May 12, 2020
When I wrote my last article a month ago, I concluded by saying that although one swallow does not make a summer, it was refreshing to see the first positive headlines coming through on my daily news feed.
A month later, and not only is China much better, Europe flattened and mostly declining and America a bit of both, but everyone seems to be loosening, as though we’re all through the worst of the pandemic.
Some, such as the Aussies and Kiwis, seem completely on top of it, while the emerging markets, for reasons that are unknown but seemingly include age demographics, BCG vaccines and climate, have thus far fared better than the developed world from a health perspective. And I say thus far, as this may well change. Certainly, Russian and Brazilian daily infection numbers have been rising significantly, as have those of India (and to an extent South Africa), despite a 40-day lockdown and a ban on alcohol sales. This illustrates that social distancing and lockdown in high-density impoverished regions is near impossible.
The Brits are loosening slightly this week, despite the fact that their death toll last week overtook Italy, making them the highest in Europe. The British government is currently paying the salaries of half of Britain’s workforce through their ‘furlough’ scheme, which has so far cost £8bn and is due to end in June.
Meanwhile, across ‘the pond’, President Trump is worried about rapidly nearing elections in November and is trying everything to get the economy unlocked. He hasn’t had a great time managing the coronavirus crisis and is pointing fingers at everyone else, including the World Health Organisation, individual governors and China. Both he and Mike Pompeo claimed last week that they have ‘enormous evidence’ that the virus originated in a bio-health lab in Wuhan – which if it’s not true (and a lot of what he says isn’t true) is a helluva thing to say. Interestingly, the latest Gallup poll puts his popularity at 49%, an all-time high, while Biden apparently is falling, struggling to run his campaign from home and capitalise on Trump’s mistakes. Most likely though, the election result will now depend not only on the economy, but also on the coronavirus, and if numbers are worse in November, re-election will be unlikely.
Sadly, the US-China relationship, 48 years in the making, appears over. Last year’s trade war, plus this year’s corona war, have soured sentiment between the two countries to almost irreparable levels. And this time it’s not just the Americans; the world seems to be getting angry with China.
Back home, we’ve unlocked slightly, albeit clumsily, to level 4. A third of our workforce is apparently back at work. Government, after steering the ‘lockdown ship’ well so far, is losing its audience. Whatever the reason for continuing the cigarette ban, and regardless of one’s personal views on the matter, we are apparently losing approximately R250m a week in taxes, and probably more on alcohol. With Edward Kieswetter, South African Revenue Service Head, saying our shortfall this year could be R285bn, we need every cent that we can get!
So thankfully, infection numbers across the world are generally looking better. Of course, that is because the majority of the world has been in an extended lockdown. At least most of the Europeans are unlocking into declining numbers, whereas political pressure has seen most US states opening, with some of them unlocking into rising numbers.
Will we go back into level 5 lockdown? Heaven help us economically if we do, but the answer unfortunately is, quite possibly. Apparently, the extra two weeks of lockdown has bought us another two months to the peak, which is now anticipated in September. It’s all about keeping the number of people needing beds and ventilators within the capacity of our hospitals to provide them. As we unlock, infection/death numbers will be monitored, and as we rise to the point where hospital capacity is threatened, back inside we’ll all go.
Like you, I was surprised to receive a notification from ‘Eskom se Push’, the load-shedding app, which has been silent for six weeks, informing me of the change in lockdown status to level 4. So, welcome to the new ‘abnormal’. From now on you should get used to notifications on lockdown status and load-shedding status. And hopefully, it rains enough so that we don’t have to get water restriction notices on top of everything.
So watch the world for the next week or two. There’s no doubt that loosening the lockdowns is going to spike numbers, as we’re seeing currently in Germany. Watch the US and watch Europe. If they rise, but not too drastically, we will hopefully follow suit.