The slow arrival of the crisp autumnal days, and the morning chill in the air has brought with it bad news, and more bad news in this year of awful tidings. Covid-19 cases are steeply on the rise across Europe and elsewhere, and following on from the privations and sacrifices made to pacify it back in March and April, the news that it is far from a finished fight, it’s is a kick in the teeth, and this opponent is not following the Marquis of Queensberry’s rule book.
Scientists are again wringing their hands and calling for restrictions, curfews and lockdowns as a matter of urgency lest we let an opportunity to control this slip away. It’s a familiar tale, we heard it not all that long ago, but what is going to be different this time? How do we make sure that this is the last round of the fight?
This time we know more. To their shame many European governments seemed to be caught by surprise in March, despite years of pandemic modeling and the firsthand experience of how countries in the Far East coped with, and learned from the SARS and MERS outbreaks in recent years. In March there was almost no PPE, no spare hospital capacity, and crucially no testing procedure in place. It was impossible to get any real idea who had this virus, or where it was worse, demographically and geographically in the population. Total lockdowns were the only realistic option, and they hurt. Mentally and economically they were a tornado that ripped a path through everything we had become accustomed to.
This time we know a little more. While testing volumes and efficacy differ between countries it is at least a lot better than back in March, we now have a better picture of the local flare ups and can address them. In recent days selective partial lockdowns in Madrid, parts of the UK, and France have been implemented to try to avoid the need for the national, total lockdowns of March. It’s early days in this second spike, but it seems likely that nightmare will be unnecessary this time around.
One lesson seems to be clear, many countries locked down too late, and unlocked too early, keen to get their economies off their knees. Rather than short, sharp total lockdowns, long term lighter, localized restrictions seem likely. So far this has been a difficult sell from local legislators with Madrid and Northern English politicians in open revolt at national government policies, calling for the science to be made public, and for local furloughs to follow on the heels of local lockdowns.
This time around though, what condition are we in to mount a second defense? Not great I fear. Generous furlough and support schemes have allowed some businesses to stay afloat, just for 6 or 7 months, but a second hit of closures and support schemes that are phasing down will no doubt be the fatal blow for many.
On the other hand the job losses that followed the first outbreak are unlikely to be repeated on the same scale as those adjustments have already been made. This may be an awfully clinical way to express this, but many of the most health compromised people fell victim to the first wave of the virus, and sadly are not here to face the second wave. There are, and will continue to be further victims to this pandemic, but one has to hope that they will be mercifully lighter this time around.
The hard truth is that the second time around it is likely to be different, but just as difficult as the first. The lessons from the first wave hold just as true, but perhaps with a little more urgency. The need to look at yourself and your business and be realistic about the future. Diversify, retrain and divest ruthlessly if necessary….. and probably leave the cork in the bottle until after dark… or was that just me?
As readers of The Islander will know better than anyone. When you can’t change the direction of the wind, adjust your sails.
Phil D. Coffers
The Islander Economics Correspondent