I started writing this on the 29th of March 2020. Roughly two months after the outbreak started in all seriousness in Wuhan, China.
Obviously from the start it was hot news. The initial information was confusing, especially as the infamous Chinese bureaucracy – on automatic pilot – immediately started to suppress any information on the seriousness of the situation. This however, did change rapidly and the Hubei province went in total lockdown. Obvious thousands of people were already infected and the results of that started to play out in following weeks. Horrific scenes at hospitals and dead bodies everywhere. A health system obviously totally overwhelmed. The WHO was informed about the virus by the Chinese authorities on 31/12/2019. The first death occurred in Wuhan on 11/1/2020.
While at that stage human instinct kicked in around the world that this virus could easily spread – as there was no treatment and no vaccine – there was at that stage no urgency only a very few countries immediately sprang into action.
Because of the previous SARS outbreak, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea and Taiwan were basically the only countries prepared. They had enough testing kits and protection gear to immediately launch nationwide actions. So far these are the countries that have been able to manage the crisis as best as possible.
Early reactions especially from the populist leaders like Trump, Johnson, Putin, Modi, Bolsonaro, were dissenting. With bravado they mentioned that they would not be affected, they were in control, they kept shaking hands and so on.
Not as bad but a similar initial reaction from Scott Morrison in Australia who was reluctant to call of the Grand Prix and indicated he would still go the football a day before a ban would be imposed. In the end he didn’t go. However, already before this happened the country had stopped any people travelling from China into Australia and they declared an emergency before the WHO did so.
Back to China, we were all mightily impressed when we saw the Chinese building a 1000 bed hospital within a week, but still this was all a far from my bed show.
Around that time the cruise ship debacle started. The Diamond Princess ended up in Japan with hundreds of cases of the virus and the situation was handled terribly by the Japanese government. Far too late an evacuation plan was launched, and the Australian passengers ended up in quarantine in Darwin. Many more cruise ship disasters happened and are still happening as I write this. A totally uncontrolled disembarking of 2700 passengers from the Ruby Princess happened in Sydney on March 16, a total collapse of Australia’s Boarder Force Security. This further increased the number of infections. Another disaster happened that weekend in Bondi with overcrowded beaches and ongoing backpacker parties, resulting also in more infections. The backpackers situation is a serious problem as these young people (200,000) are less worried, live with many people close together, are now without work, can’t travel back to their countries and don’t have money.
The physical distancing rule has since been enforced with fines and jail sentences. Similar reports arrived from many countries around the world. A Guardian poll indicated that 1/3 of people did think the crisis was blown up by the media. A dangerous number of people are not taking this serious enough. In general, the younger generation will only have a mild reaction to the virus and in a selfish way they feel somewhat invincible. In order to flatten the curve, we need at least 80% (preferable 90%) of the population to adhere to the new rules.
Stepping back again, in early February, the global focus shifted to Iran and Italy. The death toll in Iran is still rapidly climbing but there is less information coming from that country. In Italy a rather suddenly massive outbreak occurred in Lombardy in the north. Most likely linked to the Champions League match on February the 19th in Milan between Atlanta (Milan) and Valencia (Spain). This is earmarked as ground zero for both the Italian and the Spanish outbreaks. Soon thereafter Italy went in lock down. My brother Rob who lives in Rimini had to close his event organisation business and is occurring severe losses. Rimini is another epi-centre in Italy.
Only after the Italian disaster did the western countries start paying more attention, but still a rather slow and confusing response. Finding the right balance between the health risk issues and an economic collapse is not easy.
Another early outbreak occurred in Brabant, Netherlands were we originally come from. This was linked to the Carnaval also in mid-February and a few weeks later that became clear. Our sister-in-law is a senior nurse at the hospital in Uden and this was one of the first hospitals where the crisis started, and they became an item on the daily news. This is only a small hospital and don’t have enough ICU beds and all non-corona patients were transported to the northern part of the country. By now (29/3) however, this is where the outbreak has spread in this country. Tilburg and Breda were other epicenters in Brabant. The situation in Brabant seems to be stabilising.
By March, Australia also started to become more involved in addressing the issue, as everywhere else lots of confusion and uncertainty. People clearly have difficulties comprehending the rapidly changing environment that apart from those who lived during WW11 have ever faced. It is clear that we all need time to adjust. This is certainly also how I experienced the evolving situation. The first corona cases in Australia started to occur between 23 and 30 January, all people coming from Wuhan. They all went in isolation. Many more infested people arrived from overseas via cruise ships or air travel. Till now (1/4) these are still the majority of all the 4,000 + cases in Australia. For updates on stats see Wikipedia.
Another massive government announcement happened on 31/3. The government is basically temporarily nationalising the private health hospital system and align it with the public system operating at one system across the nation, very impressive. As so many other people have already done, I also want to compliment all of our healthcare workers. They have always been amazing people and this crisis only emphasises this. I impressed by their organisational skills to pull all of this together, redeploy staff not just through their own system but nationally, retrain staff, managing their limited supplies and equipment, extending their reach, bring-in previous workers in and so the list goes on.
Major dramas once the hospitality industry was forced to close with tens of thousands of people becoming unemployed. While not as massive as after the Wall Street Crash of 1929, we rapidly saw queues of people lining up for financial support like the (black and white) pictures that we saw from the 1930s. Around the world massive social and economic emergency funding is made available to soften the financial blow in order to avoid a total economic collapse. At least in those countries who can afford this.
After Italy, France, Germany, Spain also started their lockdowns. The Netherlands took a what they call ‘intelligent’ lock down approach and Australia an even slighter lock down approach.
During March the death toll in the European countries mentioned above grew rapidly into the hundreds and into the thousands. Australia and New Zealand are still having a relative low death toll. The question is if the partial lock down and the early arrangements will be enough or if we are going to pays for this in a few weeks’ time.
In general, I support the government actions in Australia, and it is interesting that in the other countries the people in general also accept their government’s response even if they differ slightly country by country (perhaps with the exception of those countries with populist rulers). However, in most countries it is good to see that after a few decades of populism and neo liberalism, social policies that would have been classified as near communism are now implemented. There is no way back to the economic situation before covid-19, as it will take a decade or more to recover from the economic fallout. This period will need to be supported with long term changes in social, economic and healthcare policies.
Another drama is evolving in the USA. They might have one of the best healthcare systems of the world, but that is only available for those who can afford it and as such the system can’t cope. Donald Trump ignores most of that and is focused in getting the economy going again by Easter and the churches open for service. In the meantime, the country is burning. Those who have health insurance often get it as part of their employment package. With massive lay off all those people are now also losing their healthcare insurance. A covid-19 hospitalisation rapidly costs US$35,000, something you can’t effort if you get unemployed.
A major worry remains the developing world. So far the virus has not resulted in Chinese, Italian of American proportions. However, if that changes this will be an absolute nightmare.
|International collaboration is currently (1/4) still in disarray. Germany started to help out Italy and France and some work is done to start looking at how to assist developing nations. There is finger pointing going on from Italy who wants more (financial) assistance from Germany and the Netherlands, who so far have been reluctant to authorize the EU to do so. My worry is that nation states will more and more retreat from the global scene. As we are seeing that action rapidly falls back to nation states. G& and G20 responses have nor shown international leadership actions. Nations concentrate on looking after themselves and having sufficient (medical, food, IT) supplies for their own country rather than depending on globalisation. We also see restrictions on foreign investments, and we might see the nationalisation of for example airlines and perhaps some struggling utilities including telecoms. Here there is now a debate going on classifying telecoms as a national utility which would give the industry certain protections and access to certain regulations that are not available to other commercial organisations. Especially in the ICT industry with lots of startups and often marginally operating businesses the question will be how many of them will survive, this will also lead to more national policies and regulations to build up capacity after the crisis as it has become clear that we have to invest much more in innovation, R&D, the digital economy, etc. We could see a major economic reset here. Also don’t forget that many of the underlaying societal issues are still there, climate change, refugees, migration, etc. We saw already a major attack on globalisation here. Where does this now fit into the more complex puzzle with a pandemic added to it. Nobody is talking about this as yet. So in short how are we going to ensure that we as humanity keep working together as at the moment it looks like that this goes against the instincts of the individual human beings?|
Economic response Australian Government (Wikipedia)
- On 3 March, the Reserve Bank of Australia became the first central bank to cut interest rates in response to the outbreak. Official interest rates were cut by 0.25% (25 base points) to a record low of 0.5%.
- On 12 March, the Government announced a A$17.6 billion stimulus package, the first since the 2008 GFC. The package consists of multiple parts, a one-off A$750 payment to around 6.5 million welfare recipients as early as 31 March 2020, small business assistance with 700,000 grants up to $25,000 and a 50% wage subsidy for 120,000 apprentices or trainees for up to 9 months, 1 billion to support economically impacted sectors, regions and communities, and $700 million to increase tax write off and $3.2 billion to support short-term small and medium-sized business investment.
- On 19 March, the Reserve Bank again cut interest rates by a further 0.25% to 0.25%, the lowest in Australian history.
- In March 2020, the Australian Bureau of Statistics began releasing a number of additional statistical products to assess the economic impacts on the outbreak on the Australian economy. Data on retail trade turnover indicated a 0.4% rise in turnover in February 2020. Negative effects on some areas of the retail sector (particularly tourism-dependent businesses) were offset by a rise in food retail turnover, with supermarkets showing a large rise in sales, mainly arising from panic buying.
- On 22 March, the government announced a second stimulus package of A$66bn, increasing the amount of total financial package offered to A$89bn. This included several new measures like doubling income support for individuals on Jobseeker’s allowance, granting A$100,000 to small and medium-sized businesses and A$715 million to Australian airports and airlines. It also allowed individuals affected by the outbreak to access up to A$10,000 of their superannuation during 2019–2020 and also being able to take an additional same amount for the next year.
- On 30 March the Australian Government announced a $130 billion “JobKeeper” wage subsidy program. The JobKeeper program would pay employers up to $1500 a fortnight per full-time, part-time or casual employee that has worked for that business for over a year. For a business to be eligible, they must have lost 30% of turnover after 1 March of annual revenue up to and including $1 billion. For businesses with a revenue of over $1 billion, turnover must have decreased by 50%. Businesses are then required by law to pay the subsidy to their staff, in lieu of their usual wages. This response came after the enormous job losses seen just a week prior when an estimated 1 million Australians lost their jobs. This massive loss in jobs caused the myGov website to crash and lines out of Centrelink offices to run hundreds of metres long. The program was backdated to 1 March, to aim at reemploying the many people who had just lost their jobs in the weeks before. Businesses would receive the JobKeeper subsidy for 6 months.
- The announcement of the JobKeeper wage subsidy program is the largest measure announced by the Australian Government in response to the economic impact of the COVID-19 Outbreak. In the first hour of the scheme, over 8,000 businesses registered to receive the payments. The JobKeeper wage subsidy program is one of the largest economic packages ever implemented in the history of the Commonwealth.
Click here for more details provided by the Australian Government.