All posts filed under: COVID-19

Pandemics and Pandemonium

Minneapolis and urban centers across America are burning, most directly in response to the brutal killing of a black man by a white Minnesota police officer. But the rage ignited by the death of George Floyd is symptomatic of a profound sense of alienation that has been building for years among millions of poor, working class urbanites. The already diminished prospects facing such people have only been worsened by the unforeseen onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic and the policies devised to combat it. Like earlier pandemics, the virus has devastated poorer communities, where people live in the most crowded housing, are forced to travel on public transport, and work in the most exposed “essential” jobs, most of which are badly paid. Unlike the affluent of Gotham, some 30 percent of whom were able to leave town and work remotely, the working class remained, forced to endure crowded conditions as the disease raged through the city. No surprise then that inhabitants of the impoverished Bronx have suffered nearly twice as many deaths from COVID-19 as those …

Fighting COVID-19: Australia’s (Largely Untold) Success Story

On Friday, May 15th, pubs around Sydney re-opened after being closed for two months, a development that caused one delighted Sydneysider to observe: “Clinking that first glass… felt like I’d sloughed off a thousand years of sadness.” In fact, it had been roughly two months—a period during which 24 million Australians, myself included, observed a lockdown on all non-essential services. There are still many restrictions in place. And it will be months, if not years, before all aspects of society return to business as usual. But overall, the easing of restrictions has come faster than many Australians expected, in large part because the lockdown policies worked. The country has witnessed only about 7,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 103 deaths. Daily new cases spiked in late March in the low 400s, but then plummeted rapidly, and now are typically within single digits. It was once believed that, absent a vaccine, long-term herd immunity might be the only way to stop this pandemic. But examples such as Australia show that many countries may be able to …

COVID-19 Has Exposed Critical Weaknesses in Global Higher Education

The traditional educational services sector in the United States, and world at large, was not prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic, including institutions of higher education, leading to significant disruptions in learning outcomes and budgets. Notified at the last minute, many students found themselves having to pack up their bags and leave campus dorms—sometimes with nowhere to go. Although the dust is still settling, four-year colleges might experience a 20 percent decline in fall enrollment, accelerating a trend already in place since 2011. In fact, 500 to 1,000 colleges might be put completely out of business. These new challenges add to already deteriorating outcomes among college graduates, ranging from an all-time high of nearly $1.6 trillion in student debt as of 2020 to a flattening college wage premium. Moreover, a national 2018 survey of employers found that only around 40 percent say that recent college graduates exhibit professionalism, a good work ethic, and have decent oral and written communication, and only 33 percent say that recent graduates possess leadership skills. This is particularly concerning given that …

Moving Away from Meat Means Welcoming the New ‘Flexitarians’

Author and animal-rights activist Jonathan Safran Foer recently argued in a New York Times essay that the COVID-19 pandemic represents a turning point in society’s attitude to eating meat. “Animal agriculture is now recognized as a leading cause of global warming,” writes Foer. “A quarter of Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 say they are vegetarians or vegans, which is perhaps one reason sales of plant-based ‘meats’ have skyrocketed… Our hand has been reaching for the doorknob for the last few years. Covid-19 has kicked open the door.” I agree the pandemic presents the best opportunity in a generation for animal-rights advocates to win over skeptics. But if and when vegetarian and vegan diets become truly mainstream, it will not be for the reasons Foer emphasizes. Foer provides three main rationales for rejecting meat: (1) “We cannot protect our environment while continuing to eat meat regularly,” (2) we can live “longer, healthier lives” without animal protein, and (3) many forms of animal farming are both cruel and unhygienic. These are valid arguments that …

How New Zealand Is Beating COVID-19

Things are getting back to normal in New Zealand. In the past two months, every time I have been to my local supermarket the rules have changed. At the start of Lockdown Level 4, a two-meter spaced queue had been marked out and a long tent had been erected to accommodate it. There was a “one trolley, one person” rule, an insistence on a single “designated shopper” per household, and a ban on bringing recyclable bags into the supermarket. Contactless payment was preferred and cash was discouraged. Customers were required to maintain two meters distance from the person in front of them at the checkout. All staff wore some kind of PPE, and some wore face visors. Perspex barriers appeared at the deli counter and the checkout. There were shortages of baking products, yeast was for some reason unobtainable, customers could purchase no more than two packets of pasta or tins of tomatoes, and messages were broadcast over the Tannoy system instructing customers to shop normally. In response to the sudden outbreak of the COVID-19 …

Drop Anchor: How COVID-19 Will Kill the Cruise Industry

Last week, Air Canada announced it was cutting its workforce by at least half, effective next month. This is not surprising, since flight attendants can’t do their jobs when there are no flights. Air Canada is now flying at one-twentieth its pre-pandemic capacity. The airline hopes to ramp up operations in coming months, but even optimistic estimates put late-2020 airline travel volume at about one-quarter of baseline levels. Similar patterns are playing out everywhere. COVID-19 has decimated the travel industry. It will return, of course, but will it be the same as we remember it? My pre-boomer peers are almost all retirees, many securely well-heeled, and mad for travel. In their salad days, they planned trips hither and yon by themselves or with friends. The food tour through Italy, or the wine tour through France. Bicycles and hiking often were involved, along with local guides who would provide a deep dive into regional culture and history. No wasting away at Del Boca Vista for this set. Even the least ambitious will sign on to group …

Towards a Better Urbanism

The pandemic has brought panic to the once-confident ranks of urbanists promoting city density. At a time when even the New York Times is noticing that density and transit pose serious health risks for any potential re-opening, such people attack their critics as “anti-urbanist” or “sprawl lovers” or “urban gadflies.” Preferring theology over data, some advocate ever-greater density and crowding in cities and mass transit. But wishful thinking cannot alter the fact that the pandemic has hit core cities with particular force. The concentration of the worst outbreaks in major urban areas—the New York region alone accounts for more than 40 percent of all US fatalities—is a global phenomenon also seen in Japan, Korea, the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Italy, and Spain. This has cast a pall on traditional downtown-centric employment, dependent on massive subway systems, crowded apartments, and packed workspaces. Such places promote what demographer Wendell Cox calls “exposure density.” This is particularly lethal for low-wage workers forced to take packed transit lines from crowded apartments to packed workplaces. It is not surprising that, …

PODCAST 90: John Lloyd on the Geopolitical Fall-Out From the Coronavirus Crisis

John Lloyd, co-founder of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford, talks to Toby Young about the geopolitical fall-out from the coronavirus crisis. Will the Conservatives win the next UK election? Can the EU recover its authority? And is this China’s Chernobyl? John recently wrote about these issues for Quillette as part of the ‘After the Virus’ series.

COVID-19 and the Normalization of Mass Surveillance

In the past few months, governments ranging from Australia to the United Kingdom and corporations as influential as Google and Apple have pushed the idea that cellphone tracking can be used to effectively fight COVID-19. There was even an essay here at Quillette, arguing that a mandatory phone tracking app would save lives while also saving jobs as a policy alternative to economic lockdown. Unfortunately, the idea that phone apps should be popularized or even mandated to fight outbreaks is techno-utopian, based on optimism rather than evidence. The real impact of such an approach on society wouldn’t be better immunity, but rather the acceptance and creeping growth of an even more powerful and omniscient global surveillance state. Governments, scientists, and product designers are racing to find technological fixes for the spread of COVID-19. Some of these solutions—such as more efficient mass-production of masks, more accurate and prevalent testing, and efforts to create a vaccine—are valid and vital, and defend the health of citizens and strength of society without violating civil liberties. Masks can arguably even help …