French President Emmanuel Macron has criticised Austria and Denmark for their declaration of wanting to cooperate with Israel in the production of vaccines. This comes on the heels of Austria’s eastern neighbours’ decision to approve the Chinese and Russian vaccines. According to M. Macron, European states should not attempt to forge alliances outside the EU perimeter but rather concentrate their efforts to centralise solutions within the EU frameworks.
M. Macron is wrong on multiple counts. Firstly, centralisation is very often less effective than states competing to get best results. Older readers will recall the famous/infamous 5 year economic plans of the Warsaw Pact countries. It was a recipe for economic disaster, which took decades to unfold but at the end, in 1990, unfold it did. Federal countries like the United States have honed the centralist/state model for nearly 250 years, and they are still bickering about it, witness the recent decisions of some states, led by Texas, who will drop Covid measures next week.
Furthermore, the EU bureaucracy has proven inept at managing the procurement process. Britain and Israel, free from centralised shackles have understood very early that vaccination was a health and economic must that had to be approached in a non-conventional fashion. Britain was lucky enough to have left Europe at just the right time to be able to make preparations and orders independently, while Israelis, who can’t usually be criticised for over-paying, decided to do just that in their quest for national vaccination.
Picture this. By some counts, one day of lockdown in the UK costs £500m-1bln to its economy. The average double dose of vaccine costs, say, £25. This means that the cost of all the vaccines to cover an entire country can be financed by avoiding a few, extra days of lockdowns. Which means that the cost paid per dose is completely irrelevant, yet the EU allegedly spent weeks if not months bickering on price. These delays will translate into a 3-6 month delay in vaccinating their populations, which will costs EU countries hundreds of billions of Euros. A CEO making such a mistake would be fired by his board. A prime minister would face his angry voters. What are the consequences of the lack of foresight of the EU executives?
Italy is a country historically rife with conspiracy theories.
In the past, they have ranged from who were the political backers of the Red Brigades (the Americans or the Russians?), to why Juventus wins so many championships (the Agnellis control everything), to how gnomes in New York play with Italian politics by ‘adjusting’ the BTP/Bund spread. There are many more examples.
Today, the mother of all conspiracies is why Italy is not getting enough people vaccinated. The argument goes that other non-European countries are somehow deviating Italy’s supplies of vaccine. The reality is that Italy is suffering the results of the incapacity of the EU to manage the centralised purchase of the vaccines for hundreds of millions of Europeans at the same time. The EU is an institution that is quite good at putting on the brakes, not at swiftly making things happen. The EU’s executive is appointed and not elected. Its appointers are not looking for charismatic leaders that could eclipse them, they are rather looking for dependable administrators who will follow the protocols. The problem is that the EU had no experience in negotiating purchase agreements of this size and in order to ensure it be seen to do the right thing, it wasted precious time in negotiating with a fine tooth comb and arguing for better prices. The problem is that it didn’t recognise that there are times when price is irrelevant and redundancy crucial. Israel and the UK understood much earlier that it doesn’t matter if you pay $30 (apparently what Israel agreed to pay) for a vaccine or around $10, like the EU did. Every extra week of lockdown is worth a lot more than a few dollars of savings, especially in the midst of a pandemic.
Mario Draghi is credited for having saved Italy and the EU in the midst of the financial crisis. He will now have to apply his ‘we will do whatever it takes’ modus operandi to independently acquire vaccines if he wants to prevent League leader Salvini and his Fratelli d’Italia colleague from running on a very popular vaccine-denial, anti Europe platform in the near future.
This week marks the approximate anniversary of the arrival of the Covid pandemic in mainland Europe. It is notable that while certain towns and regions in Italy were already in lockdown mode at this time last year, other countries such as the United States seemed to be immune until March. On this day last year, we were in Florida where everything was open and masks were unheard of. Meanwhile, Italy was already testing the body temperature of arrivals at airports, and beginning to curtail flights from China.
In the UK it was still more or less business as usual. In fact you may argue that it has taken the UK twelve months to get a hold on its borders, as the harshest measures have only been introduced in February….. 2021!
Consider the difference. Granted that we are worried about mutant viruses, but as of today, the UK has administered over 18m doses of vaccine; if you take into consideration the subjects who are somehow immune, or protected, because they had the virus already, and children who don’t seem to get sick, we are now getting close to 50% of the population being vaccinated or immune. In addition, one year ago, the UK had no real testing capacity. Today they are doing many hundreds of thousands of tests per day.
One would have thought that the borders should have been closed (especially to China) when the disease was difficult to diagnose (for lack of testing capacity) and non-curable/preventable (no vaccines and no effective therapy), and that the restrictions should be relaxed now that the combination of cheaply available testing and vaccines are an effective barrier to contagion. True, it is not proven that vaccination means non transmission. It is also true that testing (especially rapid testing) may not be exact; however, public policy in almost every field aims to minimise and not eliminate problems and to balance prevention with the negative effects of limitation of liberties, commerce, travel etc. No government gives its citizens a guarantee that the streets will be 100% safe from crime. Covid prevention should also fall into the minimisation rather than elimination, bucket.