Seeing Around Corners: Monthly sustainability risks and opportunities report, covid-19 edition12 min read

April

Most people are beginning to adjust to the new normal as the reality of covid-19 sets in. Until a covid-19 drug is on the market, we will be staying put in our apartments. The more fortunate folks are developing their online shopping, home improvement, and workout routines. The very fortunate folks are at home producing homegrown onions and little Coronials (that is what the Internet has decided to call post-corona virus babies). On the opposite end of the spectrum, many are suffering in quiet desperation as the pandemic overwhelms their family and livelihoods. Life has not been easy.

Governments

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), acknowledged a few days ago that the US government is considering issuing “immunity passports” to people with covid-19 antibodies1. The measure drew heavy criticism. On the 3rd of April, the FDA granted an emergency authorization to its first antibody blood test for covid-19 developed by Cellex2. The test is not accurate enough for mass screening, say Oxford researchers3. According to the company, the test generates false negatives 7% of the time and false positives 4% of the time4. There was also uncertainty as to how the supply of antibodies would be determined, and whether the presence of antibodies actually prevents reinfections5.

The US government is trying to use technology to stop the spread of covid-19. Companies at the table with the White House: representatives from Apple and Google, investors led by Hangar LP. and Ron Conway of Angel Investors LP., public-health leaders from Harvard University, and smaller tele-heath start-ups like Ro6. While the involvement of the smaller companies are yet to be learned, big technology companies such as Google and Facebook agreed to use their location data and track if people are keeping safe distances6.

Facebook officials say that the most granular data Facebook can provide can locate a person to within a third of a mile7. Google has published pdf mobility reports by country and state, showing the median daily visits to location categories such as retail, and grocery8. Apple, on the 31st of March stressed it is not involved in collecting iPhone users’ locations6, but agreed to a partnership with Google on the 10th of April to deploy “contact-tracing” apps using Bluetooth technology9. The partnership involves lifting privacy protections built into iOS and Android operating systems, though similar applications in Singapore is only used by 12% of the city.

Separately, four US. Senators were caught unloading millions of dollars in stocks after receiving a classified briefing to save them from stock market losses. All four senators, Georgia Republican Kelly Loeffler, Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, and North Carolina Republican Richard Burr are facing calls to resign. Burr told a nonpartisan group at a private luncheon on the 27th of February that covid-19 is “more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history” and that “it is probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic”10. Although Burr did not contradict President Donald Trumps’ public downplay of the virus’ threat, he sold between $628,000 and $1.72 million USD of his stock holdings, including holdings in two major hotel chains11.

In other countries, female politicians show the way. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen began efforts in quarantine, surveillance, and contact tracing on the 31st of December last year12. New Zealand is on track to eliminating covid-1913. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardrern closed the country’s borders on the 19th of March followed by a strict lockdown on the 23rd of March. Ardern was known for her simple and clear message – stay home, don’t have contact with anyone outside your household “bubble”14. Most notably, her message “be strong, but be kind”15 stood against larger trends in countries that demonize minorities or foreigners. In Denmark, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen announced an economic package that covers 75% of employee salaries in businesses and 90% of hourly wages following national lockdown, with a monthly cap of 23,000 DKK ($3,370 USD), and 26,000 DKK ($3,800 USD) for the hourly-paid16.

Unemployment

According to the US. Department of Labour, 6.6 million Americans filed unemployment claims in the week ending on the 4th of April. In the two previous weeks, the figures were 3.3 million and 6.9 million17. Real unemployment in the United States has likely hit 14.7%, the highest level since 1940, and higher than at any point since the Great Depression18.

The Senate has passed a near $2 trillion covid-19 response bill, with an estimated of $560 billion USD going to cash and unemployment payments, $500 billion USD to small businesses, $500 billion USD to big corporations, $340 billion to state and local governments, with the rest going to education and public health19.

General Electric (GE) announced it would lay off 10% of its aviation factory workforce to save “$50 million to $1 billion USD”20 despite the $70 billion USD government bailout for airlines and aviation producers. The aviation workforce protested the decision, since their skills are transferrable to the production of much-needed ventilators. President Donald Trump used the Defense Production Act to compel GE to make ventilators 13 days after the protest21.

New York State launched an unpaid volunteer Technology SWAT team with leading global tech companies to support government functions during covid-19. The application can be accessed here: https://www.ny.gov/programs/new-york-state-covid-19-technology-swat-team.

Candor compiled a user-generated list on Technology companies that are hiring, have a hiring freeze, or are laying off people. The list can be accessed here https://candor.co/hiring-freezes/.

Environment

With federal budget preparations underway in Canada, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a step towards honoring his election promise of net-zero emissions by 2050 with clean tech at the center of federal economic recovery plans. C$82 billion ($57 billion USD) in emergency economic aid has been approved, with a climate budget22. This includes an investment to clean up abandoned oil wells in Alberta and helping energy workers find new jobs. Interest-free loans of up to C$40,000 ($28,600 USD) for homeowners to install cleaner energy solutions is also in the works.

In New York City, electricity demand fell 14% from its recent average, as restaurants, theaters, and offices closed their doors23. The impact of widespread residential AC usage on the power grid during the summer is still uncertain.

In New York State, Governor Cuomo announces $16 million USD for Clean Energy Communities. Cities, counties, towns, and villages that complete at least 4 of the 10 high-impact clean energy actions identified by the New York State Research and Development Authority will be designated Clean Energy Communities. These communities will be eligible to apply for grants of up to $250,000 USD. The initiative is intended to support New York’s recent adoption of the Clean Energy Standard and its mandate to achieve 50% renewables by 203024. A separate Green New Deal has also been announced by Governor Cuomo, mandating 100% clean power by 204025.

In US, a recent analysis by the US. Energy Information Administration showed President Donald Trump’s power-plant carbon rule would preserve more existing coal electricity, but drop coal consumption due to increased efficiency at power plants26. With the new rule, coal consumption is expected to average 5% more, therefore leading to 5% increase in carbon emissions between 2040 and 205027.

Essentials

We are beginning to see cracks in the digital facade of convenience that was based upon human labour all along. Many workers from companies delivering essential services have staged protests and walkouts due to unsafe work conditions.

Workers from Instacart, a grocery delivery service, went on strike on the 30th of March demanding safety equipment and hazard pay. While Instacart agreed to provide hand sanitizers within the week, they have not responded to the demand for an additional $5 hazard pay per order. The strike comes as Instacart looks to hire 300,000 additional workers. Some users are also complicit in the mistreatment of Instacart shoppers using a bait-and-switch scheme. Instacart worker Annaliisa Arambula told CNN, that she was incentivized to accept a grocery order with a $55 tip, but would see a modified, $0 tip after the delivery. Her payment for the grocery run would then decrease to the standard $8.95 USD.

Two Walmart grocery store employees, Wando Evans, 51, and Philip Thomas, 48, have died from COVID-19. Evans’ brother, Toney Evans, filed a lawsuit against Walmart Inc, alleging that the managers failed to alert workers after several employees showed symptoms of COVID-19. Melissa Love, a Walmart employee for 4 years and a member of the labor advocacy group United for Respect, said Walmart did not pass the emergency leave policy until an employee tested positive for covid-19 in Kentucky. 88% of Walmart employees reported going to work sick under the company’s earlier policies. She also claims that Walmart stalled for weeks until they implemented CDC social distancing guidelines, and that Walmart failed to supply gloves, marks, or hand sanitizer.

Amazon, on its goal to hire 100,000 new employees, had applicants packed into job fairs with no covid-19 prevention measures. One attendee was mocked for raising concerns over the crowded conditions. “They made jokes and told me to leave if I was unhappy”, he said, adding that one manager said Amazon’s operations were free from safety obligations because the company is considered essential. By the end of March, at least 10 Amazon facilities have reported positive corona virus cases. Leaked notes from a meeting attended by CEO Jeff Bezos was obtained by VICE News. It documented Amazon’s PR strategy to smear fired warehouse employee, Christian Smalls, who organized a walkout in protest of working conditions. Anger grew at the Romulus warehouse as workers realized Amazon was not adhering to its earlier announcement that it would only accept orders for goods such as medical and sanitation supplies, and other high-demand products during the pandemic. Workers there called for a two-week shutdown of the facility, which would be possible if Amazon halted the sale of non-essential items. “Dildos are not essential items”, said Mario Chippen, one of the Amazon warehouse workers.

  1. https://www.politico.com/news/2020/04/10/fauci-coronavirus-immunity-cards-for-americans-are-being-discussed-178784 []
  2. https://www.fiercebiotech.com/medtech/fda-officially-authorizes-its-first-serological-antibody-blood-test-for-covid-19 []
  3. https://www.fiercebiotech.com/medtech/current-covid-19-antibody-tests-aren-t-accurate-enough-for-mass-screening-say-oxford []
  4. https://www.fda.gov/media/136625/download []
  5. https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/04/09/998974/immunity-passports-cornavirus-antibody-test-outside/ []
  6. https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/03/17/white-house-location-data-coronavirus/ [] [] []
  7. https://techreport.com/news/3469365/facebook-and-google-in-talks-with-u-s-government-to-use-location-data-in-covid-19-measures/ []
  8. https://www.google.com/covid19/mobility/ []
  9. https://amp-theguardian-com.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/amp.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/10/apple-google-coronavirus-us-app-privacy []
  10. https://www.npr.org/2020/03/19/818192535/burr-recording-sparks-questions-about-private-comments-on-covid-19 []
  11. https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2020/03/23/richard-burr-stocks-trading-coronavirus-prosecute-142976 []
  12. https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/03/16/taiwan-china-fear-coronavirus-success/ []
  13. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/new-zealand-isnt-just-flattening-the-curve-its-squashing-it/2020/04/07/6cab3a4a-7822-11ea-a311-adb1344719a9_story.html []
  14. https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/new-zealand/2020/04/coronavirus-kiwi-journalist-for-the-washington-post-gives-glowing-review-of-nz-s-covid-19-response.html []
  15. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-newzealand/arderns-online-messages-keep-spirits-up-in-new-zealands-coronavirus-lockdown-idUSKBN21H0HN []
  16. https://euobserver.com/coronavirus/147827 []
  17. https://www.dol.gov/ui/data.pdf []
  18. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/03/upshot/coronavirus-jobless-rate-great-depression.html []
  19. https://www.npr.org/2020/03/26/821457551/whats-inside-the-senate-s-2-trillion-coronavirus-aid-package []
  20. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/coronavirus-general-electric-workers-ventilators-work-stoppage-labor-massachusetts-a9436881.html?amp []
  21. https://nypost.com/2020/04/02/trump-orders-ge-philips-to-make-ventilators/ []
  22. https://finance.yahoo.com/news/canadas-coronavirus-economic-aid-package-delayed-032455102.html []
  23. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/04/08/upshot/electricity-usage-predict-coronavirus-recession.html []
  24. https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-16-million-available-community-clean-energy-projects []
  25. https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-green-new-deal-included-2019-executive-budget []
  26. https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/aeo/pdf/AEO2020_IIF_Alternative_Policies_FullReport.pdf []
  27. https://www.axios.com/trumps-power-plant-carbon-rule-conflicting-impact-0e7e28d4-624b-4e1a-9a05-54ea1bcd8606.html []