COVID-19: Would you shut down your city?

The city that never sleeps is now being forced into naptime. On Sunday evening, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio announced that, in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the city's public school system will close for at least a month, and that all restaurants and bars are limited to take-out and delivery service. For days, the mayor faced pressure for decisive action, but given the size of the city's economy and the serious problems these restrictions create for low-income New Yorkers, these weren't easy decisions.

Let's say you had to make the choice yourself, here are some arguments for and against draconian restrictions.


Keep calm and carry on: You're responsible for a $1.5 trillion economy, so shutting things down carries a huge economic cost. A lot of that cost will fall on the most vulnerable people: more than 100,000 kids in your public-school system are homeless or depend on school for daytime meals. Many working parents don't have ready options for child-care, and if they stay home to care for their kids, they don't get paid. Some of those people are healthcare workers badly needed on the job. Add that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) doesn't believe short-term school closures help much to contain the viral spread anyway.

Meanwhile, kneecapping the restaurant industry – which employs almost a million workers and generates $50 billion a year – will affect huge numbers of people. Yes, you need to keep the virus in check, but plunging hundreds of thousands of people into economic uncertainty, or even poverty, might have broader ripple effects that you have to account for. These are people who already struggle to pay for medical care for themselves and their families.

Shut it down: Most projections suggest that without serious action to stem the spread of coronavirus, your hospitals will soon be overrun with more serious cases than can be treated. Look at what's happened in Italy, where the surge of patients has forced doctors to choose whom to save and whom to let die. Overloading the health system not only makes it harder to treat coronavirus cases, it also cripples a hospital's ability to treat other people in need of urgent medical care.

You have already prohibited gatherings of more than 250 people, but your (and the CDC's) recommendations on "social distancing" went alarmingly ignored over the weekend. By shutting things down now, you're avoiding a much deadlier situation later. By working with the school system, you can make arrangements for food and care. It's not going to be pretty, but pandemic responses aren't a beauty contest.

So, like Black Sheep says, the choice is yours: what would you do?

Brazil's governors take on Bolsonaro: We've previously written about the tensions between local and national governments over coronavirus response, but few places have had it as bad as Brazil. As COVID-19 infections surged in Brazil, the country's governors quickly mobilized – often with scarce resources – to enforce citywide lockdowns. Brazil's gangs have even risen to the occasion, enforcing strict curfews to limit the virus' spread in Rio de Janeiro. But Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, has mocked the seriousness of the disease and urged states to loosen quarantines in order to get the economy up and running again. "Put the people to work," he said this week, "Preserve the elderly; preserve those who have health problems. But nothing more than that." In response, governors around the country – including some of his allies – issued a joint letter to the president, begging him to listen to health experts and help states contain the virus. The governor of Sao Paulo, Brazil's economic powerhouse, has even threatened to sue the federal government if Bolsonaro continues to undermine his efforts to combat the virus' spread.

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The major outbreaks of coronavirus in China, Europe, and the United States have garnered the most Western media attention in recent weeks. Yesterday, we went behind the headlines to see how Mexico and Russia are faring. Today, we'll look at three other potential hotspots where authorities and citizens are now contending with the worst global pandemic in a century.

Start with India. For weeks, coronavirus questions hovered above that other country with a billion-plus people, a famously chaotic democracy where the central government can't simply order a Chinese-scale public lockdown with confidence that it will be respected. It's a country where 90 percent of people work off the books— without a minimum wage, a pension, a strong national healthcare system, or a way to work from home.

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In the end, it took the coronavirus to break the year-long deadlock in Israeli politics. Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu will still face corruption charges, but he has yet another new lease on political life, as he and political rival Benny Gantz cut a deal yesterday: Bibi will continue as prime minister, with Gantz serving as Speaker of the Knesset, Israel's parliament. After 18 months, Gantz will take over as prime minister, but many doubt that will ever happen.

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With large parts of the American economy shuttered because of coronavirus-related lockdowns, the number of people filing jobless claims in the US last week exceeded 3.2 million, by far the highest number on record. Here's a look at the historical context. The surge in jobless claims, which may be an undercount, is sure to cause a spike in the unemployment rate (which tells you the percent of work-ready people who are looking for a job). At last reading in February, unemployment was at a 50-year low of 3.5 percent. Economists warn that it could reach 5.5 percent in the near term. Even that would be far lower than the jobless rates recorded during previous economic crises such as the Great Depression or the Great Recession. Have a look.