- on 1月 26, 2024
it is not a fair fight, but it is a fight that many countries will face all the same. left to itself, the covid-19 pandemic doubles every five to six days. when you get your next issue of the economist the outbreak could in theory have infected twice as many people as today. governments can slow that ferocious pace, but bureaucratic time is not the same as virus time. and at the moment governments across the world are being left flat-footed.
the first task is to get manpower and money to hospitals. china drafted in 40,000 health workers to hubei province. britain may bring medics out of retirement. this week the world bank made $12bn and the imf $50bn available for covid-19. the global fund, which fights diseases like malaria and tb, said countries can switch grants. in america congress is allocating $8.3bn of funding. the country has some of the world’s most advanced hospitals, but its fragmented health system has little spare capacity. much more money will be needed.
just as important is to slow the spread of the disease by getting patients to come forward for testing when outbreaks are small and possible to contain. they may be deterred in many countries, including much of america, where 28m people are without health coverage and many more have to pay for a large slug of their own treatment. people also need to isolate themselves if they have mild symptoms, as about 80% of
them will. here sick pay matters, because many people cannot afford to miss work. in america a quarter of employees have no access to paid sick leave and only scattered states and cities offer sickness benefits. often the self-employed, a fifth of italy’s workforce, do not qualify. one study found that, in epidemics, guaranteed sick pay cuts the spread of flu in america by 40%.
sick pay also helps soften the blow to demand which, along with a supply shock and a general panic, is hitting economies. these three factors, as china shows, can have a dramatic effect on output. manufacturing activity there sank in february to its lowest level since managers were first surveyed in 2004. in the quarter to march the economy as a whole could shrink for the first time since the death of mao zedong. the oecd expects global growth this year to be its slowest since 2009. modelling by academics at the australian national university suggests that gdp in america and europe would be 2% lower than it would have been in the absence of a pandemic and perhaps as much as 8% lower if the rate of deaths is many times higher than expected. financial markets are pricing in fear. the s&p 500 has fallen by 8% from its peak on february 19th. issuance of corporate debt on wall street has more or less stopped. the yield on ten-year treasuries dipped below 1% for the first time ever.