I was in my hometown Guangzhou, China in late January, during the initial outbreak of coronavirus. One day after Wuhan’s lockdown, the Guangzhou government, like many other cities in China, announced the cancelation of all public activities and shut down places like parks and cinemas. I thought it was a little late, as the first cases had already occurred in the city and there was news about asymptomatic infection.
I left for New York a few days later. At that time in Guangzhou, anyone not wearing a mask in public would be warned. My parents were relieved that I could go back to a place that wasn’t impacted by the virus. Fast forward a few months, that thought has been completely reversed. New York has become the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Recently, when asked about New York’s disastrous handling of the pandemic, both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio deflected responsibility by claiming ignorance about COVID-19 earlier this year. But as late as March, after the first cases in New York already occurred, both of them still encouraged the public to go about their business.
Instead of showing concern for people’s health and safety and learning from what other countries had done, they chose to play down the threat. De Blasio actively advised the public against wearing a mask,, encouraged NYC residents to patronize bars and restaurants and refused to close schools until forced.
Cuomo too argued precautions were not necessary. On March 2, he claimed it was “deep breath time.” But had lockdown measures been in place one day earlier, instead of three weeks later, researchers at Columbia University estimate tens of thousands of lives would have been spared.
Cuomo and de Blasio’s words also led to racism against Chinese, as the Chinese community were taking actions to ward off the illness like wearing masks. When they finally called for wearing masks, it was already too late. The death toll surpassed that of 9/11 and a daily death total in the hundreds had become the new normal.
In comparison, Guangzhou has had a little over 500 cases since the outbreak and it has a larger population than New York.
In Wuhan, all the top officials have been swiftly replaced over their failure to eliminate the virus. Meanwhile, in a supposedly democratic society, Cuomo and de Blasio can still sit in front of the cameras every day giving platitudes about cherishing human life.
They are the ones who have disregarded human life, not only in terms of combating the disease but also in addressing its impact. Workers are told to stay home while unemployment insurance is slow to come and is inadequate to cover living expenses such as rent. Healthcare workers are not given enough PPE to stay safe. Small businesses are decimated without enough assistance to sustain them. The city and state could use their bonds to supplement relief efforts. Instead, they sit back and shift all the blame on to the federal government.
And just as people might think that any idiot in government would have learned to take COVID-19 seriously by now, Cuomo and de Blasio are championing reopening. Workers will soon have to choose between risking their lives to go to work and losing their unemployment, and small businesses will have a hard time running given few customers. As Texas has shown, reopening amid the pandemic will cause infections to rise again and suffering to be prolonged.
Yet these are of no concern to the mayor and the governor. What they are concerned about are the interests they represent: rich developers and big corporations.
Already both Cuomo and de Blasio are stacking their reopening committees with their super-rich buddies from the FIRE sector whose profits they care about the most. Cuomo’s committee includes 40 CEOs and only one small business owner. William Zeckendorf, a longtime De Blasio donor and co-chair of the luxury real estate firm Terra Holdings, was appointed by the mayor to oversee the reopening of construction projects in the city.
These are the same interest groups that have caused the massive displacement of communities across New York City and they hate to see business-as-usual disrupted.
Guarding the profits of their wealthy benefactors was the motive behind Cuomo and de Blasio’s appeal to “reason” and their refusal to take precautions and shut down in March. And it is what lies behind their rush to reopen now while the virus is still wreaking havoc. Luxury developments are scheduled to resume as Phase 1 starts in early June.
We shouldn’t let Cuomo and de Blasio off the hook. Their agenda threatens our health and our livelihood. Say no to Cuomo and de Blasio’s reopening plans, and demand that they give protections to workers and small businesses.
Zishun Ning is a community organizer and a member of Youth Against Displacement.
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