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Radan Kanev: It Is Politicians’ Obligation to Protect the Public Interest


My personal opinion about the Covid crisis in Bulgaria: the failure is clear; the postponement has already done irreparable damage; strong measures have to be immediately taken to support health and economy. Any health measure must go with appropriate financial compensation from day one. This is what Democratic Bulgaria MEP Radan Kanev wrote on Facebook.


And he continues his post:

I will first describe the specific measures and showcase more detailed arguments at the end of the text:

1. Minimum a month - until Christmas break - distance learning for all children. Daily financial assistance for parents who do not work remotely and are forced to take unpaid childcare leave. The aid shall also be granted in the form of a voucher to babysitters.

2. At least until Christmas - closing all catering outlets, no arrangements. Direct financial compensation for companies and rescheduling/reduction of rents, according to whether the restaurant offers takeaway food.

3. Either direct closure of shopping centers by December 19, or work on a maximum of 1/3 of the outlets in them on schedule (so that there is no too cluster for shopping before Christmas). Direct financial compensation and settlement of rental relations.

4. Prohibition of any form of overcrowding indoors. Public program for remote broadcasting of cultural events between now and early January and direct support for artists and creative business.

5. Closing the courtrooms, transferring the main administrations into online mode and closing the so-called  'non-essential businesses' requiring direct contacts of unknown persons for up to after the holidays with respective direct compensations (the criterion of which business is immaterial and contact must be strictly expert-determined and the listing should be quite clear).

6. Closing the tourist business for the period up to Christmas and limiting mass holidays, banquets and gatherings during the holidays.

7. Providing a permanent and secure online platform for communication between patients, general practitioners, Health Inspection departments, employers for tracking, testing, isolation and home treatment advice in a guaranteed connection and limiting direct contacts.

I have no doubt that such severe measures are controversial - both as a price for business and social cost and as a burden on the budget. I offer them with the clear knowledge that they will not be greeted unequivocally.

However, with 150 casualties per day and probably well over 10,000 infected daily, I see no other possibility to contain the infection during the winter season.

(Some would say it's too late to master, but I don't see any rational arguments in defense of such a claim - any family that is not currently affected can be protected by strict measures. Measures under points 1 and 7 cannot be imposed with self-discipline and the rest may be replaced by a universal discipline only which is obviously not available.)

Arguments:

a) First of all, society must protect doctors and nurses. The lives and health of all of us depend on them. And they just can't self-protect.<!--![endif]--><!--![if-->

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b) Secondly, society must protect teachers and children, respectively - parents. Teachers and children also have no choice whether to work/study remotely or in attendance, regardless of the spread of the infection.

c) Thirdly, society must protect employers, whether in private business or in the public sphere.

(d)  As regards economic activity:

- Uncontrolled spread of the infection has the most severe possible impact on the economy.

- Stopping economic activity due to infection is a worse development than stopping due to quarantine. In this case, however, it is almost certain that this infection will spread to more people, often dozens.

- Stopping work due to a lack of staff that is infected and quarantined is also a worse development.

- The chaos and panic caused by the contagion has reduced the turnover of most businesses related to direct contact with an unlimited number of persons to a minimum.

However, financial compensation is not provided for businesses in any of the above cases. They practically close often with lasting consequences but without compensation.

e) As regards the budget, the proposed draft budget for 2021 is, to put it mildly, wasteful. However, it has been written regardless of the new, real wave of the pandemic in Bulgaria. It's been written with rose-tinted approach. It is obvious that the significant costs that it provides for will need to be redirected where the greatest need lies – towards measures to protect health and the economy, for the benefit of the professions, families and small businesses directly affected.

Strict quarantine measures have been taken in almost all EU countries. Even where they were very late - as in Belgium, Spain or the Czech Republic, positive results are already present.

Cases such as Greece and Austria (two of Europe's most successful governments by many metrics, including dealing with the pandemic in the spring), which imposed a strict lockdown BEFORE they got into trouble are particularly telling. Austria wants to save its economy and the winter season - and it’s been doing so by imposing the measures on time so that it can be "clean" in January - which we are probably too late for.

In conclusion: I see no meaningful alternative to austerity, neither health nor economic. I understand the political considerations of "let's lie low" until the virus goes away. However, the virus has no political considerations. It is the job of politicians to protect the public interest, including reach the necessary level of agreement around sensible policy.

If Bulgarian politicians cannot comply with the pandemic and the public interest, they should give their place to those who can. The virus won't comply.

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