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Covid Blame Game

By David Haldane

Sept. 10, 2020


Sometimes it seems as if God gave us fingers for one purpose only: to point. More specifically, to point in blame; an almost universal impulse exercised frequently these days, especially in the age of Covid.

Two regular targets of recent finger pointing live respectively in the Philippines, a relatively poor country in which I spend most of my time, and the United States, a wealthy one in which I spent most of my life.

The Philippines has gained notoriety for at least two dubious achievements in recent months. First, its population has endured the world’s longest and strictest Covid lockdown. Second, it has hosted Southeast Asia’s largest and most severe virus outbreak. And whose fault is that? That’s easy; blame it on President Rodrigo Duterte, dubbed by one critic as a brutal “Covid-authoritarian.”

OK, let’s contrast that to the U.S.A.; a land possessed of far more wealth and power. Unlike the Philippines, America has hosted one of the globe’s least-enforced Covid lockdowns featuring large anti-lockdown demonstrations attended by hordes of unmasked protestors. Yet the similarities outweigh the differences; the US has also seen a huge Covid outbreak that, yes, many blame on the country’s chief executive who former President Barack Obama holds personally responsible for 170,000 deaths.

My point is this: whatever anyone claims, nobody really knows. That’s because even the experts often disagree, sometimes offering conflicting advice. I’d be the first to admit that statistics can mislead. That said, one set of numbers recently caught my eye.

“Counterintuitive though it may be,” the head of an American analytics firm wrote last week in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, “statistical analysis shows that locking down the economy didn’t contain the disease’s spread and reopening it didn’t unleash a second wave of infections.”

He concluded this, Donald L. Luskin explained in the piece—appropriately entitled “The Failed Experiment of Covid Lockdowns”—by tallying the cumulative number of reported cases in each American state as a percentage of its population. His team then compared that to the timing and intensity of each jurisdiction’s lockdown and came up with some unnerving findings.

“… It turns out that lockdowns correlated with a greater spread of the virus,” Luskin wrote. “States with longer, stricter lockdowns also had larger Covid outbreaks.” His conclusion? “The lesson is not that lockdowns made the spread of Covid-19 worse—although the raw evidence might suggest that—but that lockdowns probably didn’t help and opening up didn’t hurt. This defies common sense.”

So back to square one and do what’s right for the economy?  Or, as I said at the top, who the heck really knows?

Here’s what I think. First that our understanding of this virus is still in its primitive stages. Second, that most people most of the time—including local and world leaders—do what they think best given what they know and believe. Third, that what they know and believe is slowly evolving. And, finally, that endlessly pointing fingers of blame at each other is entirely counterproductive.

All that said, I don’t encourage anyone to violate the health protocols in effect wherever they are. Because, geese, they may be the ones that work. And, at some point, you’ve just got to trust that whoever is in charge is doing his or her best.

That struck me earlier this week during a conversation with the local police chief here in Surigao City. Our town, he boasted, is one of the few in the Philippines—and probably the world—without a single case of locally transmitted Covid-19. Let me repeat that; nada, zero, zip, five minus five!

The chief attributes this to his rigorous enforcement of universal mask-wearing in public by everyone always, and who’s to say that he’s wrong? Grist, perhaps, for a future column.

Until then, I sign off with the new politically correct (and caring) way of ending all communication in these dark days of disease and despair; stay safe and be well. By whatever means your favorite president—or, better, police chief—deems effective. In other words, just do what the heck you’re told and one day, God willing, we’ll all find out whether any of it worked.



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David Haldane authored the award-winning memoir, “Nazis & Nudists.” A former Los Angeles Times staff writer, he is an American journalist, essayist, and broadcaster whose radio work received a Golden Mike from the Radio & Television News Association of Southern California. He lives in Surigao City with his Filipino wife and their two children. http:///


Originally Published in Mindanao Gold Star Daily

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