Opinion: New York and US reel from coronavirus pandemic | Opinion | DW | 31.03.2020
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Opinion

Opinion: New York and US reel from coronavirus pandemic

The pandemic has exposed the worst in society. At the current rate, peak resource use will occur in mid-April, Alexander Görlach writes from New York City, the epicenter of the global COVID-19 outbreak.

Over the weekend, President Donald Trump said he was considering a complete quarantine of New York City — the US epicenter of the global coronavirus outbreak. Now, residents have been strongly urged to avoid traveling outside of the state. Nearby Rhode Island even posted officers on the state line, initially stopping any vehicle with New York license plates before expanding checks to all cars entering via Connecticut.

Prof. Dr. Dr. Alexander Görlach (Harvard University/D. Elmes)

Alexander Görlach

On Tuesday, the official number of infections in the United States rose to more than 174,000, with over 3,400 people dead. Democrats say Trump is to blame for the rising death toll because of the lax approach he took to the outbreak in its early stages. Until he ordered preventive measures extended through April 30 on Sunday, it was clear from Trump's public statements that he had been torn between declaring a total quarantine and sticking to his original plan of reopening the United States for business as usual by Easter.

Read more: 'No shortages' in Germany, top coronavirus official says

No matter what Trump may wish, the crisis will not end anytime soon. By mid-April, when the state of New York is projected to reach peak resource use, many residents will have spent over a month in their homes.

Read more: Trump signs $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill into law

Lack of preparedness

New York health officials say the state needs 30,000 ventilators. Many here fear that not everyone who needs help will get it. Groups have expressed horror at the potential for discrimination in weighing one life against another.

The response to the outbreak has laid bare the inequalities in the United States: People who can afford to have been sitting in self-isolation for weeks, yet Americans who live paycheck to paycheck frequently cannot afford to isolate themselves — instead, they are forced to potentially expose themselves to the dangerous virus. The number of people infected increases exponentially with each passing day.

Rents will also be due on the first of the month, and many Americans will be unable to pay them. Though several jurisdictions, including the state of New York, have suspended evictions during the pandemic, some landlords have already sent out nasty letters, threatening to kick tenants out should they not manage to pay rent. How could anyone feel remotely justified in putting people on the street in the middle of such a crisis?

Read more: Angela Merkel to quarantine after meeting infected doctor

Trump's impulse to lock New York City down similar to how Chinese officials locked down the city Wuhan, where the virus originated, has also introduced questions about whether democracies are capable of dealing with pandemics in the same way that authoritarian systems do. Officials who pose such questions tend to admire authoritarians — Trump is one such fan.

But the main problem facing the United States is a lack of effective public health policies. For years, President Barack Obama had attempted to introduce changes to the health insurance system to expand care to more Americans. The United States still lags far behind other countries in that regard. That is one reason why the next several weeks will be difficult ones for New York City and the rest of the country.

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