Covid-19 in 2021: Already seen, or the beginning of the end?


By Geoffrey Smith – It has been a year since China confirmed its first deaths from Covid-19. While the consensus is that the worst is now behind us, it is becoming clear that even mass vaccinations will not return the world to its pre-pandemic state immediately.

Yes, vaccinations are now taking place around the world at an increasing rate. Drugs Pfizer (NYSE 🙂 and BioNTech, Moderna (NASDAQ :), AstraZeneca (NASDAQ :), and research labs in China and Russia have all been approved in various parts of the world. According to some reports, the results of phase three testing of the investigational drug from Johnson & Johnson (NYSE 🙂 could arrive as early as this week.

But deployments are progressing painfully slowly in many places, especially in the European Union, which has hit less than 2% of its population at the time of writing. This compares poorly with the UK’s 10% and is far from Israel, with a best-in-class 40% rate. Even the UK’s rapid rollout is the product of a calculated gamble of extending a two-dose inoculation over a longer period of time than in clinical trials. No one knows if this will reduce the vaccine’s effectiveness, although AstraZeneca, at least, says it shouldn’t.

Slow vaccination, as new, more virulent strains of the virus are reaching the continent, is already causing governments to tighten their lockdown regimes and economists to downgrade their growth forecasts for this year. France is set to announce its third national lockdown this week, the government confirmed on Monday. Business confidence in Germany, the continent’s largest economy, fell to its lowest level in eight months in January, according to think-tank Ifo.

European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde hinted at a double-dip recession for the eurozone during her press conference, saying: “Production likely contracted in Q4 2020 and intensified of the pandemic poses downside risks to the short-term economic outlook. “

In Japan, meanwhile, the government was forced to deny reports suggesting it had already given up hope of hosting the already delayed Summer Olympics in Tokyo, which is still under a state of emergency. due to the pandemic.

Even vaccination is not a panacea, it seems. While it undoubtedly strengthens the immune system, only time will tell how long it guarantees immunity and to what extent it suppresses the ability of people to transmit disease. And the vaccine race continues to generate its share of disappointments: the Institut Pasteur de France and the American pharmaceutical company Merck (NS 🙂 both dropped their main drug development efforts on Monday after their investigational drugs failed to rise to grade.

All of this soured the optimism that was palpable in the dying days of 2020, when the prospect of another year of government stimulus and loose monetary policy fueled hopes of a rapid and more or less global economic rebound. synchronized. Many expect the International Monetary Fund to downgrade its growth forecast for global growth when its World Economic Outlook update at 8 a.m. ET on Tuesday.

Local outbreaks in parts of China have been of particular concern in recent days, which have led to the lockdown of tens of millions of citizens for the first time in months, a setback for one of the most comprehensive recoveries from the pandemic shock initial.

Official notices, released last week, against going home for the Lunar New Year were one of the main causes of the massive sell-off in prices (although the market took solace in the discipline shown by major producers. the Persian Gulf and the former Soviet Union.).

To be sure, there are clear improvements to be seen. New infection rates and hospital admissions from Covid-19 have fallen sharply in the United States in recent days, allowing California to lift a stay-at-home order. Restaurants from Baltimore to Chicago are reopening for indoor dining, albeit at only 25% capacity. Moderna said on Monday his vaccine was indeed effective against the two new strains – identified in the UK and South Africa – that worry scientists the most (he will still be working on a new booster for the South African variant).

The new US administration has reacted swiftly to dispel talk of a quick win: Quarantines and travel bans should be tightened for people entering the US The plight of businesses and families around the world will continue to generate pressure to reopen economies and, as Pantheon Economics’ Chief Economist Ian Shepherdson asserts: “Every step towards reopening before Covid goes away will delay the emergence of collective immunity and therefore cost lives that could have been saved. “

Of course, governments are making such choices every day, in areas that are completely independent of Covid. Once the latest flare-up has peaked and the pressure on the hospital’s capacity wanes, the beginning of the end should be in sight. But the relentless pressure to reopen makes it all the more likely that the exit from the pandemic will be uneven and full of risks.


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