Saturday, May 02, 2020

Critical Delays

If there is one single lesson we need to take out of this experience as societies, especially in the West, is that the time to take action is usually significantly before it appears strictly necessary.

Earlier in the year I wrote on my blog how the Mayor and aldermen of London issued a fairly complex set of instructions for mitigating the spread of plague in London in 1665. These measures demonstrated a degree of lateral thinking and imagination that has often been absent from contemporary responses. 

"One has to wonder if the modern equivalents of Mayor and aldermen are as capable of such concerted and thorough action," I pondered.

...on January 29.

Some of the key moments of the timeline as far as I can tell occurred up to 6 weeks later.

For instance thousands of football fans travelled from Madrid to Liverpool (now a disease hotspot) on March 11 for a Champions' League tie. Chapines were simultaneously crossing the pond to catch the matches of their favoured teams in La Liga. The idea that the problem was still limited to Wuhan remained prevalent.

Here in Guatemala the day before, the tourist board — INGUAT — was actively promoting the country as a covid-free destination. Many other local businesses appeared to have spotted a discounting opportunity.

Giammattei responded with his first set controls on the 12th, but it was not until Saturday March 14th that he took decisive action, amongst other things putting a stop to the Lenten processions.

I recall a trip into town the previous Thursday in which I found the centre quite remarkably becalmed and yet was gobsmacked to come across small groups of what were obviously cruise ship passengers moving furtively through the city, made that much more obvious by the absence of local throngs.

If allowing passengers to board cruise ships in February and March is now being assessed as criminal, we have to ask ourselves whether the blame should be shared just a bit with those who continued to permit them to dock and graze the retail opportunities in Antigua.

So, while overall the controls the President has imposed appear to have made a difference, as everywhere in this hemisphere, they were implemented just that little bit late.

And this complicates his position now as the need to revive parts of the economy becomes ever more urgent and he lacks some of the tools that more developed countries will begin to use as part of their lockdown exit strategies.

(PS: Even earlier than January 29th I was writing elsewhere on social media about slow motion train-wrecks and how the crash of '08 should really be called the crash of '07, it's just that we often wilfully choose to forget the time when it was blindingly obvious what was going to happen, but we weren't really paying attention.)

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