Sunday, May 03, 2020

Kurz's Unlocked Alliance may become more important than the EU

Covid-19 has spread very differently in various countries and countries reacted very differently to the epidemics. Some nations were truly hysterical, some were spared, some citizenries were rather responsible and obedient, some countries see a greater support for a nearly permanent lockdown (insanity) than others, and so on.



Karel Gott, Austria's representative at the 1968 Eurovision Song Contest. The complete failure of the contest to predict that the Pilsner guy would be a leading Central European singer in the following 50 years counts as extra evidence that the contest is rubbish mostly promoting kitsch and trash. ABBA's 1974 victory at "Waterloo" ;-) is the only substantial exception.

Czechia responded in a pragmatic, early, China-like style. We did have rather draconian measures – which started before our first fatality – but it was always agreed by everybody that we don't really want such a thing for an extremely long time. We wanted to show to ourselves that we may defeat the virus if we want, and that would be the time for reopening. So by the end of May, all services should be restarted and the face masks (plus some regulations about the 5-feet distance) will be the only clearly visible trace of the unfree Covid epoch. People are split on whether we will keep the face masks for a long time – once you talk about the late July, the voices are about 50-50.

In the most recent 24 hours, we had just 14-18 new infections, down from 380 a day at the end of March; about 250 people have died. The downtrend was temporarily indistinguishable from the noise but by now, it has become totally obvious. Yes, our \(R_0\) was below \(1\) and \(R_0\approx 0.7\) in a recent official estimate. The disease is fading away. Many officials think that the face masks were crucial for taming the virus. The duration of the lockdown has been comparable to 2 months which is economically hurtful but it's not devastating.



Eastern Europe was so far spared and the casualties per 1 million people might be 10-20 percent of the Western European ones. But many people including me must feel that it's a temporary state of affairs (caused by Eastern Europe's lag behind the West), that many of the Eastern European countries haven't peaked yet, and they have the potential to emulate Lombardy.

A truly successful country must show some clear nonzero peak and a decline from it. Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian Chancellor, decided to pick the "smart" countries. He may have picked countries with prime ministers whom he likes as friends. Whatever. And he has composed the following list:
Countries That Kept a Lid on Coronavirus Look to Each Other to Revive Economies:
Australia, Austria, Czechia, Denmark, Greece, Israel, New Zealand
Click above for the article about the Unlocked Alliance (UA7).

The criteria haven't been quite articulated so some personal sentiments of Kurz's may have decided why one country is on the list and another isn't. At any rate, this is Kurz's somewhat random new Austrian-Something monarchy. ;-) Clearly, by taking the initiative, he could squeeze his country into the list even though it is more affected than the other six. Also, New Zealand, Australia, and Greece have been mostly spared because of the warm weather, but let me stop because I don't know how I would sling mud on Denmark, for example.



Czechia surely belongs to the smart list. We quickly enough re-discovered the efficiency of face masks, made them mandatory and available, and lots of the restrictions were rather targeted and structured. Also, we are switching to the Smart Quarantine which is replacing "locking" by a much more accurate tracing of the newly detected cases according to their cell phone GPS data, usage of payment cards, and other things. Possible contacts who could have contracted it in recent 5 days are quickly identified and quarantined. When something is shut down, it won't be whole cities but just some buildings, parts of companies, streets, something like that.

It's really a discovery of the wheel because assorted Asian countries must have been doing extremely similar things for a very long time but these approaches are unusual among the "white" nations. It's incredible to see how low-tech the reaction was in the U.S. which harbors the Silicon Valley etc. A good enough employee of Google could have hacked into the Google computers and developed a system to prevent owners of Android phones from getting to dangerous places according to the recorded GPS trajectories etc. But instead, America coined another not so high-tech technology, locking hundreds of millions of people into their basements as if they were stinking rats. And many of them are stinking by now.

OK, the bloc above – Australia, Austria, Czechia, Denmark, Greece, Israel, New Zealand – has 25+8.9+10.7+5.8+10.7+8.9+4.9 = 75 million people or so. Note that some numbers were repeated: both Czechia and Greece have about 10.7 million, both Austria and Israel have 8.9 million etc. In total, the bloc is comparable to Germany but it is much more spread all over the globe.

Greece is the most troubled country of the bloc fiscally. I sincerely hope that others in the bloc wouldn't try to unify government finances with Greece at this moment etc. The other member's government credit may surely survive several months of insanely huge subsidies and breaks in the tax revenue. At any rate, the main purpose is to unlock some industries of the bloc, especially tourism, simultaneously. So it should be possible to travel inside the Unlocked Alliance. Again, Greece could be greatly helped because a whopping 18% of its GDP was tourism a year ago. The same percentage is just 3% in Czechia.

If you're close to shops and hotels in Greece, you should make sure that you import lots of Kofola which is produced in a company led by a guy with a wonderful name and ancestry, Janis Samaras. You might need lots of Kofola for the summer season! It is so much better than other brown sodas. And the anise makes it a sibling of ouzo, a coincidence that didn't depend on any Greeks.

Independently of that, the countries plan to open their terrestrial borders. Both Austria and Czechia plan to open the German border, assuming some extra new precautions, even though Germany is suffering much more and isn't a part of the Unlocked Alliance. In July, all borders to the Czech neighbors are promised to be rather open, too. But there will undoubtedly be border checks where lots of rather nontrivial procedures may be done.

We may say that the European Union ceased to exist in practice (along with all its projects like the Gr@tinist fight against climate change). Borders were not only revived but they resemble the Iron Curtains today. No one knows all the precise dates but it happened very quickly. The solidarity between the countries is almost non-existent, too. Their shared Euro currency may be a problem.

If you're living in a country that doesn't belong to this wonderful club yet (I mean the Unlocked Alliance), you should try to improve the situation in your country so that you may join. (I am trying to communicate a message to the Slovak government, "oh my God, how is it possible that Kurz just removed you? Do something about it. Try to copy the Czech policies verbatim so that he can't object".) And if you can't, you may want to think about opening branches of your company inside the Unlocked Alliance because for half a year or a year or several years, the Unlocked Alliance may be the area where most things will work just like we were used to. Elsewhere, you may become unable to shake people's hands or sign any treaties in the foreseeable future.

Whether particular countries get unlocked will depend both on the dynamics of the virus itself as well as (and perhaps especially) the people's psychology and dominant narratives – which, as we have seen, may hugely diverge away from the epidemiological reality. To be eligible for "open borders" with a bloc like UA7, you need to be both open and sufficiently clean epidemiologically because no country (or bloc) wants to open the border to a huge influx of sick people.

But if we imagine that the world will be split to the regions where people restarted their human interactions and industries; and the part of the world where people have changed the regime and almost everyone tries to "stay at home", I think that these parts of the world would be separated by an incredibly thick new Iron Curtain, perhaps one that would be more divisive than the Iron Curtain that separated capitalism and communism in the Cold War era. The difference between "people can own factories" and "people can't own factories" is significant but I think that it is milder than the difference between the worlds where "people can go outside" and "people can't go outside".

The evolution of the wealth would be correspondingly divergent.

Luckily enough, most Czechs already live in the mental state of the "imminent complete unlocking". The radio stations are full of optimistic news (and the government politicians brag most of the time, of course), humor, plus some (previously non-existent) advertisements saying "Buy Czech", information about the generous subsidies of the government for this and that, and other things. People are getting ready to invade the movie theaters and restaurants in one week from now. There are surely people who are terrified but they're a minority. While over 90 percent of Czechs supported the lockdown, a majority already supports the reopening. The opinions are evolving very quickly. You shouldn't pay too much attention to opinion polls today because the opinions are bound to be very different two weeks from now. Instead, you should do what is right.

The disease is surely dropping in all countries that have already seen a substantial fatality rate. There hasn't been any country where the new cases or daily fatalities kept on increasing for more than a month before they started to decelerate. But I am shocked to see that in many states of the U.S. and the EU, the very assertion that "most things should be opened within a month or two or earlier" remains controversial. The new Coronazi movement that is thinking about a truly long-term shutdown has been created and apparently gained a dangerously extensive support from the citizens. This strength of the Coronazis promoting a nearly permanent shutdown is extremely pathological and all the citizens who haven't lost their marbles completely should work hard on the (ideally non-violent) liquidation of this pathological movement which is by far the greatest threat for their nation.

The reopening of New York or Michigan may be delayed by weeks, a month, or at most two relatively to the Unlocked Alliance – but if someone seems to plan that this difference should be four months, a year, two years, or infinitely many seconds, that's really, really bad, perhaps more bad than the Stalinist coups in the Central and Eastern Europe of the late 1940s. If such a threat became credible in your state or nation, you should stop paying too much attention to the adjective "non-violent" in the previous paragraph.

Michigan turned out to be the most shocking place of a Coronazi regime. It's a state with the 5th highest fatality count per million people which obviously shows, at least partly, that the leadership is among the incompetent ones in this situation. However, instead of replacing it with some better people who do clever things, the incompetent leadership tries to compensate its incompetency with growing tyranny. This is a toxic mixture, indeed. Tyranny led by the incompetent ones isn't a good cure for incompetency or for cough.

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