Subtitle: How national political philosophy affected responses to, and preparations for, pandemics.
Follows on from yesterday’s article, linked here.
The UK, the USA and Sweden started off by pretending that the virus was not serious, then they opted to attempt to solve the issue with herd immunity. First propounded by an English University study that was adopted by the UK Government, then by Trump and then rejected when they realised that herd immunity would entail a loss of several million lives. They then scrambled to catch up with lock downs. Their delay has probably caused them to increase loss of lives. Sweden is one country which has not ordered a lockdown and is attempting to ride out the pandemic but the statistics and the lack of testing hides the real level of deaths and future cases there. Neighbouring Norway and Denmark went a different route with better results.
Sweden has decided to care more for its industries and export companies and less for its citizens, especially the elderly, whom they consider to be expendable, by not shutting down. In fact, when compared to Denmark and Norway, countries with similar social philosophy, but which have closed down, the death per 1000 citizens is four times higher in Sweden.
During the Second World War, Sweden played the neutrality card in order to exit the war with a functioning economy but by being neutral they sacrificed Denmark and Norway to Nazi invasions. The Danes and Norwegians have never forgiven Sweden, allowing German armies to transverse its territory to invade Norway and providing Germany with raw materials to invade Denmark. Now, once more, by not shutting down its country Sweden is sacrificing its elderly and weaker citizens in order to emerge richer at the end of the pandemic. By the 6th of May over 2500 Swedes could have avoided dying unnecessarily. They have been sacrificed for this terrible experiment.
It is reminiscent of the theories of racial cleansing practised in Sweden as propounded by Alva Myrdal in the post war period. This is almost a Trumpian Darwinistic approach and is deplorable.
In the USA a crass choice between economics and public health is debated. President Trump and his right-wing Republican backers are ignoring scientific advice, proposing to open up the economy, aware from the start that this would kill many older, weaker persons on the East and West coasts (predominantly Democrats) and amongst the black and Latino populations.
Governors and Mayors of the East and West coasts are more socially sensitive because of their Democratic political views. They are following scientific advice to continue social distancing and lock downs until a vaccine is available to all the population sometime in 2021.
All I can do is thank God I am a European and was brought up in a society that puts the welfare and health of its citizens above all else. Economics plays a role here too and at the start of the pandemic there was pressure to ignore it and to keep business open for as long as possible. In Malta, the tourist, transport and construction industry and their lobbyists persuaded the “business-friendly” government, led from “wara l-kwinti” by Muscat and company, to keep ports and airports open for far too long. They are now pushing once more to restart and to try to attract tourists once more. Too early in my opinion.
France closed the country completely early on and has decided to keep the country closed for another month at least, unlike Spain and Italy with their huge number of deaths, completely inundated and inadequately supplied hospitals as a result of lack of investments during the 90s and early years of the 21st century. Italy and Spain are now beginning to open up. They risk a return of the pandemic because not enough people have been cured and there is still no vaccine.
By staying closed France and New York will contain the pandemic.
New York and France have both underinvested in their health care systems in the past and have not been carrying out enough tests. Testing together with investing in the past as well as early and complete closing with social distancing are the ingredients for a successful management of this pandemic.
One country to have done all these things is Germany. It has a far lower number of deaths, a greater number of tests, early closure and a very measured and controlled partial opening of the country as well as the highest number of intensive care beds, and yet, no one even analyses why this is so.
The population obeyed and stayed at home. The regions and the central government worked together across party lines. Transparent information was given daily in measured non-bombastic forms. There is little or no clapping from balconies, hoarding of food and toilet paper, nor politicians trying to cover up their failure to invest in healthcare in the past 20 years. It will move slowly to restore some limited economic activity but they are keeping their eye firmly on scientific reports.
Italy and Spain are commendable in their early approach to close down. But their lack of economic discipline over sixty years, the lack of investment and the crippling national debt dented their response to the virus. The price they pay now is the large number of deaths, the fragile hospital system and the poverty of its people. They are hoping for the EU and other member states to come once more to their support by passing the debt on to the countries which used the last fifty years to reform their society and to keep their economy under strict control. This is not the solution.
Corona Bonds are a terrible idea. What is needed is what has been offered by the EU, namely a Marshall fund of half a trillion euro to cover the healthcare costs and to help society survive through the epidemic. But after the pandemic it is time for Italy and Spain, and to an extent France, reform their economy, collect taxes, fight the mafias and overcome other failures in their societies including strict application of the rule of law.
The EU must then create a single fiscal and budgetary union where all taxes due are collected for the benefit of all. Until then we will only lurch from one pandemic crisis to the next one.
The fable of the ant and the cricket comes to mind.