Friday, May 01, 2020

The Experiment of Reopening

Michael Reid writes in The Economist about the pressure in Latin America to loosen quarantines. People in poverty simply can't remain locked down without substantial financial assistance. Across the region, they just start ignoring orders.

In most cases, the minority who are not respecting lockdowns are acting out of necessity. Data from Google, which tracks mobile phones, show more movement in poorer states and provinces in many countries. Several national governments, including those in Colombia and Peru, have been swift to get emergency payments to some of their poorer citizens. But that is a big challenge: one out of two Latin Americans works informally, often relying on daily cash takings. A new popular slogan holds that it is better to die of coronavirus than of hunger.
In the U.S., such resistance is embarrassingly different. People who could stay home demand their right to a...haircut. The reopen movement in the U.S. is tied closely to privilege. Even here, though, at a certain point people will resist because they will run out of money.

In both Latin America and here in the southeast, we are living science experiments. I feel this acutely as a resident of North Carolina. Neighboring Georgia has been reopened a week, while our current stay-at-home order expires on May 8 and Governor Roy Cooper will have to decide whether to extend it or start phased reopening. Like many other people, I am looking at the experimental group next to us, fearing a disaster and fervently hoping one never materializes. If the healthcare system in Georgia is not overrun, we will start reopening as well. Other states will follow. Given the potential human costs, it's unnerving.

There is a similar vibe in Latin America. Reopening may be geographically differentiated within a country, or national, but everyone will be looking intently at the effects versus places that have not opened up. The scary thing is that we're talking about potential catastrophe, namely death and hospitals being overrun. The risks are extraordinarily high, but it's going to happen sooner rather than later.


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