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Time for 'War Economy Planning' to Beat Coronavirus | Reporting Democracy – Balkan Insight



“With some kind of ‘war economy planning’, they could be made to churn out the required gear for reducing mortality rates caused by COVID-19,” he said in an email interview from his home in the Danish capital. “Much of the textile sector is essentially idle as there are no orders and some of it has already kicked into gear and is mass producing masks and medical overalls.

“However, in the absence of some national level planning apparatuses, the risk is that we will have patchwork industrial conversion of this kind, rather than a more systemic one. It is time to let go of that ‘anti-communist’ rejection of planning, as this is survival we are talking about.”

He added: “Without industrial planning the US would have stood no chance against Japan and Germany during World War II and wartime planning did not translate into authoritarianism after the war. On the contrary, it ushered in a strong labour union movement and more egalitarian income policies. The same is true of Britain.” 

Although coronavirus cases remain relatively low in Central and Southeast Europe compared with those in Western Europe, health systems are starting to feel the strain, with hospitals appealing to the public for protective equipment and more and more medical staff infected by the virus.

Experts say one reason cases are still quite low is that countries in the region are several weeks behind Western Europe in terms of infections.

As of Monday evening, Poland had recorded over 2,000 cases, with 31 deaths. Fatalities in Czech Republic and Hungary stood at 23 and 15, respectively. Slovakia had no deaths.

In the Balkans, Romania has been worst affected, with 50 deaths as of Monday evening. Serbia had 16 deaths, Albania 11, Bosnia and Herzegovina nine, Bulgaria eight, North Macedonia seven and Croatia six.

It is time to let go of that ‘anti-communist’ rejection of planning, as this is survival we are talking about.

– Cornel Ban

Like most nations in Europe with the exception of Germany, countries formerly behind the Iron Curtain are far from prepared for the spike in intensive care cases that the pandemic is bound to bring, Ban said.

The main reason is that “pretty much everyone has bought into the self-destructive neoliberal ‘new public management’ approaches on how to organise medical care and intensive care in particular”, he said.

By “new public management”, Ban was referring to a trend that started in the West in the 1980s: to use private-sector models to run public services and government agencies.

“Consequently, they ended up with vulnerable ‘just in time’ medical supply chains,” he said. Meanwhile, health systems in former communist countries have their own unique vulnerabilities. 

“The collapse of the socialist-era pharma industry and the underfunding (at best) of public pharma research institutes, combined with a lack of minimal logistical planning capacities at the level of central governments, means the Central and Eastern European countries’ capacity to source even the simplest gear — such as masks, medical overalls or disinfectants — is crushed,” he said.

Ban noted that difficulties in sourcing even basic medical supplies became immediately apparent once producer countries started hoarding materials to meet domestic needs. Meanwhile, global transport routes were increasingly disrupted due to the virus. 

“In some countries that have very low medical care spending such as Romania, some regional hospitals, designated to deal with COVID-19 patients, fell apart almost as soon as they received the first patients because of lack of testing kits and gear for the medical personnel,” he recalled. 

Chronic low spending on healthcare in the three decades since the fall of communism has led, among other things, to the mass migration of nurses and doctors to Western Europe and beyond, leaving health systems in the region even more vulnerable to the pandemic, he said.

Countries in the region tend to have fewer fully equipped critical care beds and medical staff trained to treat the patients who need them. They also have a far lower capacity to test for coronavirus, with fewer laboratories able to analyse samples. 

Finally, hundreds of thousands of emigrant workers from countries such as Poland and Romania have returned home from Western nations — with many potentially bringing the virus with them, Ban said.

In the case of Romania, this is especially concerning since the main destination countries for emigrants have been Italy and Spain — the two countries in Europe worst hit by COVID-19. 

But Ban said he was most concerned about the availability of ventilators in coming weeks when countries in the region are likely to record tens of thousands of infections. 

“The (mostly) German, Swiss, Dutch and American companies that make ventilators have very low production volumes given the demand and do not seem keen to move production capacities to the east,” he said.

“To top it off, the car industry seems unlikely to convert its capacities to ventilator production in time for the weeks ahead, when we will see tens of thousands of cases in Central and Eastern Europe.”

He concluded: “The results, I fear, will be tragic.”

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Quebec looks to revive economy weakened by coronavirus crisis by fast tracking infrastructure projects – Global News



Quebec is looking to ramp up 202 infrastructure projects across the province in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic’s toll on the economy.

Bill 61, known as an “Act to restart Quebec’s economy and to mitigate the consequences of the public health emergency” due to the COVID-19 crisis, was unveiled by the government on Wednesday.

As part of the plan, the government wants to accelerate the construction of schools, seniors’ homes, roads and public transit systems. If passed, the bill will allow some projects to be fast tracked without all the regular procedures in place.

Treasury Board President Christian Dubé said the province wants to help people and sectors recover during the health crisis as lockdown measures implemented in March are slowly eased. He insisted that rigor will still be used when it comes to doling out contracts.

“We will not go against laws or regulations,” he said, adding the bill will permit for certain authorizations to be given more quickly.

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READ MORE: Different deconfinement approaches spark calls for change in Quebec massage industry

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The proposed legislation will revive the economy and allow for a less bureaucratic process, according to Dubé.

“We know we were all weathering an unusual storm,” he said.

Under the plan, about 90 infrastructure projects would be ramped up in the health sector, including construction on 48 seniors’ homes. This also includes renovation plans for hospitals in Montreal, such as the renovation and expansion of Lachine Hospital.

In the education sector, about 39 projects would be fast tracked. This includes the construction of new elementary and high schools as well as the expansion of other academic institutions such as Dawson College in Montreal.

When it comes to roads and public transit, the Legault government is looking at accelerating about 50 projects. This includes the long-awaited extension to the Montreal Metro’s blue line.

READ MORE: City of Montreal publishes economic recovery recommendations issued by panel amid coronavirus crisis

Finance Minister Eric Girard described the situation as “exceptional” when outlining the details of the bill alongside Dubé.

Girard also announced that he will provide an update on the province’s finances on June 19, but warned that the pandemic has had a grip on the economy.

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“This year is going to be a negative year,” he said. “The worst year for the economy since World War Two.”

The announcement comes as Quebec saw 291 new cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, on Wednesday. It leads the country with 51,884 infections.

The death toll stands at 4,794 after 81 more fatalities were reported from the previous day.

As of Wednesday, the number of hospitalizations decreased by 34 for a total of 1,141. There are 158 people in intensive care.

With files from the Canadian Press

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Mayor Watson asks province to consider local reopening of economy – Ottawa Citizen



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Mayor Jim Watson has asked Premier Doug Ford to consider reopening the City of Ottawa’s economy as part of a regional approach to relaxing COVID-19 restrictions.

“Mayor Watson spoke to Premier Ford last night and expressed his support for a more regional approach given our city is doing better than many other parts of the province,” Watson’s press secretary Patrick Champagne said Wednesday morning.

“As you know, we also have the added challenge of being a border city, creating an unlevel playing field, as businesses like hair salons and barber shops have reopened in Gatineau but not in Ottawa. Premier Ford fully understood our dilemma and committed to keeping the Mayor’s perspective in mind as they consider a regional approach to reopening the Ontario economy.”

Ford last week expressed interest in a regional approach to reopening Ontario’s economy based on COVID-19 testing and results, rather than tweak provincial emergency orders and have the rules apply to the entire province.

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US services index shows biggest part of economy is stirring –



U.S. service providers started to emerge in May from a pandemic-induced tailspin as nationwide lockdowns on business and social interaction began to lift.

The Institute for Supply Management said Wednesday that its non-manufacturing index rose 3.6 points to 45.4.

While the monthly increase was the largest in more than two years, the gauge remained below the 50 mark that shows most service-related industries continued to contract.

The purchasing managers group’s gauge of business activity, which parallels the ISM’s factory production index, jumped 15 points, the most in records dating back to 1997, to a still-tepid 41. Along with an improvement in new orders, the figures are a welcome sign that the economy is stabilizing and will gradually recover from a deep recession.

The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for an improvement to 44.4 in the overall non-manufacturing index.

The report, however, also showed the labor market remains severely disrupted by the pandemic. The ISM measure of employment at services, which represent almost 90 per cent of the economy, only rose 1.8 points from the worst reading on record in April.

A Labor Department report on Friday is projected to show another 8 million decline in May payrolls after an unprecedented 20.5 million slump in April. The unemployment rate is forecast to soar to nearly 20 per cent.

A pickup in demand as states lift lockdowns and businesses begin to reopen is needed to help stabilize the job market. The ISM’s report showed an index orders at service providers climbed 9 points to a still-weak 41.9.

Meanwhile, the index of supplier deliveries in non-manufacturing industries fell for the first time in four months, indicating an easing in supply-chain bottlenecks and transportation delays.

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