Coronavirus: how authorities are reacting

Ministry of Health workers, decked out in regalia that seem more intended to impress than protect, screen passengers coming into Tocumen Airport. So far they have not found anyone infected with coronavirus, but they’re just looking for symptoms so would not catch someone with an infection in this strain’s long incubation period. MINSA photo.

Different approaches as a pandemic blooms

by Eric Jackson

Histories written after the Julio-Claudian lineage of Roman Emperors was over are very mean to Nero. So DID HE play his musical instrument while a large section of Rome burned? And if he did, would hustling to the scene to rally the population and the public servants to fight the fire have helped? What if he had, from his palace, shouted orders, assigned blame and specified cruel and gruesome punishments — would any of that have helped? (Note that Tacitus wrote that Nero was actually out of town for the fire.)

Like so many other politicians, President Cortizo made himself scarce starting just before Carnival. Notwithstanding the crises we have had in the week and a half, the Presidencia’s website was not updating since just before Carnival. The government, however, has not shut down.

It was decided that there would be repairs to the nation’s main water plant in Chilibre over Carnival Weekend, and the outage went longer than people had been advised that it would. A tweet from IDAAN blaming a contractor was unseemly even if true, but the president was spared the fate of issuing that stuff over his signature. There were two big problems with working on the metro area’s big water plant when everyone was expected to head out to the Interior. First, because of the bad economy a lot more capitalinos than usual just stayed put because they could not afford otherwise. Second, in much of the Interior the local water systems were running dry.

The bureaucracies muddled through. Sending the presidential guards out to pass out clean water to the diminished flock of pilgrims headed for Ash Wednesday at Atalaya was a nice touch, as was sending cistern trucks to pour water into that town’s aqueducts.

But while this was happening, the news about a virus outbreak coming out of China was getting worse and worse, from sensationalist and responsible sources alike. The doctor who leaked word of the emerging disease to the world fell afoul of the Chinese government, then fell ill and died from the disease. The outbreak broke out of China, with world health officials expressing concerns about a possible worldwide pandemic.

And Nito Cortizo has been unavailable. He has given neither optimistic assurances nor decisive-sounding orders to the general public. But let us hope that wherever he has been he’s been maintaining constant contact with the appropriate people and making decisions when called upon to do so.

Will it disappoint the religious fanatics in Cortizo’s and allied political parties that The End Times do not draw nigh? As far as we have seen, most people who are infected have not become sick enough to go to a health care facility that will add their case to the statistics, and of those who have become statistics the death toll is in single digits. Cause for great concern and terrible economic disruption, but probably not a pandemic of 14th century proportions, probably not as bad as the flu that ended World War I by shutting down German war production turned out to be.

We are not all going to die of this. It will probably not set the stage for a great battle among Middle Eastern armies that’s fought to the very last Jew, after which the good Christians will follow Mike Pence up to heaven in the rapture. Santeños will probably not be visited by guys following oxcarts and asking them to bring out their dead.

But, being The Crossroads of The World, we have already taken a big hit in our transportation, tourism and commerce industries. It’s likely to get worse. And if, at the time these words were written, our public health officials had not identified a confirm coronavirus case, that’s likely to happen. The president will have some more decisions to make.

The nation needs to keep the water running so that people can wash their hands and bathe themselves.

We may have to figure out some workable quarantine provisions, which would vary as to how severe and where outbreaks go. Tell people to stay at home, and send out health care workers to check on them and bring supplies to quarantined households? Turn large public places into giant flu wards, where all infected will be obliged to go?

We may have to impose restrictions on gatherings to slow the spread. No public sporting events? Padlock theaters until further notice? Shut the schools? Religious services by broadcast or online only? Close the bars and casinos? Nobody with a runny nose to be allowed on a bus or Metro train? There would be major and cascading economic damages to follow from any of those things, but it may be necessary to do all of those things.

Mr. Cortizo has his work cut out for him, and has yet to give any cause for great alarm. Anyone in Panama with any sense will wish him well in these endeavors.

And when this disease outbreak has passed? However many bullets we may have taken or dodged, there are some lessons to learn about preparedness, and several ways to address each of these, if ever Panama’s public officials decide to be prudent.


And then, in the USA

Taking the credit for everything positive, blaming someone else for everything negative. Legend has it that Nero blamed the Christians, well before the time that feeding them to the lions became the great imperial pastime. Ancient Roman politics was far from the first occasion of leaders looking for scapegoats in the face of a catastrophe.

Someone might think that with all of the Trump supporters who swear to be guided by the Bible, that it would not occur to him that both of its testaments are full of politically motivated assignments of blame, almost always by bad guys. But here we go, in an election year. 

The market will probably recover, perhaps before the election. But cut taxes way back on the rich, run huge deficits, pray to the markets to provide in things economic, pull threads and cables out of social safety nets, and fewer tools are left in the face of an economic emergency. That will play itself out over the months to come.

Ecuador, France, Italy and so on

As soon at Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno leaned that a coronavirus case had been indentified in his country, he imposed restrictions on many sorts of large public gatherings.

Moreno was following the lead of France, which has banned indoor public gatherings likely to attract more than 5,000 people and outdoor events likely to attract international crowds.

In Italy Serie A soccer matches were postponed.

In southern Iran, a frightened mob burned a health care center where people with coronavirus were being quarantined, the government complained of hostile foreign media exaggerating the outbreak there, and people were urge to stay at home to the extent that they can.

In China repression against doctors who publish information about the problem continued, but the notion of getting sick for the cause has pretty much ended the Hong Kong protests for the time being. According to Confucian traditions disasters are a suggestion that a government’s “mandate of heaven” may have lapsed, and this more than preventing panic is what drives the Chinese government’s response.


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