Who would have thought a tiny microbe, invisible to the naked eye could wreak such havoc, and destroy so much… lives snuffed out, careers up-ended, families torn apart, hopes dashed, dreams destroyed, businesses bankrupted, freedoms lost.
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused more social and economic destruction in a shorter time than any of the previous financial crises, natural and man-made disasters, or economic downturns and recessions that I’ve seen in my lifetime.
Going further back in history, such a pandemic is not unprecedented. But the economic destruction it has caused this time is.
Our world is so interconnected nowadays. Billions of people rely on the free movement of people, goods, and capital across borders for their livelihoods, whether directly or indirectly. As a result, the draconian reaction by the authorities to this pandemic has caused a huge swathe of economic destruction all over the world.
We can argue about the “right” approach or the “correct” measures that should have been taken to try and cope with the pandemic. Everyone has an opinion. Often, they are divisive.
What’s not in dispute, I think, is that the world is in a serious mess. I am not interested in a post-mortem style analysis of what has happened. I’m interested in thinking about what might come next.
I personally do not believe there will be a safe, viable, widely available and effective vaccine everyone can confidently submit to being administered, any time soon. Even if a vaccine is developed and shown to be effective in rushed clinical trials, the logistical hurdles to manufacture it, and get it out to enough people will be immense. It will take time. Years. Not months.
Based on this, the countries – such as those I ordinarily spend time in, in my part of the world – Australia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, New Zealand, Singapore and so on, which seem to have no long-term policy to deal with the pandemic, other than to “lock down” and implement draconian border closures and “social distancing” measures whenever the virus flares up, seem destined to slowly whither on the vine.
Some of the measures in place are so draconian, you really have to wonder whether it’s only about so-called containment of the virus, or if other factors are at play. For instance, Australian citizens and Permanent Residents have been banned from exiting Australia without seeking government permission.
Statistics, as well as anecdotal evidence, shows that 75% of such requests are being refused and that it usually takes 3 to 4 weeks to even get an answer from the bureaucrats that now control so much of people’s lives.
Meanwhile, borders are shut to non-residents or non-citizens in 85 countries around the world. A further 51 countries have partial restrictions. The numbers are changing every day.
Mandatory, 14-day quarantine in a hotel room, at one’s own expense, is in place in Australia.
In Hong Kong, returning Hong Kong residents are made to wear an electronic wrist band to make sure they don’t leave home for two weeks upon returning from abroad.
In New Zealand, two weeks’ quarantine at a government military supervised facility is mandatory.
In many countries, schools and universities are shut. Entire cities, such as Auckland and Melbourne, are under military-style curfews and lockdowns, with on-the-spot fines in the thousands of dollars for anyone found violating the arbitrary terms.
For example, in Melbourne you cannot be anywhere more than 5 kilometers from your home. I have heard stories of number plate scanning, and CCTV surveillance being used to enforce this and people receiving fines in the mail.
People’s lives have been upended. The economy is a shambles. Many are surviving solely on government handouts. Governments in the west are going deeper and deeper into debt, all to provide temporary assistance and band-aids that may or may not be able to be continued long enough until the threat that the government sees from the virus has receded.
I believe the lack of any long-term plan, or even sensible discussion about how to live with the virus, if the rosy projections about vaccines fail to materialize, is dooming places such as Australia, Hong Kong and New Zealand to economic ruin.
All these places rely on having open economies. In Australia, the tourism and education services industry was, until the government effectively shut it down overnight, the third biggest export industry, worth over A$50 billion per year, or approximately A$2,000 for every man, woman and child in the country. This will have long-lasting and dire consequences. Many ancillary industries also rely on overseas visitors and students for their existence.
In Hong Kong, shutting the economy off to the free movement of people in and out is like chopping off its head. The entire reason for Hong Kong’s existence is to be an open, international hub.
I am hearing that without a miracle, Hong Kong’s international flag carrier, Cathay Pacific, could be bankrupt by Christmas. It’s already been on the receiving end of one generous government bailout. But at the end of the day it’s a private company and there are limits to how much money the taxpayer can be expected to throw at it. Even with over 80% of the fleet parked, capacity utilization on the planes still in operation in July was just 23.9%.
Serious as the border closures are for all these economies, right now there is not even a discussion about how or when borders might reopen. I find this extraordinary.
Where I am now, in Bali, which by some estimates used to get as much as 80% of its GDP from tourism, at least there is a discussion about when to reopen. The local provincial government wants it to happen on September 11, which although not a date many international travellers would associate with good luck, is an auspicious date on the local Balinese Hindu calendar.
But the central government in Jakarta, which makes Indonesia’s immigration rules, appears to be going to keep the country’s borders shut to visitors until the end of the year.
Bali tourist arrivals in July were down 99% from year-ago levels, and most of the island’s hundreds of thousands of hotel, tourism and hospitality workers are presently without jobs or on extended, unpaid leave. That is clearly not sustainable. So far, social unrest has thankfully been limited. But you can feel it brewing.
Meanwhile, most countries in Europe seem to have realized that the virus is here to stay. Living with it has become the focus, rather than the pipe-dream of eradication or elimination.
The same applies in the United States and parts of Latin America, where it spiralled so quickly out of control there is really no other alternative but to learn to live with it.
Then there are countries such as Sweden, and Tanzania, which deliberately never locked down and where life has carried on pretty much as normal the entire time.
Speaking to my contacts on the ground in Tanzania, they report life goes on as normal. While there were definitely some cases of coronavirus around in April and May, anecdotal evidence suggests the health system was not overwhelmed, and that since late May there has been nothing noticeable or out of the ordinary.
People to go school, attend university, and commute to and from work as normal. The economy continues to grow.
The skies are open to planes. Foreign visitors are welcome.
When I can, I’m planning to leave for Tanzania. I figure I’ll be over there for the entire fourth quarter of this year, logistics and family permitting.
Being in Hong Kong, or Bali, when they are shut to visitors is completely pointless in my line of work. I have lived in this part of the world precisely because it has been easy to travel around on business, and to visit, or welcome family and friends from other nearby countries. Those days are over. And I see no evidence they will return any time soon.
Since I happen to have made my long-held ambition of launching an African investment fund a reality during the pandemic, it is only logical that I pack up and move to Africa.
That’s what the future holds for me.
What about you?
Have you started to think seriously about radically different medium and long-term plans for yourself as a result of the pandemic, and all the economic shocks and changes it has ushered in? Or is life going on pretty much as normal, despite the lack of clarity about what the future might hold?
I’d be very interested to know: firstname.lastname@example.org