The Irish Times view on Covid-19 in the United States: an unthinkable landmark

Joe Biden’s arrival has seen an important shift of gear and focus on both the pandemic and its economic fallout

 

As the United States on Monday passed the grim landmark of 500,000 Covid-19 deaths, Americans were reminded that the toll exceeds even total US deaths on the battlefields of the first and second World Wars and the Vietnam War combined.

Medical and societal achievements in the US had caused many Americans to believe that 'we were ready for anything'

The US, 4 per cent of the world’s population, has clocked up a quarter of its confirmed Covid-19 cases, and nearly a fifth of deaths. It tops the world league with almost twice as many deaths as second-place Brazil and has had over 17 million more cases than India.

US exceptionalism has been sadly vindicated, but not in the sense in which ex-president Trump repeatedly meant it. On the contrary, as historian Drew Gilpin Faust observed recently, medical and societal achievements in the US had caused many Americans to believe that “we were ready for anything – that we had conquered nature … That sense of mastery over nature has been so seriously challenged by this pandemic”.

Since November, 14 million more have tested positive for the virus, doubling the US total. As of Saturday, the US is still reporting a seven-day rolling average of more than 1,900 deaths a day, though cases have begun to fall sharply to levels last seen in October. President Joe Biden marked yesterday’s sad milestone with a moment of silence and a candle-lighting ceremony at the White House.

Biden, who has predicted that 600,000-650,000 deaths would be recorded in the US before the country begins to “turn the corner in a major way”, has said he expects vaccines will be available to all Americans by the end of July. But asked when the US could return to normal, he admitted it would be “by next Christmas … I think a year from now ... there will be significantly fewer people having to be socially distanced, having to wear masks”.

There are hints that the economy has turned a corner – retail sales and consumer confidence are up, as well as investment

Currently the US is administering some 1.5 million vaccine doses daily, and public health officials hope that number could pick up to 2 million by the end of April, a rate that could mean, unless emerging new variants set the process back, that many aspects of pre-pandemic life will return before summer.

Biden’s arrival has seen an important shift of gear and focus on both the pandemic and its economic fallout. His €1.9 trillion stimulus package for an economy mired in a winter of shuttered shopfronts, high unemployment and sluggish job growth, has even prompted economists to speculate that the country may face a post-Covid boom. There are hints that the economy has turned a corner – retail sales and consumer confidence are up, as well as investment – with Goldman Sachs forecasting the economy will grow by 6.8 per cent this year and unemployment will drop to 4.1 per cent by December, a level that took eight years to achieve after the last recession.

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