Fear has always been a great engine of change throughout history. Some 10 million jobs were lost in just two weeks, and the authorities’ warning that the coronavirus may take the lives of 240,000 Americans, pose enough fear to question some of the principles that underpin America’s own political essence.
“Only when the tide goes away, is it that you know who swam naked,” says financier Warren Buffet.
What we have found out, during the current coronavirus pandemic is that States have failed their citizens. Not only have they miscalculated the reach of the pandemic –for the best and worst scenarios- but also omitted life-saving information that would have reduced that threat and bring society back to normal sooner.
From contaminated testing kits to lack of medical resources to help those gravely ill, from the spread of lies and disinformation to the publication of false solutions; governments and the medical establishment have only been successful is selling fear, eroding the economy, causing unemployment and using force to confine people in their homes.
No, not even universal health coverage had made this situation better, as we have seen in countries where such a system exists. Europe is the first of all examples. Spain and Italy are proof that socialized medicine does not work, especially in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
The rapid increase in the number of deaths and the halt of the economy is overcoming resistance that until recently would have seemed unimaginable.
The same Republicans who abjure the role of the State in the economy have just launched, at the hands of Donald Trump, a rescue package with public money that is around 10% of GDP. Unfortunately, money cannot stop a virus.
They are 2.2 trillion dollars now available -and possibly another 2 trillion on the way- that will pay directly the salaries in the small companies that maintain employment. The money will arrive in the form of a check to almost every household in the country and that will facilitate the liquidity that may keep the economy above water.
However, if the confinement extends in one form or another beyond two months, experts say that such aid will be insufficient and the government must consider new measures.
The pandemic stalled the electoral campaign, but the response to the crisis and the debate on the role of the State in the economy will undoubtedly focus the debate until the presidential elections in November.
But fear does not serve as the sole engine of change. The 1918 pandemic gave way, both in the US and in Europe, to a climate of social mistrust, an increase in international division and authoritarian responses. The same is happening now.
People as obedient servants of the system
Doubt is now hanging over countries in Latin America due to government inaction. The only firm response has come in the form of “mandatory confinement” as health authorities told people to stay home.
It is an illegitimate move, in addition to being illegal and unconstitutional in many countries where people have accepted it obediently. Confinement was not necessary, just as shutting down the economies was not a good move, either.
The current economic downturn will not benefit anyone. Furthermore, it will hurt the poorest people the worst. People who live with what they earn during the day have seen governments shut their only source of income off.
Reports of agglomerations in Peru, Colombia or Ecuador, despite the mandatory isolations, declared in these countries, did not take long to emerge. It is true: these meeting peaks have occurred, and continue to occur today.
According to information compiled day by day by the Inter-American Development Bank with the support of Waze, the intensity of road traffic since March 8 with respect to the first seven of the month, shows a gradual but determined decline is observed movement in all nations. It started very slowly in the second week of March but gained strength afterward.
In some places, such as Venezuela, the decline has been more pronounced, probably driven by the authorities’ early decision to quarantine people. Others, such as Mexico or Costa Rica, followed a softer slope during the third week, which remained at a point of equilibrium from that moment.
Of course, the final volume of the fall varies greatly from country to country. Mexico, Uruguay, Brazil, and Chile are today the nations with the most apparent movement in their cities. It is not surprising: in none of them, there is, to this day, a mandatory complete quarantine. Because, although the decreases are general, there is undoubtedly a difference in those countries with this approved standard.
It seems that, indeed, people do not respond only to the norm, but also to their own perception of the danger that the pandemic represents in their place of residence.
But individual vehicles account for only part of the daily mobilization of the millions of Latin American urbanites.
Mass transportation systems have an important role in mobility. Indeed, it seems that the decrease in traffic on public platforms is not as high as private transport.
The global image left by the data is that, indeed, Latin American citizens are staying at home.