As New Zealand battles the Covid-19 Delta variant and debates reopening to the rest of the world, the United States offers some insights and lessons on what might be ahead.
In a Zoom interview with interest.co.nz, Patrick Watson, the Austin, Texas based senior economic analyst at Mauldin Economics, notes the US is now battling its fourth Covid wave with this one being Delta. However Watson describes the pandemic as optional in the US now.
"In the United States at least, the vaccines are readily available. If you choose to have it then you're pretty safe...Unfortunately a large part of the population has chosen not to for reasons I don't understand in many cases. So in those regions where the vaccination rates are lower, it is sweeping through and causing problems, filling hospitals almost exclusively with people who were not vaccinated. Many of these cases are very severe and death rates are starting to rise. It is a problem for those areas. For the rest of us, [we] can go on pretty much as normal," Watson says.
However, what that normal looks like differs depending on what part of the US you are in.
"The vaccine passports for just normal life, to get into restaurants or theatres or this sort of thing, that is happening in some states. New York is in the lead on that. But it varies a lot by state. Here in Texas they have actually made that against the law. Businesses are not allowed to even ask customers if they've been vaccinated or not, which to my way of thinking is crazy but that is the law now," says Watson.
Meanwhile, mandatory vaccination demands from employers are becoming more common.
"President Biden has ordered that for all the Federal Government's workers and for the military who are not already vaccinated. Many large companies are either mandating it or encouraging it by giving additional payments or incentives. So that is happening. I think it will have an effect. How much of an effect I don't know yet. Some universities are requiring it of their students, others in places like Texas and Florida, they're not allowed to. So it's going to be very effective in some places and have almost no effect in others."
"Customers need to feel safe in order to go places and spend money. So doing this is actually quite critical to get the economy back to its prior level," Watson adds.
Although figures out this week suggested about 75% of adults in the US have had at least one vaccine dose, Watson says surveys suggest about 20% of adults won't get vaccinated no matter what. Currently children under 12 aren't allowed to get vaccinated, although this may change in coming months.
"We may get to 70% of the eligible population fully vaccinated maybe by year end...[But] that is not going to be enough, the epidemiologists say, to get us to the herd immunity that we used to hear about. So we will continue wrestling with this," says Watson.
And with the virus also continuing to spread and mutate around the world sometimes in places with low vaccination rates, Watson expects rolling waves to continue with more new variants emerging.
"World War II lasted four, five, six years depending on the country [involvement]. I think this is going to last that long before it's over with, I really do," says Watson.
In the video he also talks about the US Infrastructure Bill recently passed by the Senate, the country's infrastructure needs and climate change.
Meanwhile on Friday, after the interview with Watson, President Biden announced that all US companies with at least 100 employees must mandate vaccines or employees must undergo weekly testing.
"The bottom line [is] we're going to protect vaccinated workers from unvaccinated coworkers," Biden said.
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