Monday. 4/10/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Alamy

Opinion / David Stevens

Open and shut case

The last time I shared thoughts on my home nation’s attempt to wrestle the pandemic into submission, it was early August and New Zealand’s celebrated prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, had just announced the first real roadmap to the country reopening its borders. As a New Zealander abroad, I could entertain the possibility of seeing my family and friends again soon. I was hopeful.

Less than a week later, the first occurrence of the Delta variant appeared in the community (somehow escaping the fortnight of mandatory hotel quarantines) and the country was placed in level-four lockdown – a measure not seen since April 2020. The roadmap was paused and I had to deliver the news that I wouldn’t be joining my friend’s groom’s party in January. Our version of a so-called “second wave” was in full swing and the old joke that New Zealand is always a few years behind the rest of the world endured. Since May 2021, the nation has fallen from 1st to 38th in Bloomberg’s Covid Resilience Ranking, now sitting below mainland China, the US, Brazil and, most notably, Australia.

On Friday, Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, announced that international travel for the country’s citizens will reopen next month for states that have reached an 80 per cent vaccination rate. While I rejoice for our South Pacific cousins, the announcement doesn’t fill me with the sort of hope I experienced in August. My trepidation hinges on the fact that New Zealand has time and again taken cues from Australia on how not to act during the pandemic. And so, while the freedoms awarded across the ditch might pressure Wellington to offer similar liberties, there’s also a good chance that it will be seen as another cautionary tale if, or more likely when, cases start to tick up. The Kiwis’ approach – a refusal to acknowledge that a world devoid of this particular virus is unlikely to exist again – is an increasing source of frustration. But my country’s hard-line elimination strategy seems likely to rumble on nevertheless.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / USA

Owed goal

Joe Biden signed a temporary bill last week that will keep government operations open through December but problems for the White House are only just beginning. Efforts to raise the debt ceiling – an arcane US rule that requires Congress to periodically inflate an artificially placed cap on debt – are being blocked by Republicans and could see the US default on its debt obligations in the next few weeks. “It’s something that needs to be taken very seriously,” Lewis Lukens, senior partner at the consultancy Signum Global Advisors, told Monocle 24’s The Briefing. “I’m not sure that the Democrats have really focused on how they’re going to solve this issue.” Instead, Biden’s Democrats are distracted by infighting over a $1trn (€860bn) bipartisan bill to upgrade the country’s creaky infrastructure; progressives are first demanding a deal on an even bigger spending package. All of this is nothing new to seasoned congressional watchers but US lawmakers are once again in danger of failing to keep the country running.

Image: Getty Images

Elections / Rome

All roads

Romans began voting yesterday in the city’s first mayoral election since 2016. It’s one of a series of municipal votes across Italy, most of which have been postponed a year as a result of the pandemic. Despite elections also taking place in Milan and Turin, all eyes are on the Eternal City, where the incumbent Five-Star Movement mayor Virginia Raggi (pictured) is widely expected to be defeated.

Raggi’s election in 2016 appeared to symbolise a tectonic shift in Italian politics, heralding the arrival of the anti-establishment party on the national scene. But despite its lofty pledges to defeat corruption and modernise the city’s infrastructure, Romans today have to navigate mountains of rubbish while avoiding spontaneously combusting buses and dodging thieving wild boar. Voters know that Rome’s problems can’t be solved in a day – but it’s not churlish to expect an improvement over five years.

Image: Getty Images

Economy / Venezuela

Zero-sum game

Venezuela has debuted a new currency that features six fewer zeros. Introduced on Friday, the change means that the highest denomination of the Venezuelan bolivar, a one-million note, will now become a one bolivar note. Of course, the move does not affect the value of the currency and, while it may make transactions less cumbersome, it won’t address the hyperinflation that has plagued Venezuela in recent years and is estimated to reach a whopping 5,500 per cent at the end of this year.

Many believe that these new bills will also be short-lived. It is, after all, the third time that leaders have lopped zeros off the currency: in 2008 the bolivar lost three and another five were taken off in 2018. The inflation has led banks to limit cash withdrawals and pushed many Venezuelans to use US dollars or electronic payments for day-to-day transactions. The nation needs more than cosmetic fixes to its entrenched financial problems.

Image: Getty Images

Transport / Austria

Making moves

Austrians are already among Europe’s keenest users of public transport per capita but the recent announcement of the Klimaticket (climate ticket) could see those rates skyrocket. Unveiled by Leonore Gewessler (pictured), the Austrian Green Party’s so-called “superminister”, the scheme will allow Austrians to travel all over the country with an annual ticket that includes all trains, metros and buses, and costs €1,095 (the equivalent of €3 a day).

This vast reduction in prices will be subsidised heavily by federal taxes but it is also likely to require huge investment in public transport infrastructure to accompany it. Considering the cost to the government, it’s a move that demonstrates how the Greens, who are in coalition with Sebastian Kurz’s People’s Party, are starting to exert a stronger environmental influence on the administration. The scheme is now being touted for use elsewhere in Europe and, with a cross-country journey costing less than a single trip on the London Underground, it’s easy to see why.

Hear more on this story from Monocle’s Vienna correspondent Alexei Korolyov on today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Image: PINELOPI GERASIMOU

M24 / The Urbanist

The Monocle Quality of Life Conference in Athens

We highlight some key urbanism takeaways from this year’s Quality of Life Conference in the Greek capital.

Monocle Films / Greece

Why Greeks live longer

Nestled in the heart of the Aegean, the island of Ikaria used to be a secluded spot with a humble and unhurried way of life. Today, a third of the island's population lives to be more than 90 years old. We venture to the local kafeneios, wild beaches and abundant allotments to meet the bronzed seniors.

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