The Inconsistency Of The Lockdown
Call it what you will — lockdown, shelter in place, stay-at-home, quarantine — it is enforced to varying degrees around the world and I don’t think anyone needs a history lesson on why the lockdowns were implemented in the first place. However, the time has come to start asking questions now that many countries are reaching six-week milestones for shutting up shop. There are two very important issues at play here — our health and the economy — both of which are suffering to varying degrees and in a manner seen by many as totally out of proportion to what should be the reaction to a global pandemic.
I can only speak for the measures taken here in Argentina, where the lockdown was imposed on the 20th March, with only essential trips to buy food and medicines being allowed. Most of us applauded the government’s swift reaction and with a few exceptions, the lockdown has been adhered to by the population. Speaking personally, I’m a solitary type anyway, I work from home and this hasn’t really come as a huge imposition– I spend my time writing, and fixing things. I also run a motorcycle courier service, so I’ve been travelling far and wide over the last couple of weeks. However, being a federal country, each state has the power to impose its own restrictions — or lack of — according to the powers that be. But that even trickles down to the local level, such as municipal mayors. For example, in Chivilcoy, a small town of around 64,000 inhabitants 115 miles west of Buenos Aires, the mayor has imposed a curfew between the hours of 9 am and 5 pm on Sundays.
Similar sirens are sounding further north in Salta and to be quite frank, the authorities need their heads examined. This kind of behaviour is totally out of proportion and serves nothing more than to spread fear throughout the community. Of course, it’s always possible that the intention is to do just that, but in a country that has suffered under countless military dictatorships, one has to wonder at the motives of the local authorities, when most people in this country would rather forget the ravages of military curfews, where you could be shot on sight for breaking the law.
After 24 hours of confusion, officials in Buenos Aires City, Buenos Aires Province, Córdoba and Santa Fe decide citizens in large cities in four regions will not be allowed to leave their homes for one hour each day, despite president’s announcement.
One has to ask, what’s safer– a trip to the supermarket where your social-distancing efforts may be thwarted by others who don’t understand the concept, or a pleasant walk by the river, taking fresh air and sunshine (vitamin D) and where you can completely control your proximity to others? Unfortunately, unless you’re a dog owner, the latter isn’t an option for us because we live in a very built up and heavily populated conurbation. But, on Saturday el presidente announced that we could take walks within five hundred metres of our homes, so we did just that on Sunday, enjoying a pleasant stroll in the sunshine on the banks of the Rio de la Plata (River Plate).
What we weren’t made aware of, was that the new rule wouldn’t take effect until Monday and in fact, the measure was cancelled by state governors during our little outing. This brought on a frisson in me when we arrived home, knowing that we had slipped through a grey area, at least for a brief moment in time. I hasten to add that we only saw a handful of people walking around, most of whom were more than 100 yards away, so please don’t call the thought police.
Is It Healthy To Be Locked Up For Months On End?
One question that resonates in my mind is why lock up the healthy? It’s common knowledge in medical circles that quarantine is usually reserved for sick people with infectious diseases so they don’t spread it to others. Locking up millions of people in a house-arrest style has been criticised by numerous medical professionals around the world, because of its effect on our immune systems, where our bodies build up natural immunity by our behaviour when we touch and come into contact with bacteria in the open world.
Reports of domestic abuse in lockdown are on the rise, as are reports of drug and alcohol addictions because those affected have an altered state of routine, more time on their hands, and forcing people to stay together 24 hours a day is creating pressure-cooker situations in many households. The old saying, idle hands do the devil’s work couldn’t be more true under the current circumstances, so it comes as no surprise that many people are protesting in the streets and demanding that their liberty be restored. But it’s a fine line between liberty and the safety of all, so it’s all very well quoting passages from national constitutions and ignoring medical advice on social distancing, which is both selfish and thoughtless to others. I probably would have more respect for these protesters if they had at least bothered to observe a modicum of common sense when gathered together.
The Economic Fallout
Many have suggested that the economic price we’ll pay later will be catastrophic– the cure being worse than the disease, to quote a well-known world leader. In the case of Argentina which was already in debt to the tune of over US$300 billion, including an IMF loan of US$57 billion, the aftermath of shutting down the economy is too painful to even think about.
A nation of shopkeepers…
This is often attributed to Napoleon when referring to England and if that’s the case, Argentina is a nation of several million shopkeepers, for I have never been to a city with so many corner shops. Wherever I go in the suburbs, there’s a ferreteria (hardware store) every couple of blocks, ice cream parlours, hairdressers, kiosks (tobacco, etc), women’s clothes, baby clothes, ad infinitum. Most of these are small businesses run by families or young entrepreneurs, struggling through no fault of their own, in an already dire economic climate as a result of government mismanagement and corruption on an industrial scale. Add to that, layers of bureaucracy that would make your head spin, inflation at 60%, and I often wonder how they survive. When the lockdown hit last month, they all had to close, and frankly, after five weeks one wonders how they are ever going to pull it back. The government has acted with financial assistance drawn from funds it hasn’t got, not to mention interest-free loans of minuscule amounts, but one wonders if it’s going to be enough. Clearly any relaxation of the quarantine which involves large groups of people close together in confined spaces is too risky at this stage, but small businesses that can adapt need to be open for their very survival and not wait until May 10th, which is the next quarantine review.