Coronavirus Government Global Briefing: June 10

By Chris Woods

Wednesday June 10, 2020

Welcome to Coronavirus Government Global Briefing, Mandarin Premium’s morning update on everything in local and global government responses to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Which tanked the economy: COVID-19 or lockdowns?

In a new National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, ‘COVID-19 Doesn’t Need Lockdowns to Destroy Jobs: The Effect of Local Outbreaks in Korea’, researchers argue that the virus itself, and the fear of infection, has accounted for roughly half of all job losses.

The study finds that employment in Daegu-Gyeongbuk — a region in South Korea that suffered an outbreak even while the country remained relatively-free of the virus — saw “a one per thousand increase in infections causes a 2%-3% drop in local employment.”

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In perhaps an indelicate comparison, researcher also note that while South Korea never deployed a lockdown, Britain and America did, where employment rates dropped between 5%-6%, “suggesting that at most half of the job losses in the US and UK can be attributed to lockdowns:

“This suggests that the primary culprit of the COVID-19 recession is COVID-19 itself, rather than lockdowns, so that the lifting of lockdowns around the world may lead to only modest recoveries unless the infection rates fall. The best way to revive the labor market is to eradicate the virus.”

Although the paper does not appear to be peer-reviewed — and any international comparisons should be taken with a grain of salt — it correlates with a 12 May University of Copenhagen paper that found spending in Denmark’s harsh lockdown fell 29%. while Sweden’s much softer (and less effective) strategy still recorded a 25% drop.

Source: University of Copenhagen.

While open to corporate giants, America’s small business scheme excludes employers with criminal backgrounds

A new investigation by The Intercept unpacks the human consequences of America’s Small Business Administration (SBA) excluding any business owners convicted of a felony in the past five years from the CARES Act’s central loan scheme, the Paycheck Protection Program.

The exclusion also applies to anyone simply charged and put in pretrial diversion, parole, or probation without being convicted or spending any time in prison; as multiple sources attest throughout the report, its inclusion on the application form directly discourages applications from people with historic convictions.

However, as The New York Times reported in April, the PPP exclusion has not applied to at least seven massive corporations with their own legal problems taking US$45 million from a scheme nominally targeted at small businesses, including:

  • Biopharmaceutical company MiMedx Group received $US10 million just two weeks after paying $US6.5 million to resolve allegations over intentionally overcharging for medical supplies.
  • U.S. Auto Parts Network got US$4.1 million despite a “heated dispute” with Customers and Border Protection over issues including the allegedly counterfeit products.
  • Aerospace manufacturer CPI Aerostructures received US$4.8 million even after chief financial officer Douglas McCrosson resigned in February following major disclosure issues.

Reportedly, Congress was silent on the issue when passing CARES, and the SBA was effectively left to create its own regulations; while their other loan schemes require “good character” evaluations, they do not outright exclude people with past felonies.

Science wrap

  • WHO technical lead on the pandemic Maria Van Kerkhove has clarified that asymptomatic transmission rates are still unknown, a day after her comment that symptomless infections are “very rare” elicited pushback from public health experts (STATnews).
  • Harvard Medical School has published a study that, based on analysis of hospital traffic and search engine data in Wuhan, suggests the virus could have been active as early as August 2019 (via CNBC).
  • Science has profiled the three authors that, following challenges to patient data, last week initiated retractions of papers at The Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine — disputed papers that include an influential Lancet report that helped suspend trials for hydroxychloroquine.
  • An analysis of daily Google data across 95 countries by VoxEU suggests that searches for “prayer” hit their highest level ever recorded. More than half of the world’s population reportedly “prayed to ‘end the coronavirus’” by the end of March 2020, and searches rose at all levels of income, inequality, and insecurity, save for the 10% least religious countries.
  • New survey results from the COVID-19 Consortium for Understanding the Public’s Policy Preferences Across States — a joint project of the Network Science Institute of Northeastern University; the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy of Harvard University; and the School of Communication & Information, Rutgers University — demonstrates decreasing trust in US government institutions and police in handling the pandemic, as well as increasing partisan divides.
  • Finally, in a story that can’t help but echo that old smallpox/cowpox discovery, Science reports that biotech company SAb Biotherapeutics has coaxed genetically modified cows to pump out human antibodies that subdue SARS-CoV-2, with plans for clinical trials to begin this season.

On the home front: NSW launches ‘COVID Safe Check’ for businesses

The NSW government has launched a new online tool, the ‘COVID Safe Check’, to check, test and promote their safety credentials.

As Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced yesterday, the government has put all industry information at — which already included COVID-19 Safety Plans for all industries i.e. auctions and open houses, drive-in cinemas and zoos — along with “downloadable badges for businesses with COVID Safe plans to display in their premises, so customers know they have the tick of approval.”

“Customers can also use the tool to provide feedback in real-time,” Berejiklian said. “Feedback is sent to the business and, if necessary, to the regulator for action.”

According to Minister for Customer Service Victor Dominello, businesses will also be provided with advice on how to integrate their COVID Safe status with Google Maps, giving customers a bird’s-eye view of COVID Safe businesses when searching online.

As students return, Victoria launches remote and flexible learning survey

Yesterday, Victoria welcomed back around 618,000 students from Years 3 to 10 under the state’s final step of returning to face-to-face teaching.

Following the end of the state’s staggered return, Minister for Education James Merlino opened a community consultation survey for principals, teachers, parents and students ahead of a July summit to discuss lessons learnt throughout the remote teaching and learning period.

The summit will follow an independent analysis of remote learning at schools across the state, and bring together education leaders from government, Catholic and independent school sectors.

State wrap

Finally, in a short but positive note to end on, Australia yesterday recorded our first day since the pandemic’s peak with no new recorded cases due to community transmission, with the only new cases two overseas arrivals in NSW.

For health department updates: Federal, NSW, Victoria, QueenslandACTSouth AustraliaTasmaniaNorthern Territory and Western Australia.

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