Monday, September 21, 2020

Rules and Regulations

There are passports, and then there are passports. Keeping on top of our covidious dilemma requires locking down and, as with all thing bureaucratic, where there are regulations there will inevitably always be loopholes. The fine print is an iron-cast existence proof of any law.

Consider the passport. So you want to add regulations on visitors from a particular country. Let's take a wild example, the USA (a fantasy I know, everyone wants US tourist dollars, or to come to America's great land; per Mr Trump, they'll even pay to build a wall around it). Anyway, let's assume a ban on the US as a thought experiment, indulge me if you will.

Recall that the index cases that imported COVID-19 to Ghana and Burkina Faso were diplomats and businessmen who skirted what screening procedures had been hastily established at the start of the outbreak. Now you may counter, temperature screening doesn't work, asymptomatic transmission etc. Still: the VIP lounge gap, or its equivalent, will exist in some form, and certainly did in those instances, my compatriots are paying the price.

What more people carrying diplomatic passports? Forget the bluster of a trade war, sanctions and what have you, a large part of the current US-China dispute involves the quarantine procedures China would like US diplomats to follow. The State Department and the CIA aren't used to having to follow plebian rules. Quarantine? Rules are made to be broken. There are procedures, and then there are procedures.

ziploc display tsa state college airport 2007

Or take the military, let's say, for whatever godforsaken reason, your country has a security arrangment with the United States (Cold War legacy, the new Great Game, Africom entanglements, what have you). That means bases, compounds, black sites etc. Troop rotations willy-nilly. Japan, South Korea and Djibouti really don't want US military visitors at this point; they are covidious vectors and will do grievous damage to whatever protocols you have established for your own populace. You don't have to have watched M.A.S.H. or read Catch-22 to know how hard it is to keep soldiers from fraternizing - military discipline is not quite compatible with social distancing. The quotes from soldiers and their families about life in South Korea are replete with complaints about restrictions: "they wear masks here", "you can't go anywhere", "they take these things really seriously"... The Germans are quite furious at that soldier who broke quarantine to bar hop and spread the viral love. I am fairly certain that the infection rates among the US military approaches that of the more traditionally vulnerable populations. There are soldiers, and then there are soldiers.

The clear alternative to all this military industrial complex business, as I've previously suggested, is to embrace the glorious visions of The New Warfare.

zip-loc display state college airport 2007

"Ghana demands that on arrival you go into a 14-day quarantine in a hotel monitored by the security services." Many in the Ghanaian diaspora are complying and returning home. Inquiring minds want to know if US diplomats are subject to the same requirements. Is the VIP lounge at Kotoka International Airport still operational?

Even if you have the best regulations, you will depend on the human factor, and the practices of those who have to implement them. Australia's resurgent outbreak - apart from the disastrous meatpacking plant and food pipeline processing outbreaks, has also been partly blamed on the free market, and the privatization imperative. In Victoria unlike in other regions, they had outsourced the company that was providing security for the quarantine hotels that had been set up. A few slips in the procedures by the security guards, a little laxity in casting a blind eye to the guests, or even, as has been piquantly suggested by the tabloids, a romantic, or more properly a lustful assignation, and weeks later, a cool 5 million are having to go into severe lockdown. There are regulations, and then there are regulations.

Spain is trying to get the UK to reverse its hasty restrictions and not tar its lucrative tourist islands with the broad brush of the Catalonia outbreak. The argument is that the islands are safer than mainland Spain and even the UK. I'm sympathetic but, well, these are the breaks. There are restrictions and then there are restrictions.

the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2

Saudi Arabia, for whatever reason, didn't cancel the 2020 Hajj but instead severely limited numbers in the face of the pandemic. Only 10,000 pilgrims were allowed and "the only foreigners allowed to attend are those who reside in the kingdom". Ergo, there was a quota and some gatekeepers got to decide who were the lucky people who get to participate in this potential superspreading event.

I read all the reports that I could and didn't see any mention of a lottery to help this decision, instead I read considerable griping about those who got selected, even as the cover story was that it would be primarily health care workers who got the nod. The Hajj is a religious obligation and the many who didn't make it on their assigned year may be rueing this gap in their future. There are pilgrims and there are those who get to watch the pilgrims.

The CDC belatedly declared that it could block evictions as it wouldn't do to force people onto the street during a pandemic but, again, the details matter as with any rules or regulations:

Some judges say the order, which was announced on Sept. 1, prevents landlords from even beginning an eviction case, which can take months to play out. Some say a case can proceed, but must freeze at the point where a tenant would be removed — usually under the watchful eye of a sheriff or constable. Other judges have allowed cases to move forward against tenants who insist they should be protected, and at least one judge, in North Carolina, has raised questions about whether the C.D.C.’s order is even constitutional.

The uneven treatment means where tenants stand depends on where they live.

Or consider the matter of Covid certificates. Back in July, we read the story about Big Business in Bangladesh

The Bangladeshi authorities have arrested the owner of a hospital who they said had sold migrant workers thousands of certificates showing a negative result on coronavirus tests, when in fact many tests were never performed...

There is a huge market for these certificates among migrant workers from Bangladesh hungry to get back to work in Europe, doing jobs like stocking grocery stores, bussing tables in restaurants or selling bottled water on the streets. Many Bangladeshi workers have recently flown to Italy, where they said that employers required such certificates before allowing them to go back to work.

As the saying goes, trust in Allah but always tie up your camel at night.

One reason that the US response to our covidious predicament has been bad is the confusion from leadership about rules. Donald Trump is allergic to any rules, impunity runs through his veins, along with vanity and hurt pride, and we are all paying the price.

"People need a bit more than a suggestion to look after their own health,” said Dr. Mackay, who has been working with Australian officials on their pandemic response. "They need guidelines, they need rules — and they need to be enforced."

The enforcement part of it is key, when you are demanding shared sacrifice, the notion that there is impunity can be very damaging. Leona Helmsley gained notoriety for quipping "only the little people pay taxes", Martha Stewart claims to this day that she "didn't cheat the little people". Dominic Cummings is presently reviled primarily for disdaining the rules that he drew up while others complied at great cost. This is the terrain I've explored, at length, of shell games and shame cultures:

The forcing function of shame can be a great moderator. Hypocrisy observed and widely broadcast is the essential mechanism. A prime example from 2,000 years ago: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her".
A hypocrite

All this to say that, where there is rule making, there will be grey areas and all that follows. There will be corruption, there will be lobbyists greasing palms, there will be gremlins, and there will be parasites, as in any complex ecosystem. Gird your loins my friends, and watch the covidious fine print.


Note: the one unalloyed covidious dividend is the relaxation of the rules on liquids during travel, call it the hand sanitizer loophole to the homeland security theater. I'll close by singing a paean In Praise of Loopholes

Rules and Regulations, a playlist


As ever, a soundtrack to this note.


See also: The Ziploc Factor



This note is part of a series: In a covidious time.


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