Coronavirus Government Global Briefing: October 9

By Chris Woods

Friday October 9, 2020

Welcome to Coronavirus Government Global Briefing, Mandarin Premium’s coverage of local and global COVID-19 policy news.

US election 2020: Public health comparisons

As most of the global media focused on Donald Trump’s infection last weekend, The Lancet published the first of three in a series comparing the candidates’ health and science policies.

In short, the publication finds that Trump’s pandemic plan is short on details, citing just a second-term list of priorities that contains brief phrases — i.e. commitments to “return to normal in 2021”, produce COVID-19 medicines and supplies for health-care workers in America, refill stockpiles of supplies and medicine for future pandemics; and provide a vaccine by the end of 2020 — but no specific policies:

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Trump has been reluctant to support recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for people to wear masks outdoors and has questioned the pessimistic warnings of the CDC and other government scientists. Earlier this month, Trump said he believes a vaccine could be ready before election day (November 3) — an assertion CDC Director Robert Redfield has contradicted.

Unlike more conventional presidential candidates, Trump does not intend to issue formal policy proposals or position papers. With less than 5 weeks remaining before the election, his campaign says he will share “details about his plans through policy-focused speeches on the campaign trail”.

Georges Benjamin, a physician and executive director of the American Public Health Association, further argued that Trump has not articulated a public health vision for his second term other than eliminating the Affordable Care Act and women’s right to abortion. In another damning critique, the historically-apolitical New England Journal of Medicine has argued that America’s “current leadership” has not only failed to engineer contact tracing measures or promote “even simple measures” such as mask-wearing, but has actively downplayed the threat and politicised masks.

Just this week, we have seen four major demonstrations of Trump undermining the science on COVID-19:

  • Politico reported just yesterday that the San Diego Unified School District has removed letters from food box relief packages — which the Trump administration mandated be included to allow Trump to take credit for the program — after the president only advised people to “consider” wearing masks in public.
  • NYMag’s Intelligencer explains that the White House has suppressed FDA testing benchmarks — a move the New York Times reported followed complaints from Trump’s chief of staff that the two months required to monitor volunteers would push trials past election day — but the administration has since relented and the FDA has published its guidelines. Writer Jonathan Chait argues that “the backlash created by the FDA going public with its objections showed that Trump had no card to play: if he flouted the professional conclusions of his own advisers, they could speak out against a vaccine announcement and nullify any political benefit. In this case, it appears the guardrails have held.”
  • A reassigned director at the National Institutes of Health, Rick Bright — who filed a whistleblower complaint alleging that his early COVID-19 warnings were ignored and that his caution over hydroxychloroquine led to his removal — has announced his resignation from the government, alleging that the Trump administration “ignores scientific expertise, overrules public health guidance and disrespects career scientists.”
  • Returning to the White House less than a week after being diagnosed, Trump immediately took his mask off for an apparent photoshoot (The Intercept).

On the other end, The Lancet notes that Joe Biden’s campaign has released a total of 51 policy proposals, and his COVID-19 response includes creating a national strategy that places primary responsibility on the federal government, not the states; issuing a nationwide requirement to wear a mask’ and plans to meet the country’s demand for medical supplies, protective equipment, and rapid testing.

In short, ‘The Biden Plan to Combat Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Prepare for Future Global Health Threats‘ includes the following major policy categories, along with one example of each for context — be sure to click through for the full 51:

  • Restoring trust, credibility, and common purpose:
    • Immediately restore the White House National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense, which was established by the Obama-Biden Administration and eliminated by the Trump Administration in 2018.
  • Mounting an effective national emergency response that saves lives, protects frontline workers, and minimises the spread of COVID-19:
    • Make Testing Widely Available and Free:
      • Establish at least 10 mobile testing sites and drive-through facilities per state to speed testing and protect health care workers. Starting in large cities and rapidly expanding beyond, the CDC must work with private labs and manufacturers to ensure adequate production capacity, quality control, training, and technical assistance. The number of tests must be in the millions, not the thousands.
  • Eliminating cost barriers for prevention of and care for COVID-19:
    • Amending the Public Health Service Act to immediately cover all testing, treatment, and preventive services that are necessary to address a Public Health Emergency for an infectious disease. Once triggered by the HHS Secretary in consultation with the CDC, all commercial plans in all markets will be immediately required to cover such services as COVID-19 testing and any eventual vaccine with no copayments and deductibles, including for the visits themselves
  • Pursuing decisive economic measures to help hard-hit workers, families, and small businesses and to stabilise the American economy:
    • Types of paid leave that must be covered: Joe Biden’s emergency paid leave plan will be tailored to cover the various types of leave needed for our nation to get through this crisis. The paid leave plan will create a federal fund to cover 100% of weekly salaries or average weekly earnings capped at $1,400 a week—the weekly amount that corresponds with about $72,800 in annual earnings:
      • paid leave for sick workers;
      • paid leave for workers caring for family members or other loved ones;
      • paid leave for people unable to continue work because they are at increased risk of health complications due to COVID-19;
      • paid leave and child care assistance for dealing with school closings; and
      • paid leave for domestic workers, caregivers, gig economy workers, and independent contractors.
  • Rallying the world to confront this crisis while laying the foundation for the future:
    • Leading the global response to COVID-19:
      • Direct the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), in coordination with the U.S. Department of State, DOD, HHS, and the CDC, to mobilise an international response that assists vulnerable nations in detecting, treating, and minimising the spread of COVID-19, including deploying, when necessary, USAID Disaster Assistance Response Teams. Biden will empower the State Department to ensure the U.S. plays a major role in all global decisions about the outbreak and our experts have the access they need to COVID-19 hotspots. Staying on the sidelines or deferring to other nations ultimately makes us less safe and secure.

Stimulus check

Elsewhere, The New York Times reports that Trump has walked back a pledge to block negotiations over stimulus measures — which have already been left in limbo since the Democrat-controlled House passed a $3 trillion package in May and second $2.2 trillion bill on October 1 — until after the election, announcing on Twitter he would sign a stand-alone bill for $1200 stimulus checks. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin entered brief negotiations, with Pelosi reminding Mnuchin the Democrats have supported this kind of bill throughout the year.

Public policy wrap

  • Professor of Health and Public Policy at Johns Hopkins University Vicenç Navarro has published an analysis of neoliberal policies imposed by many governments on both sides of the North Atlantic, ‘The Consequences of Neoliberalism in the Current Pandemic,‘ which finds the politics of austerity (i.e., considerable cuts to social policy expenditures including medical care and public health services) and the privatisation of health services considerably weakened the capacity of the COVID-19 responses in Italy, Spain, and the United States.
  • In research paper ‘Public service in challenging times: the economic and social value of public sector work in Queensland‘, the Centre for Future Work demonstrates that in addition to some 331,000 direct jobs providing broader state-funded public services, 150,000 private sector positions depend on the economic stimulus provided by public sector work.
  • Researchers at University College London’s Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose compare global government responses to COVID-19 in Oxford Review of Economic Policy’s ‘COVID-19 and public-sector capacity‘, and argue that to govern a pandemic, governments require dynamic capabilities and capacities including capacity to adapt and learn; capacity to align public services and citizen needs; capacity to govern resilient production systems; and capacity to govern data and digital platforms.
  • Lee Jong-Wha, Professor of Economics at Korea University and former Chief Economist at the Asian Development Bank, has argued in Project Syndicate op-ed ‘The perils of big COVID government in Asia‘ how necessary spending initiatives throughout Asia need to be wary of three potential hurdles; capacity for wasted public infrastructure investments — about one-third globally, according to the IMF; weak and corrupt governments; and privacy breaches.

State wrap: As federal budget forecasts historic debt, WA records surplus

  • As the ABC reported yesterday, bumper iron ore royalties have helped Western Australia buck the post-COVID trend and forecast a budget surplus of $1.2 billion this financial year, with Treasury anticipating the state’s hard border will remain up until sometime between April and June next year. The surplus is expected to last the forward estimates, dipping below $1 billion just once in 2021/22 to $363 million before rebounding to almost $1.5 billion by 2023/24, while the budget itself is headed by a $27 billion infrastructure spend.
  • The Victorian government will today ramp up surveillance testing and preventative contact tracing measures in regional Victoria, while a new workplace saliva testing trial will launch next week at Hazeldenes poultry farm.
  • After NSW recorded eight new locally acquired cases yesterday in two separate clusters, The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Premier Gladys Berejiklian has addressed complacency concerns and warned restaurants and cafes they face significant penalties and harsher rules if they continue to flout COVID-19 protocols.
    • As InQueensland reports, the NSW premier also faces an ultimatum from Annastacia Palaszczuk to trace the origin of the state’s first three suspected cases before the Queensland premier decides today on whether or not to rule out the proposed November 1 easing of border restrictions.
  • In a plan to support the transport and freight industry, the Northern Territory government has announced a partnership with the federal government to establish a COVID-19 testing centre at the Road Train Assembly Area at Truck Central.

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

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