Covid-19: more questions about coronavirus, answered | The Economist

published on July 2, 2020

Hi, I’m Edward Carr, I’m The Economist’s deputy editor

And I am Alok Jha, The Economist’s science correspondent

We’ve received many, many questions from you

And we’re going to try and answer some of them right now

Overall impact on the economy over the next few months

partly depends upon what governments do

There’s a trade off, if you like, the more governments try and

keep people at home in order to stop the disease spreading

the bigger the effect on the economy

But already you’ve had various people who are following things

like the lobby group for hotels and hospitality in the US

saying that they think the effect of this will be as big as 9/11

and the global financial crisis wrapped up in one

You’ve seen airlines calling for many, many billion dollars in aid

You’ve seen an uptick in unemployment already

And Steve Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, warning that without action

unemployment could reach 20%

And in the real place, which has actually seen this effect

more than anywhere else so far, which is China

You saw the various numbers for industrial production

retail sales, falling 13%, 20% Many times more than people were expecting

The model people have used initially when this started was SARS

which was a similar kind of disease, struck in 2003

and the bounce-back there was really quick

But I think one of the reasons we’ve seen extreme falls in stockmarkets

and other asset markets is it’s become increasingly clear

that SARS isn’t a very good model

The problems go deeper and they’ll last longer

Now, one of the things that government policy is trying to do

is to keep essentially solid businesses that just happened to be hit

by everyone staying at home to keep those businesses going

so that when things start to improve, they can pick up reasonably quickly

The worry is that a lot of businesses go bankrupt

and then the process, the scarring, if you like, in the economy

are much worse and the process of recovery will be that much worse

So people have like three shapes of recession in mind

One is the V-shape from SARS I think that’s looking very unlikely

One is—the other is the U-shape, where the bottom is quite long

but things really do pick up and kind of go back to where they were

And the one we want to avoid by saving companies and saving jobs

is an L-shaped recession where things go down and they stay down

It’s particularly hard for people who live hand-to-mouth

You know, if you don’t have savings

and you have to go, you have to get the crowded bus to work every day

Your chances of catching the disease are higher

Your resources, if you do catch the disease and you can’t work, are smaller

Your ability to go and see a doctor who’s got

the sort of health care that can help you are infinitesimal

I think, you know, it’s going to be really, really tough for such people

There are a couple of things that might help

Often many of these, many people in these countries

tend to be of a younger demographic group

And we know that the disease is particularly harsh on older people

The rural populations in some of these countries are larger

and it’s easier to keep away from people if you’re in the countryside

But they also have very big favelas

and very big slum districts which are crowded

So I think it’s going to be particularly tough

And it’s so often the way, isn’t it, that, you know

diseases that hit the whole world, hit poor people worst

And just one other thing to add

which is when you take, say, the Ebola virus in 2014

you got quite a good response from outside west Africa to help

And that was partly to do with humanitarian instincts, but partly self-interest

The rich world didn’t want to see Ebola go, well

right now there isn’t, you know

the world’s preoccupied with its own problems

I think it’s wishful thinking just because

there’s not much good evidence to suggest that

hot temperatures would slow down the spread of this infection

There’s no mechanism for that necessarily

However, what we should expect to see in many countries is that

as the summer months come, the cases will probably dip

And that’s not because of the effects on the virus itself, but because

more people are going to be outside in the open air

and less likely to be inside rooms with people who are infected

And so that’s something you see in seasonal flu in all sorts of things

That does mean, though, that when winter comes

you’re going to see another rise

So, yes, heat in an indirect way will reduce infections

but I don’t think there’s any, it would suggest that the actual virus itself

is going to be stopped that way

It’s a fact that it will mutate, every virus will mutate

because it’s an evolutionary arms race

It wants to infect you, multiply and

go out into the world and infect other people

If your body or there is a vaccine, that sort of stops it

that’s something, it will find a way around it

And there was some early evidence a month or so ago

that this particular strain of the coronavirus had mutated to some extent

And so we’re dealing with two We're not sure

what’s happening with that exactly yet

Most mutations don’t make any difference really

to the infection rates and so on

And, you know, the one ray of good news about that mutations is

generally speaking, a pathogen wants to, if it’s new in humans

it wants to be able to survive in humans for as long as possible

And so what it does is it tries to sort of become less virulent

because it doesn’t want to kill you as quickly

because it wants to spend the time reproducing

So actually, most infections, most mutations you see tend to be of that type

And yes, there’s always the possibility that it could

mutate to something else completely, seasonal flu does that

Seasonal flu is different every year

And we have to come up with a new vaccine every year for it

But in general, it will mutate and we’ll just have to keep a watch on it

There are some other coronaviruses out there

A couple of which cause colds

and those also are things that re-infect us every year

So it’s too early to say whether this coronavirus will be similar

But, you know, it’s something to bear in mind

that this could become a seasonal kind of infection

and that, you know, you need to have vaccines

if they find a vaccine eventually, to have vaccines that are kind of

predicting how, what kind of seasonal version you’ll have

That’s the billion dollar question

it takes normally a vaccine, it takes something like

five or ten or 20 years to introduce one from scratch

We’ve never seen this particular coronavirus before

And so there are some ideas of what you might do

to sort of try and tackle it

But we’re really starting from scratch, pretty much

Now we’re hoping it’s not going to take 20 years to create a vaccine

There were, in the wake of the Ebola epidemic five or six years ago

new practices were put into place to try and speed up

the introduction of new vaccines, to try and do the trials faster

because you’ve got to go through many stages of clinical trials

which involves safety for human volunteers and then

giving them to people who actually have the infection

And so new protocols are put into place

that allow you to develop a vaccine in quick time

during the course of an epidemic

Now, even then, it will take something like 18 months to a couple of years

before you’re seeing vaccines available for people

Unfortunately all my answers are: we need more data

But I do know that there’s a study about to start on exactly that

So we’ll find out in about two years

And then there’ll be long-term studies as well This will be

one of those things that people write about

in economics textbooks in the future

of the generation that left school for six months

And what happened to them?

Yeah, I imagine they’re more creative, more inquisitive

Obviously, in the very short run, emissions have gone down

And, you know, I have heard claims

although I haven’t seen the evidence of it that, you know

there are fewer people dying in China at the moment

because there aren’t so many road-traffic accidents

and because the skies are clearer, there aren’t so many people

ingesting toxins through aerial pollution

But, you know, most of the things

that people are thinking about here are stocks

You know, there are stocks of carbon dioxide and

stocks of greenhouse gases

And this makes very little difference to the stocks

And in addition to that, you know, if you get a big slow down in investment

it slows the transition out of electric vehicles

photovoltaic cells, wind power and so forth, so

I’m not at all convinced that it’s a net positive for nature

Let me give you my hopes rather than what I think it will look like

what I know it will look like

One thing that I hope is that we as a society take more value in our experts

There’s been, through various populist uprisings in the last few years

you know, a sort of, really, a move towards not believing people who

seem to be in authority And, you know

although some of that might just be a hype

I feel like there is this thing of like, you know

the scientists and people who study all these sort of arcane ideas

about how the world works, might not be so

useful to our everyday existence

Well, this shows you that a lot of that stuff is incredibly important

in our responses to how the world operates

So, this pandemic was predicted multiple times by many, many people

You can argue that some people listened and some people didn’t

But those same sorts of people, scientists, are telling us about climate change

a much longer-term thing

And we don’t seem to be doing much on that front

Well, haven’t been doing anyway

So, I hope that there’s a greater respect for these sorts of

models and predictions that people are making

I also hope that it sort of does allow us to just appreciate that

you know, globalisation is this wonderful force that’s created

much more opportunity for the world and wealth and so on

But that we don’t, we aren’t all separate countries that exist don’t

there’s no boundaries for viruses

There’s no boundaries to pathogens and diseases

And that actually co-ordination is incredibly important for all of these things

We’ve been seeing the world separating itself politically in many ways

and I hope that this reverses some of that

We’re dedicated to bringing you the best reporting we can

with the best analysis of this phenomenal story

as it changes from one day to the next

And if you want to keep up with what we’re doing

all of our coverage is available

if you just click on the link you can see

And thanks for watching

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