The number of coronavirus-infected persons in the world has exceeded 800,000. The disease claimed the lives of more than 40,000 people. Even the authorities of Papua New Guinea closed the land border with Indonesia and forbade Asian immigrants from visiting the country after the only sick Covid-19 was identified on March 20. The authorities of Sweden, one of the few countries where borders are still open and public institutions operate, on March 29 banned mass meetings of more than 50 people, imposed fines and criminal liability for violators. Nevertheless, the leaders of a number of countries, where a lot of people fell ill look, refrain from general quarantine. They act like nothing is happening.
The reason for this optimism is the negative socio-economic consequences that quarantine could cause. There is no evidence, for how long it will take to defeat the coronavirus. In China, quarantine lasts from the end of January. US authorities extended quarantine until April 30, and Ukraine - until April 24. About 700 people have already become infected with coronavirus in our country, and 17 have died.
Optimism of Lukashenko
No quarantine has been introduced in Belarus. Enterprises, shops, subway still work there, children go to school. Belarus has no strict restrictions like Ukraine and other European countries do. While the Euro 2020 football championship and the Eurovision music contest were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Belarus did not refuse to hold mass events, including the national football championship and the playoffs of the hockey Extra League. President Alexander Lukashenko jokes about the coronavirus, while the whole world is sounding the alarm. Recently, the Belarusian leader in hockey equipment said that playing on ice in the cold is a real "antiviral medicine." He recommended that Belarusians work hard to prevent coronavirus, drink up to 50 grams of vodka per day, and visit the sauna few times a week.
Lukashenko is convinced that coronavirus is a psychosis that benefits certain political circles. In his opinion, not so much a virus is terrible as panic. The President believes that every patient should be responsible and stay at home without infecting other people. According to him, the pandemic "shook up" the health system of Belarus, raised virologists to their feet. The head of Belarus believes that there are no reasons to introduce tough measures to combat coronavirus. Patients with fewer in Belarusian hospitals are allowed through a separate entrance. In hospitals, 1,600 beds were prepared for a sharp outbreak of coronavirus.
The intervals of public transport were slightly reduced, and subway cars are treated with special disinfectants. According to Lukashenko, control at the border and at airports has been strengthened, everyone is being checked with suspicion of a coronavirus with the participation of the State Security Committee. All visitors are required to undergo 14 days of self-isolation. According to official data, 94 cases of Covid-19 infection were detected in the republic, and 32 patients were cured. However, it is not known how many actually infected people roam the city streets.
Not all Belarusians share Lukashenko’s optimism. Belarusian public activist Alexander Koltunov considers it appropriate to introduce quarantine, as most European countries did. According to him, the inhabitants of Minsk do not wear masks in crowded places, they usually visit shops, catering establishments, and churches. Life goes on. 30-year-old Minsk citizen Marina, who shared her observations on the basis of anonymity, is also afraid of the spread of coronavirus. The girl, at her own discretion, observes safety measures: she keeps her distance from other people in stores, uses public transport services as little as possible, and tries not to urgently leave the apartment on weekends. Recently, she has noticed a lot of coughing people in the city. She suggests that the coronavirus in Minsk could get from dormitories, where enough students from China live. In winter, no one quarantined them. According to another resident of Minsk, Pavel, recently a coronavirus was found in six students of Belarusian State University.
It is not profitable for Lukashenko to impose quarantine on the eve of the presidential elections in August this year. The closure of factories, shops, and catering establishments, the introduction of tax holidays will be an additional burden on the budget, cause a decrease in the standard of living of the population and, as a result, lead to an increase in dissatisfaction with the authorities. Recently, Belarus has been in a difficult socio-economic situation. According to the Belarusian Economic Research and Education Center, due to lower world prices for oil and its supplies to the republic, production of non-oil products, the export of potash fertilizers, and the depreciation of the Belarusian ruble, GDP growth may decline at best by 2% until the end of 2020. In the worst case, Belarus’s GDP will drop by 10% in the short term. Since the beginning of the year, the Belarusian ruble depreciated by a third, which forced many residents of Minsk to delay the acquisition of housing. Minister of Finance of Belarus Maxim Ermolovich believes that it will be necessary to reduce support for local budgets. Lukashenko is in no hurry to introduce quarantine, as the economic situation in the country will become worse.
Calculation of Obrador
Long coronavirus ignored the authorities of Mexico. Marxist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador posted a video in which, idly sitting at a table with Mexican dishes, he urged citizens to live a normal life. He emphasized that "he himself will say when there is no need to go anywhere." Obrador called on all those who have the means to go out to eat with family members or make purchases, as this "strengthens the economy." Such statements from the lips of the head of state sound like blasphemy over their own people. In Mexico, such a meal may be the last for someone. Mexican authorities were inactive until the number of infected people exceeded one thousand, and 28 people died from the disease. In just one day on March 29, 145 new cases of Covid-19 were detected in Mexico. The Mexican president ignores all sorts of precautions: organizes rallies, kisses his supporters. Nevertheless, the country had to introduce an emergency regime and prohibit gathering in groups of more than 50 people.
Mexico might repeat the fate of Italy if the country does not impose a strict quarantine, as the United States or European countries did. In Italy, over 97.5 thousand people were infected with the coronavirus. The disease claimed the lives of almost 11 thousand Italians. In China, where the coronavirus came from, 3.3 thousand patients died. Fears are not unfounded. In 2009, there was an outbreak of H1N1 flu in Mexico, which infected 70 thousand people. The then-president, Felipe Calderon, closed state institutions, part of business structures and urged the population to stay home. Now people freely move along the streets, attend public institutions, entertainment events.
Mexico's healthcare system is not ready for such a challenge. Fulfilling his campaign promise to cut government spending, Obrador cut funding for hospitals. The number of therapists has been reduced in medical institutions; there is a lack of medical equipment, beds, and tests to determine the coronavirus. For the whole country with a 129 million population, a little more than 2,000 ventilation systems. The salaries of state employees decreased. In 2019, 10,000 doctors quit.
Apparently, Obrador considered it inappropriate to introduce a quarantine regime in the worsening socio-economic situation in Mexico. Last year, the growth rate of the second-largest economy in Latin America was 0.1%, (in 2018 - 2%). Under Obrador, the Mexican economy sank for the first time in ten years. Obrador’s decision to cancel the construction project of a new airport in Mexico City in the amount of 13 billion dollars caused outrage among investors. The business was embarrassed by Obrador's leftist political program, with an emphasis on fighting poverty and reducing inequality. After coming to power in 2018, Obrador achieved an increase in pensions and expenses to support vulnerable groups. However, industrial production in Mexico fell by 1.7% over the past year. From January to February 2020, inflation rose from 3.26% to 3.70%.
The Mexican leader fears that under quarantine conditions the economic situation will worsen. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Mexican labor migrants who transferred $ 36 billion in 2019 (about half of the money came from the US states of California and Illinois) will be left without work. The country will grow social tensions and criminogenic situation. From 2018 to 2019, the number of killings in Mexico increased from 33,000 to 36,000, breaking a twenty-year record. An increase in the number of unemployed will spur anti-government sentiment. Since 2018, Obrador’s support level has decreased from 80% to 49.6%. Obrador does not want to take unpopular measures on the eve of legislative elections in the state of Coahuila and local elections in the state of Hidalgo, where representatives of the oppositional "Institutional Revolutionary Party" are in power.
Disobedience of Jair Messias Bolsonaro
There was a split among Brazilian officials about coronavirus and quarantine. Governors quarantined their states. Eccentric right-wing president Jair Bolsonaru and Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta oppose the self-isolation of citizens, considering it an unjustified measure. Bolsonaru believes that coronavirus is a common flu. The president has launched the “Brazil Can't Stop” campaign and urges all citizens to continue to work, study and not pay attention to the pandemic. He signed a decree allowing people to go to church under quarantine. Governors of 27 states threatened to sue the president if he continued to interfere with quarantine. MPs have proposed a quarantine bill for Brazilian citizens returning from China. The Rio de Janeiro court ordered Bolsonaru to stop agitating citizens against quarantine and not publish coronavirus without scientific justification.
It looks like Bolsonaru follows the same logic as Lukashenko and Obrador, preventing the introduction of quarantine. Brazil has an unstable economic situation. In 2019, GDP grew by 1.1% (the lowest indicator in the last three years). Investments in the Brazilian economy fell by 3.3%. In addition, local elections will be held in Brazil in October, and criticism of the current government against the background of a deterioration in the standard of living of Bolsonaru is useless. However, the Brazilians are more irritated not by quarantine, but by the president’s negligent attitude to the problem. In Brazil, more than 4.25 thousand people were infected with the coronavirus. 136 Brazilians died from the virus. Bolsonaru’s position provoked protests in part of Brazilian society. In the city of São Paulo, the president was called to resign.
Quarantine entails negative consequences for the economy and the image of power, which the leaders of Belarus, Mexico and Brazil are afraid of, and its absence can cost the lives of a large number of people. There can be no halfway solutions to the problem of coronavirus, but there is only one choice from two options: either save the economy or human lives.