Another month has passed and it looks like the worst of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic might be over for those of us in Europe. In my Comment last month, I suggested that there was some light at the end of the tunnel and, so far, that appears to still be true – as the rate of new cases begins to fall, many countries across Europe are now gradually relaxing lockdown restrictions and getting the wheels in motion to restart their largely dormant economies.
Things won’t exactly be going back to normal, however. Even with lockdown restrictions being relaxed, the phrase ‘social distancing’ is going to be with us for some time. Businesses reopening after the last few months will have to adjust to a new world characterised by reduced staff, PPE, and customer limits. Many others, including those of us at World Cement, will see their daily routines change once again, as they gradually emerge from hastily assembled home offices in living rooms, kitchens and spare bedrooms and start heading back to the office for a few days a week. And this year, it won’t just be the US celebrating on the 4th of July – from this date (perhaps even earlier), hairdressers and barbers will re-open once more in the UK – a relief for the less follicly challenged amongst us, I’m sure.
However, for many countries, the relaxation of these rules comes with an enormous caveat: if the rate of infection begins to rise, the restrictions will return. The fabled ‘R Number’, which indicates the number of secondary infections produced by 1 infected person, has to remain comfortably below 1 in order for any of this to be worthwhile. The health, economic, and social fallout of an uncontrolled ‘second wave’ of coronavirus would stretch the resources of even prosperous countries, risking long-term damage and further hardship, particularly for the vulnerable.
The silver lining to this cloud is that, if the rules are followed, allowing the virus to be contained, economies will eventually recover. As with all things to do with economics however, exactly how long this recovery will take depends on who you ask. One of the more positive voices comes from TMF Group, which recently conducted a survey of 300 US business leaders. Roughly two-thirds of those surveyed expect to see economic recovery within a year, with nearly 75% stating that they were at least somewhat confident in the US economy, despite the pandemic. TMF Group’s CEO, Mark Weil was quoted by CNN as saying “They see a path through the crisis. You can argue that sense of fighting spirit is what made the economy great.” Indeed, this sense of optimism may prove to be vital in a country which has seen more than 100 000 deaths and 30 million people filing for unemployment. Until next time, the team at World Cement wish you the best of health.