covid in USA: Covid hits USA badly: Hello from my bunker to yours

I write to you from the hardest hit country in the world. The graph of death and infection keeps climbing, the pandemic’s peaks and plateaus seem distant and dreams are made of masked doctors and harried nurses. And the New York governor.

And like everyone else Americans are OK with the state using more authority and curbs. A whopping 70% are ready to accept restrictions on freedom of speech and 60% support a ban on entry of foreigners while the pandemic rages, according to a recent University of Virginia survey.

America is staying home for the most part, a few pastors, parishners and beach bums notwithstanding. And baking the bejesus out of the lockdown. Yeast is disappearing from grocery stores just like toilet paper. Don’t know about you but I am so done with enthusiastic cooks crowing about their creations on Twitter and Facebook. It seems indulgent when millions have neither home nor food.

Lines of cars in front of American food banks are miles long as jobs disappear. A can of soup must be stretched. Charities are facing shortages of both food and volunteers and are forced to pay full price. In “normal” times, American inequality was blunted somewhat because philanthropy stepped in but in the Corona environment it’s not sufficient.

The economy is in a tailspin and expected to shrink anywhere between 14% (JPMorgan Chase) to 24% (Goldman Sachs). The worst quarter of the 2008 recession shrank the US economy by 8.4%, a figure that seems so small today.

A couple of months ago Donald Trump could boast the country had the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years but the virus has rendered more than 17 million unemployed. The $2 trillion stimulus package may barely suffice to sustain a system gutted over the years.

“America the beautiful” is America in crisis. It’s pleading for protective gear just like the rest of the world. The consignment of hydroxychloroquine from India has landed and all is calm on that front. Diplomacy in the times of Corona can be tough but officers are using Instagram, Facebook and virtual meetings to boost morale and give advice to stranded students and tourists.

The US death toll keeps rising. More than 23,600, including around 40 Indian Americans, have died and more than 586,300 are infected with more than 10,000 deaths in New York alone. It’s as if the virus had a special desire to devastate the world’s greatest city.

But to watch New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s daily briefing is to see a thoughtful, adult leader in action. America waits for the “Cuomo darshan” to feel a little less anxious, a little reassured. His blend of honesty, authority, competence and outrage (against the federal government) has made him a folk hero.

Many want the Democratic Party to dump Joe Biden and draft Cuomo but that’s too radical. Even though Corona has subverted the game, they will fight old-style. But the party bigwigs do worry about Biden’s ability to best Trump come November.

This election will be about Corona and China — Trump’s campaign ads are already casting Biden as Beijing-friendly. A comprehensive China strategy is key. Like it or not, Trump has a headstart. His administration has taken a few steps to show where it’s going and it’s not towards China.

On April 4 Trump signed an executive order which basically prevents Chinese investment in the US telecom sector — another effort to de-couple. But clearly more needs to be done because Huawei is already deep inside as it is in many other countries. The US will have to actually create competition for Huawei and not just lament.

China has wielded enormous influence through the International Telecommunications Union to set standards for 5G but the US has no patience for the United Nations and its agencies. The ITU is headed by a Chinese official who was reelected in 2018 with 176 votes with 178 present. The tally tells a tale.

You can’t leave the field and complain about a walkover. The White House has woken up to the World Health Organization’s conduct and China’s influence. Last week it put a hold on US funding thus ceding further ground to China. A full accounting is expected on the other side of the pandemic.

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