Is the coronavirus coming back? Are we witnessing a much talked about 'second wave'? In all appearances, we are. The recent numbers indicate that COVID-19 is sadly back, with a vengeance. That is bad news. The good news is that there is no panic the way we saw in March and April when the world rushed to close every business and social activity, which led to unprecedented economic devastation, leaving millions of people around the world out in the cold without jobs.
First, the bad news. In the last 24 hours, the world has registered one of the highest numbers of new cases — nearly 310,000 new infections on Friday. Despite the success of most countries in slowing down the outbreak in the past three months, there is a substantial resurgence in new cases in Europe, India, South America, and the United States.
Some of these countries, such as Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Montenegro, and India, have recorded higher numbers in August and September than they did at the peak of the pandemic in March and April. In India, for example, there were 97,654 confirmed new cases registered on Friday. France, a European COVID-19 hotspot earlier in the year, announced 9,843 new cases on Thursday, the highest number it has recorded.
In the UAE, 931 new cases were announced on Friday, a big jump from the average 300-400 we had seen in the past two months. Experts in the UAE and around the world say the increased testing could explain the spike. The resumption of on-site work and air travel was followed by the new school year. So more tests are naturally being conducted than ever before; subsequently, more new cases are discovered.
How the coronavirus is battering economies
However, Dr Anthony Fauci, the White House adviser and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the US told Americans, on Thursday they should prepare for "a second wave" of COVID-19 infections as the flu season nears. "We need to hunker down and get through this fall and winter because it's not going to be easy," he said at the Harvard Medical School.
And there is more bad news — economically speaking. A second blow is always more painful than the first. The first strike comes when they are standing. When they get the second one, unfortunately, people are lying down trying to absorb the pain of the first one and trying to get up — they are at the most vulnerable.
World economies have been trying to recover from the pandemic. The last three months saw some improvements. Markets recorded a significant boost as the containment measure imposed earlier were lifted, and some sort of 'normal' life began to spring back. But it wasn't full recovery. Economists say that we will see full economic recovery only a year from now, at least. A second wave means that the global economy will receive the next blow while licking its wounds.
Medical facilities and staff have expectedly become experienced in dealing with new infections. There is a noticeable decline in the death rate, which is the most important parameter for governments to initiate restrictive measures.
What does that mean? Some of the business that survived the first wave, because of their ability to withstand the lockdown with sufficient liquidity, will likely not be able to survive a second wave as they have expectedly run out of cash reserve. Jobs lost to the first wave might not come back soon. If things get messy, more people will lose jobs, which would impact the wider economic cycle. Governments, especially in Europe and the US, seem reluctant to disperse more bailout money, desperately needed to support the business. That will limit the ability of their citizens to spend. The longer the pandemic persists, the deeper the recession will get.
So, where is the good news? There actually might be one, even if it sounds like a flicker, not an outright spotlight, at the end of the long tunnel.
Between panic and restraint
In his new book, Rage, American journalist Bob Woodward quotes President Donald Trump as saying he intentionally "played down" the threat of the coronavirus outbreak in January and February because he didn't want to "create panic" in the US. "I wanted to always play it down," Trump told Woodward in a March taped interview. "I still like playing it down, because I don't want to create a panic."
Panic is the key word. In the past two or three weeks, as the reports of the so-called second wave began making the headlines, the reaction of medical authorities across the world has been restrained. And that is a good thing. Medical facilities and staff have expectedly become experienced in dealing with new infections. There is a noticeable decline in the death rate, which is the most important parameter for governments to initiate restrictive measures.
Most governments indicated that new lockdowns, total or even partial, are out of the question. Nobody seems willing to go the painful path of March and April. Then, there are the vaccine trials, which seem to be advancing rather fast - experts believe that a COVID-19 vaccine could be available by the end of the year or early next year.
The resilience showed by societies since January, and the global economy's ability to bounce back quickly, even though partially, have also given the world some valuable lessons, a critical advantage when the virus is surging again.
So, we might be forced to live with the virus in the months to come. And we might see some economic setbacks and face sort of 'targeted' and carefully designed (definitely not all-out) containment measures, but this time we will have a decent chance to fight back. We could be fine.