Dr Owain Williams By: Dr Owain Williams
Lecturer in IR and Human Security
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17 Apr 2020 : It Does Not Have to Be a Disaster in Human or Political Terms

Trump has issued a series of Tweets that give ringing endorsement at protests against the lockdown measures in a number of states. The Tweets have ‘Liberate Minnesota’, ‘Liberate Michigan’ in them, as if there is some worthy crusade there for freedom that he is urging on. As Shahar Hameiri states on Twitter, the USA is now displaying many of the hallmarks of a failed state, with the President pushing hard on the throttle of populist framing of his support to those clearly being economically hammered by lock down. He is trying to lever peoples’ genuine economic fears in an absurd power struggle with state governors and public health measures. The US is in trouble as a federal venture it is clear, with trust breaking down both across and within the union, from the top to the state levels. At the same time as he promoted his current back to business lunacy, the US saw its highest death tolls on Thursday and then today, with some 36,000 now having fallen victim. The Guardian carries a very effective story on the atomisation of the already dysfunctional US health system. The pictures of demonstrations in various state capitals are a product of a POTUS who has done nothing but lie and spread confusion.

In the meantime, the disjuncture between UK Conservative government high popularity ratings and their hapless handling of the crisis is really bizarre. They are content to throw the NHS workforce under the bus. The BBC reports medical personnel are now being asked to re-use gowns and other equipment, due to shortages and approaching exhaustion of stocks. Matt Hancock the hang do, mendacious Health Minster states that he would love to be able to ‘wave a magic wand’ to get more PPE. This stupid apple pie belies the fact these products can not only be bought but produced. As Lee Jones on Twitter acerbically points out on Twitter, this magic wand could have been replaced by a mobilised state response to create industry capacity to produce these products. This could have started in February, March, or even now.

Clearly, I am feeling angry with the political elites today, especially those of the UK, USA, Brazil and Indonesia to name a few. They have moved from dismissal and denial of the threat the virus posed, to indifference, and then the performance of leadership and blame shifting.

Had a very good evening meeting tonight with colleagues and contributors to this site, Lisa Thorley and Katherine Kennedy. Both are seasoned consultants in gender, development and climate change, and we are trying to put together a research consortium to do something a bit different on COVID research. Lisa is concerned that development assistance will either stay in the same business model, or eat itself in the scramble for COVID money. Indeed, it is worrying that COVID will eat all existing aid. People are already struggling to get ARVs in some countries.

All this as my earliest fears in February for Africa may be realised. WHO warns it becoming the new epicentre with 300,000 deaths and 30 million entering poverty. Whatever the numbers it is already there, and in many places starting to track badly. The Maghreb is presently the worst hit, which may have its reasons that I am uncertain of (linkages to Europe?), but South Africa and Nigeria are also starting to show signs that are not ery good. 60% of Africa’s urban population lives in slums. In addition, in India there are increasing reports of widespread hunger vas both local and national food supply chains seize up. This is also true in many African countries. 100 million Indians are forecast to move into poverty. The Indian Telegraph carries one article on a migrant worker who set off on an 850 kilometre walk home, one of many. He died on the road with 400 km left to go. He was 45 years old, and the ambulance crew refused to touch him for fear of contagion until the police stepped in. His family were contacted by a mobile phone found in his pockets. Cause of death unknown and they were too poor to come and collect.

Ecuador continues to be the epicentre of the outbreak on the Pacific coast of Latin America, accompanied by Brazil on the Atlantic. Bolsonaro fired his Health Minister today after the pair had been at logger heads for some weeks. The firing was on the grounds that he had mishandled the crisis, meaning he had urged social distancing and isolation for Brazilians, and thus countered that Presidential idiot’s only flu mantra. In counterpoint, a report carried in The Nation covers a reinvigorated Argentinian welfare state amidst really good response to the crisis. Public Health advice has been followed, stocks and facilities prepared, welfare ramped up with taxes on the wealthy, and support for mothballed business and workers. It does not have to be a disaster in human or political terms.

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