to present evidence that I’m grocery shopping, buying pharmaceuticals, or visiting my doctor. Something like a receipt would do. Otherwise I get a fine.

More importantly, my local friend also messaged me a photo of a perfect Spanish tortilla he cooked and he promised he’d teach me how to cook this Spanish egg-potato-onion slice of heaven. I’ve tried and can’t get it right. Well, I got it right the first time a couple years ago, but never since. So we’re having a video catch-up and cooking lesson today.

In the midst of all this, I developed a strategy to go on a long walk outside if I go completely stir crazy in isolation. If challenged by law enforcement, my strategy is to explain that I require a particular fuet from a particular food vendor in Ramblas for a recipe a lovely Spanish grandmother taught me, so I have to walk half way across Barcelona for this particular fuet. I even might invite the law officer challenging me to taste my recipe, knowing the invitation must be declined because of the quarantine. It’s a stupid strategy, but I’m hoping my charm coupled with an appreciation of the intricacies of a local delicacy like fuet will impress the Catalonyan police enough to avoid a fine.

This Catalonian form business seems like child’s play compared to the US Department of Justice filing to end habeas corpus during the Covid-19 outbreak. Even conservative Republicans were caught off guard by the president’s request to extend his power to abuse the courts.

Anyway, while I obsess about food and bureaucratic forms from the safety of my apartment, the world burns.

My mother complained that newspaper delivery to her retirement home seemed to stop last week. I emailed back that healthcare systems around the world were collapsing, healthcare workers were dying, US unemployment claims will probably go up by two million in one week, and the US economy is probably contracting 15% this quarter, so it might be a few months until she receives newspapers again. That framing seems to have got me out of calling Financial Times to track down my mother’s missing newspapers. [UPDATE 23 March: the newspapers were delivered!]

The US and Europe are working on financial stimulus packages to respond to the worldwide economic contraction. The US Senate version under consideration yesterday provides little help for families making less than US$40,000 a year, presumably because those making less already know how to live without money. Republicans, who harped on and on about how President Obama’s 2008 bailout package would ruin free markets, have seen the stimulus light in front of the 2020 elections. In fact, they’ve seen about 1.7 trillion rays of light.

The world is experiencing in real time how different governments deal with the Covid-19 crisis. It’s a class in comparative crisis leadership. I don’t understand Spanish well enough yet to understand President Sanchez’ speeches, but the drift I pick up from commentators is that he’s drifting more during his speeches. Sanchez is balancing the demands of each region against the needs of the government seat of Madrid, which has over ½ the Covid-19 cases in Spain. Some regions want a stronger lockdown, others a weaker lockdown. Meantime, Sanchez dances because Spain has not reached, and probably won’t reach for another week or two, the deceleration of cases and deaths that Italy appears to have achieved with a similar style lockdown.

From Spain, the US looks like a case study in how not to respond to Covid-19. New York City hospitals are expected to reach capacity in the next day or two. Healthcare workers are out of protective gear. There aren’t enough tests for healthcare workers, let alone the general population. It’s clear from trade data that the federal government has done little if anything to maintain or compensate for medical supply supply chain issues.

There are now calls to Certain press outlets will stop broadcasting or reporting on the president’s remarks and press conferences because he often cites unsubstantiated claims and promulgates misinformation. For instance, the president made claims about millions of Covid-19 test kits coming to the US and tests for anyone who wants one, and then used his campaign to amplify that falsehood as an argument for his reelection. Weeks later there are about 200,000 tests completed in the US.

The latest problem is the president’s impromptu advocacy of hydroxychloroquine as a Covid-19 cure (see my notes on this claim in yesterday’s entry). Fox news is amplifying the president’s claim and praising the president for his gut instinct on complicated issues. The president’s claim already has led to deaths in Lagos due to misuse of the drug. It’s possible the president, like a broken clock that’s right twice a day, will turn out to be right on any of his claims, but his record is poor (again, see yesterday’s entry). The US (and world) can no longer rely on his claims as the body count increases in the US.
US governors are coming to the country’s rescue. Governors Inslee (WA), Newsom (CA), and Cuomo (NY) have the most Covid-19 cases to manage. I was heartened by Governor Cuomo’s press conference yesterday. At the state level, the country still has leadership that responds truthfully and thoughtfully to crisis. Listen to the praise New York’s governor gives, the factual updates he provides, and the specific plans he details to deal with Covid-19. Stopping the Covid-19 virus is a matter of taking action based on data. It boils down to a math problem: what actions reduce infections and death most cost-effectively. Like his west coast counterparts, the New York Governor doesn’t rely on his gut. He cites experts and facts.

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