A new normal
Written by Scarlett Regan, Researcher
Edited by Tom Gillingham, Associate Partner
Yesterday, thousands of garden centres, DIY stores and small shops opened in Austria, with strict distancing rules in place. In the least badly affected regions of Italy, bookstores, children’s clothes shops and launderettes have been allowed to reopen their doors, after being sprayed from head-to-toe with disinfectant. Schools are opening for young children in Denmark today too, and in Spain, some industrial and construction businesses are returning to work.
World Health Organisation (WHO) officials have emphasised that lockdowns must be lifted strategically, not all at once, to avoid further disruptions. Indeed, ending the restrictions too early or too fast risks second spikes in infection rates.
Strategic advice from the WHO about how best to lift restrictions is expected today. Aggressive testing and strategies for isolating cases will likely be high on the list. But as well as this, there will be behavioural advice.
Physical distancing (because who thought ‘social distancing’ was a good way of putting it?) will surely become the norm, at least for a few months. Better hygiene will unquestionably be prioritised; increased capacity for healthcare providers will need to stay. Mask-wearing might be mandated, as it has been in a number of countries from Singapore to Slovakia.
The impact of these new norms will be profound. The consequences of physical distancing on working culture; airport security; international travel; the impact of mask-wearing on facial recognition technologies. This latter point raises interesting religious questions: France banned the public covering of the face in 2011, what might the implications of making mask-wearing compulsory be? And that is just one aspect of one issue in one country.
There will certainly be a new normal at the end of all of this. But for what that ‘normal’ might look like, for now at least, your guess is as good as mine.
US president Donald Trump has decided to suspend US funding of the World Health Organization (WHO) for 60-90 days, whilst a review is conducted “to assess the WHO’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus”. The US is the single largest contributor to the WHO, and this move has been labelled by health experts as a “crime against humanity”.
The UK government has promised that all care home residents and staff with Covid-19 symptoms will be tested for coronavirus as laboratory capacity increases. This comes as care providers have reported a rapid spread of the coronavirus and the Office for National Statistics has revealed that there have been 217 care home deaths due to the virus. This number is likely to have dramatically increased in the last few days.
Scotland’s health secretary, Jeane Freeman, has received assurances that PPE suppliers were not asked to prioritise England over Scotland. The rumour that England would be prioritised initially surfaced on Monday by Donald Macaskill, the head of Scottish Care, in an interview with BBC Radio Scotland.
Business and economy
The UK economy could shrink by 35 per cent in the second quarter of 2020, and unemployment could hit 10 per cent, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has predicted. Two million people could lose their jobs, as the budget deficit could rise to its highest level since World War II. Despite this dramatic fall, the OBR expects that growth will rebound strongly, resulting in “no lasting economic hit”.
The head of the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine, Alison Pittard, has said that the minimum specification for the UK’s homegrown hospital ventilator programme won’t produce machines suitable for coronavirus patients. The ventilators which can only treat a patient for a few hours have been deemed “of no use whatsoever” by experts. (£)
Consultancy firm Accenture has said that all firms will have to be focused on health, even when the pandemic ends.“Today we say every business will be a health business”, Accenture’s chief executive for growth markets announced. Companies will have to put in place various conditions for people to return to work, such as having an onsite medical team. Investment in health resources, through technology, will also be required.
Columns of note
In the Guardian, Zoe Williams notes that debate about how and when to ease the lockdown cannot be boiled down to a fight between the left and the right. To make such seismic decisions, she says we need to consider the complexity of the question and the plurality of views rather than getting ourselves into two opposing teams. Interrogating policy is crucial, she argues, but in such an emergency, the nation should come together and keep its brain switched on.
In theFinancial Times, Robert Armstrong argues that companies must prioritise the public good. He suggests that the best way for an industry to avoid landing on the wrong side of an unpredictable government’s agenda is to act first. Looking to the horizon is crucial: setting long-term goals will ensure that companies emerge with strong reputations, employee trust and financial foundations. (£)
Source: The Times
What happened yesterday?
As virus-hit economies showed signs of beginning to reopen, US stocks rose, following broad gains across both Europe and Asia. The S&P 500 closed up 3.1 per cent, its highest level in a month.
Credit markets rose before edging lower, and companies such as Marriott dashed for cash, raising $1.6bn.
In Europe, markets were similarly optimistic. The Stoxx 600 index rose 1.3 per cent, while the Dax 30 rose 2.3 per cent. The FTSE 100, however, was down 0.2 per cent as the UK government announced that there were no imminent plans to lift lockdown restrictions.
JPMorgan, the biggest US bank, reported steep falls in first-quarter earnings, its net income falling by 69 per cent. Chief executive Jamie Dimon announced that his bank was bracing itself for a “fairly severe recession”. At midday, its shares were down 3.7 per cent.
High street clothing chain Next was forced to halt online orders just hours after reopening its website after a three-week break. It struggled to keep up with huge demands for children’s clothes and homeware, particularly with a lower number of warehouse staff processing orders.
Women’s fashion retailers Oasis and Warehouse are expected to appoint administrators - expected to be Deloitte - soon, putting roughly 2,300 jobs at risk. This comes after fashion firms Debenhams and Cath Kidston filed for administration last week.
Japanese conglomerate SoftBank expects to lose $16.7bn on firms it has invested in through its $100bn tech start-up fund. Many of these start-ups such as Uber have suffered from the lockdowns across the globe.
Barclays has halted new job cuts and said it is supporting staff in the process of being made redundant. The bank will pay up to 80 per cent of an employee’s wages, rather than relying on the government’s furlough scheme.
What's happening today?
Int. Economic Announcements
(12:00) MBA Mortgage Applications (US)
(14:15) Capacity Utilisation (US)
(14:15) Industrial Production (US)
(15:30) Crude Oil Inventories (US)
Did you know?
Ambroise Paré, a prominent physician in the 1500s, recommended living with a goat to prevent the plague.
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