Analysis: The US has got first-world Covid problems

As much of the rest of the globe cries out for vaccines, American firms and sports teams are coming up with ever more elaborate incentives to change the minds of those who refuse the shot. While India, Nepal, Colombia and several other nations slip deeper into the horror of a full-blown pandemic and its knock-on political crises, life is perceptibly cranking up here, exposing issues inherent in reopening a frozen economy.

The US hotel and restaurant industry is expecting a bumper summer as Americans indulge pent-up wanderlust. But chronic staff shortages threaten chaos: Some restaurants can’t fully open because they lack kitchen and wait staffs. The industry is also missing thousands of seasonal guest workers who can’t travel owing to pandemic restrictions.

The hotel trade has its own staffing issues and is also being hammered by the shutdown in business travel. It warns that without a government bailout, it will be down another half million jobs by the end of the year — after losing 8 million jobs since the pandemic began.

Builders can’t even find enough wood. The closure of sawmills has led to a lumber shortage. As a result, the price of new homes is up $36,000.
And if travelers get the chance to come to the US this summer, they might struggle to get around. When the pandemic hit, many car rental companies sold off mothballed fleets. Now they’re struggling to restock. As a result, wheels are scarce at US airports and daily prices are skyrocketing.
It’s not all bad news. Anyone in the US willing to get inoculated against Covid-19 can take advantage of a blizzard of incentives including free beer, doughnuts, baseball tickets and even a chance to win a seat at the Super Bowl. And in the only-in-America category, Illinois is offering shots for shots — handing out 100 free targets at a gun range for people who get vaccinated.

‘Do you have any questions’

US President Joe Biden made a Cinco de Mayo lunch run on Wednesday, aiming to show off his administration’s relief program for restaurants hurt by the pandemic. Stepping up to the counter of Washington taqueria Las Gemelas, Biden informed kitchen workers that their industry had lost 2.8 million employees during the coronavirus crisis. “Already almost 200,000 people have applied for this program. You’re the very first one in the whole nation,” Biden said. “Do you have any questions?”

“What’s your favorite kind of taco?” someone asked, after a pause.


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