American liberals are having a field day right now bashing President Trump for ‘botching’ the federal response to the coronavirus outbreak. But before they get too excited, we’d like to point out a couple of things to keep in mind: first, the outbreak isn’t over yet, and although 300k cases seems like a lot, the projections for both the US and globally are calling for many millions more, in the US, as well as in Europe and Asia.
Another, is that the Trump Administration and the CDC weren’t the only organizations blinded by “institutional hubris” – as WaPo described the situation at the CDC in its big expose published over the weekend.
Even WaPo conceded that if there was one indisputably great call made by Trump, it was his decision to seal off the US to most flights from China in February. If anything, he should have sealed off slights from all of Europe, too.
But in Brussels, bureaucrats with the EU took the China-influenced advice from the WHO claiming that closing borders wasn’t appropriate at face value, and pushed member states to prioritize other methods of combating the virus instead of border closures and travel bans. Unfortunately, epidemiologists now understand that these are among the most effective tactics for combating the pandemic.
As if to underline that point, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and his government on Monday announced plans to reopen their economy as soon as next week.
Flanked by senior government ministers, Kurz announced on Monday a new timetable to restart the Austrian economy, detailing a series of phased steps to bring life back to normal while minimizing the risk.
This will make Austria the first major European country to reopen its economy, a gamble that the FT pointed out will be heavily scrutinized by its neighbors.
But the reason Austria is even in this situation is because it was one of the first major European economies to eschew the advice from Brussels by ordering businesses to close, imposing a strict nationwide ‘lockdown’ and – most importantly – closing the country’s borders to its plague-ridden southern neighbor, Italy.
The country’s lockdown was in place by March 11.
The country of 8.8 million has still reported a number of cases and deaths, though with lower totals than its neighbors. The number of active COVID-19 cases fell for a third straight day on Monday, as recoveries once again outnumbered new infections. That ‘total active’ – the key figure for an economy considering reopening – stood at just over 12,000 in a country of 8.8 million. Sixteen people died in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 220. The number of patients requiring intensive care remained stable over the past four days at around 250.
During Monday’s speech, Kurz warned Austrians not to engage in Easter celebrations, or he could cancel or alter the plans. The lockdown must continue to be scrupulously adhered to, he said, or the reopening would not happen. Per Kurz’s plan, some shops would start reopening as soon as next week, with others reopening the following week, with reopenings happening gradually by industry until restaurants and bars (expected to be the last on the list) are allowed to reopen by the end of next month (according to the current timeline).
So far, Kurz’s handling of the pandemic, and the performance of his health minister, the coalition-partner Green party’s Rudolf Anschober, has been incredibly popular at home. Now, if he manages to upstage neighboring Germany by reopening the Austrian economy swiftly and safely, Kurz will likely go down as one of the most celebrated leaders of Austria since WWII.