15 April 2020 – Wednesday – #31

First up, two Public Service Announcements.

For my US friends, a reminder that today is NOT tax day. It’s 15 July this year.

For my Spanish friends, your tax deadline has been postponed from 20 April to 20 May this year.

You’re welcome.

I had my own little meltdown yesterday. I’m having trouble pointing to any one thing that set it off. I finished writing the fourth draft of Dear Mustafa, so I was in a celebratory mood. Since I couldn’t invite anyone over, I celebrated by grocery shopping and watching my laundry dry.

Laundry drying on author’s terrace.

I considered enhancing the visuals of drying laundry with vermut. Instead, with nothing on my calendar (again), I chatted up a Los Angeles friend who’s been setting up digital marketing deals with Italian fashion companies only to see his entire clientele dry up in the last month. I also chatted with a Mexican friend who lives just up the hill in Gracia about the silver lining, as it were, of her dental problems: they allow her to go outside to visit her dentist.

After dinner I watched Obama’s endorsement of Biden. My friend Matt said I had to. Maybe it was the jug wine, but this video seemed to send me over the edge.

I think it was the voice of reason and patience that tipped my emotional state. Here’s a guy that held fire for four long years before coming out with his guns blazing. If he was able to observe the unfolding disaster of his successor in the White House quietly for four years, I thought to myself, I should be able to make it through a few months of isolation. Thankfully my new friend Cristián was around to process all the crazy feelings this endorsement speech triggered. I’m sure there will be more episodes of feelings. I’m sure I’m not alone in this extravaganza of feelings.

Yesterday I compared Sweden to its neighboring countries and South Dakota to its neighboring states, concluding from the available data that governments failing to implement lockdowns during a Covid-19 epidemic are responsible for at least two times more deaths than otherwise, and three times more deaths on top of that if the epidemic then overwhelms the country’s healthcare system.

Also yesterday on the international Covid-19 response front, Gail sent me an article comparing the Covid-19 responses of six countries: Sweden, Germany, South Korea, Brazil, New Zealand, and South Africa. The difference in Covid-19 responses will provide empirical comparative data that should lead to better Covid-19 policy choices going forward. I’ve discussed Sweden, Germany, and South Korea before.

Brazil’s President Bolsonaro is taking a queue from Trump’s early “the cure is worse than the disease” messaging. As with local US politicians, local Brazilian officials are not on board with the Bolsonaro’s Covid-19 strategy and are implementing their own Covid-19 responses.

New Zealand is attempting a Covid-19 elimination strategy that includes testing, contact tracking, and a 14 day quarantine for visitors entering the country. This is risky, but easier to achieve in New Zealand than other countries due to New Zealand’s insularity. Of note, the country has acknowledged the needs of the poor during the pandemic.

New Zealand has heightened awareness of a pandemic’s impact on the poor. During the Spanish Flu pandemic it governed Western Samoa as a protectorate. The government failed to warn or protect the territory from the arrival of a ship carrying the flu. As a result, 22 per cent of the population died. New Zealand didn’t apologize until 2002.

South Africa imposed a three week lockdown on 27 March and has implemented a Covid-19 testing program. The country is managing ongoing tuberculosis and HIV infections. That means the country is administering BCG vaccinations (since 1971) and HIV ARVs, both of which are being studied for treatment of Covid-19. South Africa receives Covid-19 assistance from China.

Wait, did someone say BCG vaccinations? I wrote at length about the relationship between BCG vaccinations and significantly (10x!) reduced Covid-19 mortality on 9 April. Jim tipped me off that two days later South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SHAMRI) announced a 500 person trial of BCG vaccine for Covid-19 prophylaxis. According to the announcement, “SAHMRI has partnered with the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) to roll out the trial, with the backing of the World Health Organisation (WHO).” The trial may roll out to other parts of Australia as well.

Another possible Covid-19 treatment has shown up at another Australian research organization, Melbourne’s Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute. In vitro tests show the head lice medicine ivermectin blocks Covid-19 RNA from entering cells to reproduce. In vitro results are a long way from a therapy, but ivermectin is cheap and easy to manufacture if it does treat Covid-19.

Covid-19 makes for tough politics. The political wrangling continues in Madrid. Here, many Spaniards have the same attitude towards President Sánchez’ Covid-19 response as Americans towards Trump’s.

Sánchez defends his management of the Coronavirus crisis. He wants “total victory” against the virus, political unity and an economic reconstruction plan. Casado says there is a complete lack of trust: “No one trusts you”.

Matthew Bennett, Spanish political commentator

The truth is that politicians are in a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t position while waiting to end lockdowns. However, much of Trump’s Covid-19 response has been clearly counterproductive in terms of both health and economy.

During yesterday’s Covid-19 briefing, Trump said the US was defunding WHO. Yes, that’s the same WHO funding lots of Covid-19 activities like the above-mentioned BCG vaccine trial in Australia. Bill Gates, who is pouring billions of his own dollars into the Covid-19 response, called US defunding of WHO “as dangerous as it sounds.” Trump also is slowing delivery of stimulus checks by several days in order to print his name on them. During Trump’s marathon 2-1/4 hour briefing, 93 Americans died of Covid-19.

Meanwhile, Republicans are testing messaging that the US economy is more important than American lives. This is a variation on the “cure is worse than the disease” argument.

“… it is always the American government’s position to say, in the choice between the loss of our way of life as Americans and the loss of life, of American lives, we have to always choose the latter.”

U.S. RepresentativeTrey Hollingsworth (R), Indiana

Who wins with this argument? Hint: not minorities and not the poor, who already are suffering disproportionately. Like “Make America Great Again,” choosing “our way of life as Americans” is code for “profit trumps everything.” The choice to “open up the economy” is an enormous puzzle that has different winners and losers depending on how it’s solved.

If you’re gung-ho to open the economy, take a look at these photos. AP photographer Emilio Morenatti is documenting visiting health care workers and emergency medical personnel caring for Spain’s home-bound elderly in Barcelona. His photos capture the agony both of society’s vulnerable and of the people who try to keep them alive.

When I look at these photos again today, I think this is what must have triggered my little emotional meltdown yesterday. These are among the people who suffer most when we open up the economy the wrong way. When you advocate your Covid-19 position, consider the data and think about not only who will benefit, but also who will suffer most from the policy you advocate.

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