Friday, January 15, 2021

Covid relief and shot records

Biden proposes Covid relief, plus a lot more

President-elect Joe Biden began laying out his economic agenda last night, saying he would ask Congress for $1.9T in immediate relief to fight the coronavirus pandemic. The plan includes $1,400-per-person direct payments to most households, a $400-a-week unemployment insurance supplement through September, as well as funds for Covid testing, vaccine distribution and state and local governments. The proposal is the first phase of a two-part strategy, with a broader program to be unveiled in subsequent weeks focused on infrastructure and climate change.

Not only is further fiscal aid on the table, but Fed Chair Jerome Powell doubled down on the monetary side as weekly jobless benefit claims rose to their highest level since last August. "Now is not the time to be talking about exit" from easy money policies, he said in a webcast with Princeton University, pledging to give plenty of notice before scaling back the central bank's bond buying program. In addition to high unemployment, inflation isn't on a path to reaching 2% on a sustained basis, even though it might shoot higher this year.

Thought bubble: Biden's plan includes ideas that Republicans have rejected, including raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour (see Are minimum wages too low?), while some legislation will need 60 votes in the Senate, which would require GOP members to get on board. "Joe Biden did not propose a COVID package tonight - he proposed a liberal takeover of the American economy," said Rep. Jason Smith (R., Mo.), the top Republican on the House Budget Committee. "Americans aren't asking for trillions of dollars in new spending. They just want our government to open our economy, get their kids back to school, and create jobs."

Covid immunity passports

Thought bubble: Way in the past, like the 1970s, I remember carrying around "shot records." Some countries would not let you travel unless you showed these with your passports. Is this a big deal? 

A tech and healthcare coalition that includes members like Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), Oracle (NYSE:ORCL), Salesforce (NYSE:CRM) and U.S. nonprofit Mayo Clinic are working together to create a COVID-19 vaccination passport. The Vaccination Credential Initiative (VCI) would allow businesses, airlines and countries to check if people have received a coronavirus vaccine to "demonstrate their health status to safely return to travel, work, school and life while protecting their data privacy."

How would it work? "VCI's vision is to empower individuals to obtain an encrypted digital copy of their immunization credentials to store in a digital wallet of their choice. Those without smartphones could receive paper printed with QR codes containing W3C verifiable credentials."

Some hurdles: Privacy and ethical concerns surround whether a person who can prove they are vaccinated should have more freedoms than someone who is not. Another obstacle is getting health centers to participate. Even if they would want to, they would need resources to incorporate these credentials to VCI's digital standard (people in the U.S. are currently given paper cards when they get their COVID-19 vaccines, while patient information is logged in their state immunization registries).

Looking abroad, Israel is launching a "green passport" program to residents who have received a vaccine or those who have recovered from COVID with antibodies. The passport will lift some restrictions, including mandatory quarantine following exposure to an infected person or traveling abroad, and may even be used for visiting malls or attending cultural and sporting events. The country of 9M people has been lauded for deploying what is currently the fastest COVID vaccination campaign in the world, with 25% of its citizens inoculated with a first dose in just three weeks, as well as 72% of its population over the age of 60. 

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