Guillermo Prieto Treviño
Expert Contributor

The New Normality: Cliché of Hope in the Times of COVID-19

By Guillermo Prieto | Tue, 08/11/2020 - 13:01

The expression used to title this collaboration appears to be a cliché when we adopted it more as a hope in the summer of 2020 than as something that makes sense in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

What concept is behind it? Can we nullify out the pillars on which the last hundred years of cultural, economic, social and political scaffolding was built on?

I consider it part of human nature to try to define the inexplicable according to what is known, just as our ancestors and wise men sought to do in the times they lived in. Today, we would be amazed at a person who says, as the English naturalist Rosso once said, "It is reason, judgment and experience to question that beetles and wasps are spawned by cow dung" (Kruif, 2018).

Hopefully it won't take a few centuries to convince ourselves that the paradigms with which Mexico has tried to manage the COVID-19 pandemic are wrong.

Six months after public awareness of the disease globally and after more than 43,000 deaths in the country (according to official figures as of July 27, which very few consider reliable), we continue to be caught in sterile discussions about use of facial masks instead of seeking the best conditions for carrying out economic activities, coordination between national and subnational authorities to implement efficient health policies, the state's involvement as a compensator for the economic crisis and promoting the now necessary call for national unity.

The promoters of abiogenesis, as in the 18th century, denied the scientific evidence and anchored their saying from the authoritarian pulpit. Today, it feels the same, when with their denialism more than one public official contributes to making the deadly burden of COVID-19 uncontrollable and contributes to the pauperization of the daily lives of millions of people.

In the midst of this health, economic and social crisis, the intention is to impose acceptance of the "new normality" as a way of closing your eyes so as not to face the painful reality. In economic matters, what we have suffered can be glossed over in a "How not to face a crisis" manual.

In the first instance, the severity of the problem was minimized. This was followed by the absence of a team of experts in different disciplines to devise a general response plan and the experiences of the countries that previously faced COVID-19 were ignored. Finally, failure of the overall crisis has been denied and the government stubbornly reiterates its misdirected policies for continued implementation.

A quick review of the news would give us material to quote thousands of characters if we wish to state the economic impact of this crisis. However, that is not the purpose of this text, so I confine myself to writing down some references from the Survey on the Economic Impact Generated by COVID-19 (ECOVID-IE), carried out by INEGI from May 7 to June 12, 2020, to demonstrate the following: 93.2 percent of companies registered at least one type of affectation due to the health contingency due to COVID-19. The biggest impact was income decline with 91.3 percent, followed by low demand, which was reported nationwide by 72.6 percent of the companies consulted. In addition, most of the companies prioritized the non-dismissal of personnel, over the reduction of remunerations or benefits with percentages at the national level of 19.1 and 15.4 percent respectively. Yet, only 7.8 percent of surveyed companies confirmed having received some kind of support, while the rest (92.2 percent) did not receive any help whatsoever.

With these data, it is feasible to be clear about what is happening in the Mexican economy, on which there is consensus among specialists that it will be one of the most affected globally.

Is this the new normality? We cannot recognize it as such. That would be like accepting that when a ship is adrift, it can continue sailing, when you can only navigate when piloting according to the plotted course.

As of July 27, Mexico had officially registered 43,680 deaths from COVID-19. This is 9.4 times more than the 4,634 deaths registered in China from the same cause, even though the population of China is almost 11 times the population of Mexico.

As well, in health terms, it has been observed that the impact on China has been mitigated compared to other severely affected countries such as the US, Brazil and Mexico. In the economic field, there are also notable differences. 

During February, the sale of new vehicles in China decreased 80 percent. However, in June an increase of 12 percent was reported compared to the same period in the previous year and the outlook for the end of the 2020 financial year suggests that the Chinese automotive market will grow slightly.

Meanwhile in Mexico, the end of the first half saw a 32 percent drop in the annual comparison and the forecast for the end of the year is a 30 percent drop. Some analysts point out that the industry will not return to the level of units sold in 2019, around 1,317,000, until 2024.

If we consider that in 2016 the record for vehicle sales was achieved by exceeding 1.6 million light vehicles, we can unfortunately say that we are heading toward a lost decade.
Those data outside the automotive sector would be of little interest if they were not an indicator of the performance of the economy as a whole. For this reason, the question must be asked again, is this the new normality? If so, we would be implicitly accepting its immutability.

The international experience of how to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic provides us with a public policy table that has revealed favorable health and economic outcomes, from strong fiscal and monetary incentives that enable companies to survive while maintaining the highest possible employment levels, universal basic income, generalized COVID-19 testing, case tracking and isolation, health personnel equipment and training, universal use of facial masks, hygiene and social distancing to smart economic activation incentives. But above all, it has revealed the importance of the multidisciplinary participation of the country's best minds (including the highly undervalued professional politicians within that group). 

Contrasting what has been applied in Mexico, we can affirm that we are not doing what is necessary and that has had a high cost in thousands of deaths that could have been avoided and in millions of people condemned to poverty.

The data used in this article was sourced from:  
De Kruif, P. (2018). Cazadores de microbios. 5ª Reimpresión. México: Editorial Porrúa.