All posts filed under: COVID-19

Winners and Losers: The Global Economy After COVID

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the world economy in ways that will be debated by pundits and future historians for decades to come. Yet, as hard as it is to predict a disrupted future accurately, the pandemic (not to mention its probable successors) looks likely to produce clear economic winners and losers. The top digital companies—Amazon, Apple, Tencent, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Ant, Netflix, and Hulu—have thrived during quarantines and the ongoing dispersion of work. These are the most obvious winners in what leftist author Naomi Klein has called a “Screen New Deal” that seeks to create a “permanent and profitable no-touch future.” Since 2019, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google have added over two-and-a-half trillion dollars to their combined valuation, and all enjoyed record breaking profits in 2020. But it’s not just the tech oligarchs who have benefited from the pandemic disruption. Companies that keep the basic economy functioning—firms dealing in logistics, for example, or critical metals or food processing—have become, if anything, even more important. With the shipping supply chain disrupted due to the …

How Strong Was Taiwan’s COVID Response?

In September 2020, I arrived in Taiwan on a flight from New York. I had read much about the border protocols that had prevented COVID from entering the country, but many aspects of the arrival process appeared incongruent with the country’s supposedly impermeable defenses. Staff in the airport interacted directly with me and other passengers with no distancing protocols. I asked if they were required to quarantine themselves. “No,” came the reply. Taking a taxi to my quarantine hotel, I saw no barriers in the vehicle. I asked the driver a similar question. Was he required to isolate himself? “No,” he said, adding, “they disinfect the vehicle every day.” While checking into my quarantine room at the hotel, staff interacted with me at close distance, and would immediately interact with other guests before returning home to their families. Witnessing these potential breaches at the gates of Taiwan’s COVID fortress was disconcerting. In the months prior to my arrival, many headlines on former COVID success stories asked: “What Went Wrong?” I was afraid that such headlines …

The Geography of COVID-19

The ongoing pandemic is reshaping the geography of our planet, helping some areas and hurting others. In the West, the clear winners have been the sprawling suburbs and exurbs, while dense cores have been dealt a powerful blow. The pandemic also has accelerated class differences and inequality, with poor and working class people around the world paying the dearest price. These conclusions are based on data we have repeatedly updated. Despite some variations, our earlier conclusions hold up: the virus wreaked the most havoc in areas of high urban density. This first became evident in the alarming pre-lockdown fatalities that occurred in New York City and the suburban commuting shed from which many of the employees in the huge Manhattan business district are drawn. Similar patterns have been seen in Europe and Asia as well. The problem is not density per se but rather the severe overcrowding associated with poverty in high density areas. Overcrowded physical proximity often includes insufficiently ventilated spaces such as crowded public transit, elevators, and employment locations, especially high-rise buildings, which often …

The Search to Explain Our Anxiety and Depression: Will ‘Long COVID’ Become the Next Gender Ideology?

In December, I wrote a detailed report for Quillette about the race-based social panic that had recently erupted at Haverford College in Pennsylvania. One of the reasons why the meltdown seemed so surreal, I noted, is that this elite school appears to the outside world as picturesque and serene. The average annual cost of attendance is about US$76,000. And most of these students live extremely privileged lives, insulated (physically and otherwise) from what any normal person would regard as suffering. Nor is there much in the way of substantive political discord on campus. According to survey results released in late 2019, 79 percent of Haverford students self-identify as politically liberal, while only 3.5 percent self-identify as conservative. It’s as close to an ideological monoculture as you can find outside of a monastery or cult. On paper, it resembles one of those utopian micro-societies conceived by science-fiction writers or 19th-century social theorists. The survey results I’m alluding to originate with Haverford’s “Clearness Committee,” an excellent resource for anyone seeking to understand the attitudes of students at …

Splendid Triviality: Philosophy, Art, and Sport in a Time of Crisis

One of my philosophy professors in college remarked that philosophy flourishes in a time of decline or crisis. No, that doesn’t mean that philosophers all secretly pray for catastrophes. But it is true that darker times call for philosophical reflection and that philosophy, like the arts, might have something to offer the human spirit when things cease to make sense. A crisis certainly seems to bring out the worst in us, and it’s hard not to wonder if Hobbes was right about human nature. Certainly many of the headlines from the current crisis document the endless depths of human selfishness. The man in Tennessee who stockpiled 17,700 bottles of hand sanitizer and sold them at exorbitant prices comes to mind. But we have also seen stories of courageous selflessness in the service of others, from healthcare workers risking their own lives to young people delivering food to the sequestered elderly. If you read the introduction to the Decameron, set in Italy during the 14th-century plague, it’s clear that, in Boccaccio’s estimation, the bad outweighed the …

The Fear and Fantasy of COVID-19 Vaccination

This article has been expanded and adapted from prepared remarks delivered at the Researchers.One panel “The Science and Social Impact of COVID-19 Vaccines” on March 25th, 2021. The current state of COVID-19 vaccine administration in the United States, with its high levels of vaccine hesitancy and skepticism, can be explained by a model composed of three layers of interconnected system(s) malfunction. Disconnect between scientists’ interests and the public’s concerns, the erosion of trust in the peer review process, and politicization of “narrative” around the novel coronavirus. The stakes for a strong and legitimate public health response have not been higher in our lifetime. With novel coronavirus strains on the way to becoming endemic globally, it is crucial that we re-evaluate our systems and institutions with an eye to making the improvements necessary for robust coordinated operation in the future. Layer one: scientific interest vs. general interest There is an asymmetry between the interests and incentives of the scientific community and those of the lay public. Scientists maintain a culture in which claims without evidence are …

Taboo: Why Is Africa the Global COVID ‘Cold Spot’ and Why Are We Afraid to Talk About It?

The first COVID-19 case in Africa was confirmed on February 14th, 2020, in Egypt. The first in sub-Saharan Africa appeared in Nigeria soon after. Health officials were united in a near-panic about how the novel coronavirus would roll through the world’s second most populous continent. By mid-month, the World Health Organization (WHO) listed four sub-Saharan countries on a “Top 13” global danger list because of direct air links to China. Writing for the Lancet, two scientists with the Africa Center for Disease Control outlined a catastrophe in the making: With neither treatment nor vaccines, and without pre-existing immunity, the effect [of COVID-19] might be devastating because of the multiple health challenges the continent already faces: rapid population growth and increased movement of people; existing endemic diseases… re-emerging and emerging infectious pathogens… and others; and increasing incidence of non-communicable diseases. Many medical professionals predicted that Africa could spin into a death spiral. “My advice to Africa is to prepare for the worst, and we must do everything we can to cut the root problem,” Tedros Adhanom …

The End of Pestilence

Humanity had a vaccine that prevented COVID-19 in January last year. What we did not have was a regulatory system to facilitate rapid assessment of its safety and efficacy or the capacity to manufacture and inoculate at scale. COVID-19 subsequently caused immense human suffering: over 2.5 million deaths and lockdowns upending the lives of billions. It will be years before most of the world is vaccinated and the global economy recovers. It need not be this way in future. Humanity is on the cusp of overcoming one of our oldest foes: pestilence. But to achieve this ambitious task it will take a new way of thinking about vaccine development. Last year there were many who warned of the “risks” of accelerating vaccine development. The Trump Administration’s Operation Warp Speed was criticised for the “potential to cause harm” by loosening safeguards and inciting an antivaxx backlash. If these “go slow” advocates were successful we would still be waiting for vaccines, rather than inoculating millions, saving lives, and on our way to ending this dreadful pandemic. “It’s …

Bunker Boy: Preparing for Apocalypse Since 1979

When I was 11 years old, back in 1979, my mother helped me build a nuclear bunker. It was kitted out with about 50 cans of beans and pulses, tuna, and peaches; every shelf was stuffed with bags of rice, crisps, and chocolate bars; I lined the walls with tin foil (to protect us from gamma radiation from the impending nuclear blasts), and we had three torches, a huge supply of batteries, a home doctor manual, a first aid kit, iodine, a ton of toilet roll, and a bucket for human waste. Although it wouldn’t have been particularly effective in a nuclear war and was little more than the closet under the stairs with all the shoes and mops thrown out to make space, this was my first serious attempt at “prepping” for the end of the world. I spent a lot of time in that little bunker reading up on what to do when the bombs fell and the end began. I recall being worried that I might have to choose between my dog …

With Theatres Shuttered, I Tried to Stage a ‘Zoom Play.’ (It Didn’t Work)

I have always been a playwright. When my grade-six teacher told us to compose our imaginary life stories, mine was called Autobiography of a Playwright. Even back then, I was writing skits and persuading the neighbourhood kids to perform in them. My inspiration (and this will tell you something about my age) was Bing Crosby in Going My Way—a priest who cajoled local juvenile delinquents into singing for the church choir. When I was eight or nine years old, I told my mother I was depressed. “I don’t have anything to look forward to,” I said. She suggested that my father set up a little stage in the basement—complete with a curtain. I was in heaven. As a young man, unfortunately, I watched the cinematic representations of stereotypical playwright characters morph from respected geniuses to laughable neurotics. In the 1950 drama All About Eve, playwright Lloyd Richards was portrayed as a typical pipe-smoking intellectual of the 1940s. Richards casually name-drops “Miller” and “Sherwood” (Arthur and Robert, respectively), situating himself in the context of the day’s …