BY JHANVI MEHTA
President Biden, seen here arriving in Geneva in June 2021, faces the enormous issue of the Delta variant while trying to pass his legislative agenda.
The United States faces another critical moment as the Delta variant of the coronavirus spreads like wildfire. Inevitably, the global economy was bound to slow after the rapid growth from economic reopening. Recently, investors have sounded the alarm that America’s economy, one that has been a frontrunner in the rich-world bounce, may face a fast deceleration as the nation faces an ultra-transmissible variant. Meanwhile, political opportunists have additionally spoiled the chance for freedom, as only over half of the US population is vaccinated, threatening the extent to which there can be an economic triumph.
A surge of the Delta variant, a restoration of mask guidelines, and a large chunk of Americans rejecting vaccines has overshadowed and potentially jeopardised the US’ economic recovery, which has greatly tested Biden’s central promise that he would lead the United States out of the pandemic. Top officials across the country have worked incredibly hard to promote these vaccines. In many parts of the US, this worked as vaccination rates went up and deaths and cases were on the decline. However, the emphasis on vaccines paradoxically existed alongside reduced Covid-19 testing, diversified messaging on mask-wearing and neglect over foreseeing potent anti-vaccination sentiment, misinformation and the virus’ ability to mutate quickly into formidable variants. With America now grappling with a low vaccination rate due to ludicrous conspiracy theories or simple hesitancy, hospitalisations and cases have reached a 6-month peak.
Though with the thankful prevalence of vaccines, there is prevention of many serious cases of disease and there has been an improvement in treatments for Covid-19 patients. However, The Economist has stated recently that vaccines still allow symptomatic infections to occur, with an estimated 12 to 21% for those vaccinated with Pfizer. Seeing that 93 million eligible Americans are estimated currently to be unvaccinated, cases in the nation are likely to skyrocket, and states like Alabama and Louisiana are marred with partisan debate on vaccine uptake which has allowed the Delta variant to rip through such states.
Vaccine hesitancy has been most prevalent in areas strongly connected to support for Trump and QAnon, with conservative pundits amplifying a stance many Americans won’t budge from, though Fox News personalities have started to promote the vaccine.
Dr Peter Ching-Ho, a specialist in infectious disease and a professor at the University of California argued that the United States requires multiple strategies to defend itself against exponential infection. “We jumped on the vaccine bandwagon and excitement at the expense of other core strategies in the pandemic.”
What does Delta mean for economic consequences? The economic consequence of this variant is contingent on the reaction of consumers and legislators. Currently, cities and states are returning to the imposition of mask mandates alongside federal buildings as the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) updated its guidance for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people despite drama stirred by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy in Congress. The CDC has estimated that infection rates are sharply rising in most US jurisdictions. The spike of new Delta cases has blurred what had been viewed as a speedy economic recovery, and this could become particularly treacherous if consumers exercise caution and spending doesn’t increase whilst unemployment benefits, rent freezes and other support lifelines lapse.
Carole Johnson, the White House’s coordinator on Covid-19 testing, stated in July: “Vaccinations remain the most important thing we can do to prevent the spread of the virus, and so we need to be pulling all levers to support vaccination.”
The surge of the Delta variant is beginning to thwart and overshadow Biden’s agenda for infrastructure and growth, creating a demanding phase of his presidency. Biden’s first six months in office has been strongly favourable in public polling, putting into the spotlight the full vaccination of over 60 percent of Americans, the formation of over three million jobs, and a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package (American Rescue Plan). In addition, Biden has made major advancements in the arena of infrastructure with an immense, bipartisan two-track infrastructure legislative strategy that may inject $4.5 trillion into the economy as he considers advancements in the time ahead on immigration and voter rights.
Nevertheless, this super-spreading Covid strain accompanied by stiff-necked vaccine hesitancy amidst a large proportion of the US population has heightened warnings concerning another penalising wave of the pandemic, a projection that has left financial markets unsettled and uncertain whilst feeling anxiously preoccupied with possible inflation in the long run. Coronavirus once again has been an unmanageable nemesis in the US that is a clear and present danger to reinstating normalcy.
Simultaneously, this administration hasn’t been coherent with its response to Covid, and it faced harsh backlash last week over messaging of the virus. Biden proclaimed July 4 to mark America’s “freedom” from coronavirus, only for this to be followed by mask mandates irrespective of vaccination status in the White House. Americans who were excited about normalcy were disappointed with mask mandates, especially those who have been double-jabbed. The reversal of restrictions has stirred debate on whether the Biden administration was hasty to loosen health guidelines and has imperilled public confidence.
The Biden presidency is systematically organised in comparison to Trump’s, focusing on priorities in the Democratic party of voting rights, infrastructure development (broadband, highways, mass transit), and investing in Covid testing for schools and uninsured people. Biden has ushered his widely popular recovery plan of a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill towards support of conservative, Republican-held strongholds in attempts to portray the Republican party as irrelevant and fruitless to hopefully prevent the loss of shredding Democratic majorities in Congress next fall.
Keeping a cautious eye on inflation, Biden is gambling on reaping the rewards of his policies with voters, as the administration insists Republicans are invested in identity politics rather than delivering for their constituents. Questions of whether Biden’s policy will work in the current climate makes the Delta variant one of real danger. If another wave devastates America and causes closures of education and businesses, public trust in presidential management will plummet alongside leaving a languishing economy, and endanger the Democrats’ early edge in the mid-terms next year.
Image - Flickr (United States Mission Geneva)