(Credit: Drew Angerer / .)
Editor’s Note: Roberto Izurieta is director of Latin American Projects at George Washington University. He has worked in political campaigns in several countries in Latin America and Spain and has been an adviser to Presidents Alejandro Toledo of Peru, Vicente Fox of Mexico and Álvaro Colom of Guatemala. Izurieta is also a political analyst on CNN en Español.
(CNN Spanish) – Talking to an epidemiologist about the latest information we have on the development and future of this pandemic in the US, the big question that remains unanswered is about the consequences of this pandemic on politics. After months of health crisis, millions of patients and hundreds of thousands of deaths, today we know much more about this virus than we did in January.
First I call for calm: I continue to hold what I mentioned in my first article. Most likely, the case fatality rate in the general population without chronic disease will be less than 1%. Recall that the first indicators of the case fatality rate that came from Italy and Spain exceeded 10%. This does not make this pandemic less serious and tragic, since there are almost 100,000 deaths from this pandemic in the United States alone. Also now we will begin to have the results of the antibody tests that seek to analyze and estimate, through probabilistic sampling, what they call herd immunity. This week they have announced the results of these tests in Guayaquil and Quito and it would be very encouraging. This means that, in Quito and Guayaquil, there could already be quite a few individuals naturally immunized, and although these numbers are not enough to avoid another epidemic wave, it is possible that the speed of transmission of the virus will decrease somewhat in that new epidemic wave. As I have described in previous articles, unfortunately this pandemic could come in waves, but luckily the second wave will find us more prepared. And while the vaccine may not yet be available, new treatments are coming out in record time and getting better and better. That will lower the case fatality rate even more, which should give us more peace of mind.
Recall that the most pressing reason for universal quarantine was – above all – that the health system did not collapse, and as we saw in New York, Seattle, and other parts of the US, the health system was already extremely stressed almost to its full capacity, but did not collapse. However and tragically we saw heartbreaking images of northern Italy where many hospitals collapsed and from Guayaquil we saw corpses in the streets, as the funeral services in turn collapsed.
Beyond these results, our main attention continues on the vaccine that could end the threat of this virus in a definitive way (by reducing its ability to infect others, as did the measles vaccine, a disease much more contagious than the covid-19, and that for many years was almost eliminated from the entire American continent thanks to a simple vaccine that is very cheap. There is good news also on this front: the US government has just announced that there may be – at least in The USA – a vaccine by the end of the year, and China has also made an encouraging announcement, saying that when theirs is ready, they will share it with the countries that need it (hopefully, although watch out, the words are cheaper than the facts).
If we base our hope only on the vaccine, we will not be able to advance much, that is why I consider that we should concentrate on the treatments. As I said in my first article on the subject in March, the serum of patients who recovered from the disease is a very promising treatment, cheap and accessible to all countries, and other promising treatments will continue to be announced almost weekly, because science The world interconnected by the internet moves at lurid speeds.
Let us focus then on the existence of treatments and also on the percentage of people recovered; that has to be the engine of our hope. Fear has failed to win any war, and excessive quarantines have an economic price that the poor mostly pay.
Assuming and planning based on all these elements described seems easier to estimate the political and electoral consequences of this first wave or a second one before the November presidential elections in the United States. Development and economic recovery will play a very important role in this. I maintain that an electoral campaign on the continuity of a government is very difficult when there are serious economic problems, although, as in this case, the government in office calls this a war (no American president has lost an election in time of war, despite the economy). In the US, unemployment could exceed 20%, and although we expect it to drop sharply by the end of the year and the prospect is that it will continue to drop for the next, it is very difficult to ask for the continuity of a government when unemployment borders or exceeds 10%.
In my previous article I was also referring to the political debate of when to open the economy. Although the majority of voters (who are the ones interested in the politician) prefer that it not be opened yet, I think that this answer may be similar to when we asked in a poll where to process garbage waste: they always answer “anywhere, but not in my backyard! ” In other words, taking any survey response in this regard seems very risky. The human animal is fickle, and often changes its position according to the prevailing wind, today is the reality of the coronavirus (increased by a significant level of paranoia). I maintain that when people can no longer be locked up at home (for economic reasons, or for mental or physical health), they will still start dating. I hope that then at least they do it with order, prudence, social distance and wearing masks in public. Therefore, it is better to guide that orderly exit than to try to repress it. However, the leaders of our Latin American countries have a tendency to try to solve public health problems with a police force, which does not usually solve the problem but could open great doors to abuse and corruption.
As for the US, how the current administration handles this delicate decision and carries out the economic revival will be key aspects in the November election. What we do now in this process of opening the economy or not and how to do it, leads us to another important perception for the election: which political party or candidate projects the image that pushes the economy forward for its speedy recovery and which delays it. People also vote on the future. So the other question that November voters will ask, beyond wondering who did a bad job in these pandemic months, is with which candidate or party the future of the economy promises a quicker recovery. This gives, on the one hand, advantages to the populist, who promises the impossible without fear of the judgment of the truth (which for the populist is as malleable as anything else), although he must carry the weight of his previous lies instead.
There is another equally determining factor such as the economy or politics to estimate what happens in the November election, and this will be how most people process the fear they feel to, first, leave their homes or not, and second , what is more difficult, to enter a restaurant or a store, after its quarantine. The second point will determine how much employment, consumption and economic recovery will be in November. And fear will also be a factor in determining if the voter goes out to vote, so encouraging and facilitating mail voting will be a test of the strength and viability of American democracy in times of crisis.
But that will be the subject of a future article.