Coronavirus Government Global Briefing: July 17

By Chris Woods

Friday July 17, 2020

Welcome to Coronavirus Government Global Briefing, Mandarin Premium’s coverage of COVID-19 policies both local and global.

World Economic Forum identifies criteria but not consensus in ‘Emerging Pathways towards a Post-COVID-19 Reset and Recovery’

The World Economic Forum has launched its latest biannual Chief Economists Outlook, ‘Emerging Pathways towards a Post-COVID-19 Reset and Recovery‘, a survey of close to 40 chief economists consisting of two sets of questions: one focused on the current economic outlook and another on the policy options available.

The edition sets out a high-level agenda for a path forward on three key challenges: how can economic policy be retooled to reduce inequality and improve social mobility, what will be the new sources of economic growth, and how will success be defined?

Before we dive into specifics, it’s worth noting that WEF’s community includes leaders as geographically diverse as Hong Kong Exchange’s Shusong Ba, Deutsche Bank’s David Folkerts-Landau, and Nestlé’s Ghislaine Weder.

This means that, while useful in terms of gauging global sentiment — and even a lack of consensus between interviewees — the briefing does not identify individual responses and therefore does not illuminate which environments are being reflected upon.

For just one example of why sentiments may vary within that global cohort, China has just become the first major economy to return to growth as second quarter GDP hits 3.2%, after a contraction of 6.8% in the first three months of 2020; conversely, a new Quinnipiac University poll has found approval for Donald Trump’s handling of the economy has dropped from 52% to 44% in the space of a month.

But in terms of how chief economist broadly view their current economic outlooks, most respondents considered unemployment figures more informative about the medium-term outlook for the global economy than current financial market valuations. Respondents also found the safety nets made available to workers to be just above “uncertain” and “relatively sufficient at present”, although one wonders whether chief economists, especially those in America, are currently well-placed to answer that question.

WEF has consequently identified three key emerging challenges faced by governments and business leaders as economies begin to enter their recovery phase:

  1. Retooling economic policy to reduce inequality and improve social mobility
  2. Identifying new sources of economic growth
  3. Aligning on new targets for economic performance

However, on policy options, report authors note a limited consensus on the order of magnitude of reforms needed, with responses ranging “from agreement that the necessary economic transformation will require reform and institution building on a post-Second World War scale to more cautious perspectives.”

“Respondents were in strong agreement that the inequality dynamics which the crisis has accelerated need to be urgently addressed through an adaptation of tax architectures. They should also be more systematically monitored by governments along with other targets, such as evolutions in natural, social and other types of capital. A slight majority of respondents also felt that some form of unconditional basic benefits should remain part of the social policy toolkit beyond the crisis, however, there was no consensus.

“When it comes to identifying new sources of growth, views were sharply divided over the role of governments in the innovation process. There were voices both strongly in favour of governments proactively setting a direction for innovation and strongly against. For the process of structural change within economies, most respondents felt that government support in this current phase of the crisis should be targeted more towards the growth sectors of the future rather than protecting all jobs.”

The report drops as Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, warns that a second global wave could disrupt early signs of economic recovery.

Writing in an IMF blog post, Georgieva praised policy actions taken by governments but said further action was needed in terms of both domestic policies and collective efforts:

“A partial recovery is expected to continue in 2021. The exceptional action taken by many countries, including the G-20 — through fiscal measures of about US$11 trillion and massive central bank liquidity injections — put a floor under the global economy. This extraordinary effort should not be underestimated.

“But we are not out of the woods yet. A second major global wave of the disease could lead to further disruptions in economic activity. Other risks include stretched asset valuations, volatile commodity prices, rising protectionism, and political instability.”

USA watch

  • In a reminder of just where America is at with its second wave, 22 states and two territories have set daily coronavirus records since 1 July.
  • A new Yahoo News/YouGov poll suggests that, by three to one, Americans reject Trump’s push to reopen public schools in the face of COVID-19.
  • Half of incarcerated people at California’s San Quentin prison — or more than 2,000 people — have tested positive for COVID-19, and 11 have died as advocates call for the governor to release more inmates.
  • In a truly horrific example of how the country’s private healthcare system works even within a pandemic, a record 5.4 million American workers lost their health insurance between February and May; meanwhile, insurers UnitedHealth Group registered a record $6.6 billion in profits in the second quarter, as more people held off on going to the doctor or hospital for elective operations, resulting in fewer medical claims that needed to be paid.
  • Writing for Time, poverty advocate Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II and Christian writer Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove have unpacked why state leaders that claim to be ‘Pro-Life’ — in actual fact anti-abortion politicians who have exploited “Christian nationalism” — are seeing disproportionately high COVID-19 deaths among marginalised communities:

“When we look closely at the data, the regions where the coronavirus is currently surging are precisely the places where White people have been manipulated by a distorted moral narrative for decades. Ironically, the governors who are most willing to watch their citizens die are the ones who have used “pro-life” rhetoric to compel people of faith to support the narrow interests of corporate greed and White political power. COVID has revealed how the ‘pro-life’ movement is killing us.”

On the home front: Victoria defers ‘Stage 4’ as it waits for the peak and plateau

Victoria recorded 317 new coronavirus cases yesterday — the biggest daily increase since the pandemic began — in an update, the ABC report takes the total number of active cases in the state to 2,128, with 109 people in hospital, including 29 in intensive care. In announcing the figures, as well as the deaths of another two men in their 80s from the virus, Dan Andrews said it it was “way too early” to move to a new stage of restrictions, although the state will pause category three elective surgeries.

While Australia has yet to implement harder lockdowns outside of rural communities and public housing estates, the ABC notes that “Stage 4” restrictions in Melbourne could include mandatory masks in public, more business and school closures, and, theoretically if not logistically, splitting Melbourne into self-contained zones.

However, as The Herald Sun ($) reports, the Victorian government has clarified that “unreasonable travel” for those locked down in Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire “would include travel within the restricted area to exercise or outdoor recreation where that type of exercise can be done closer to home,” indicating that travelling outside of neighbourhoods could result in fines.

With the city’s lockdown only a week old, Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the state still may not have hit its peak but may plateau within the next week and the surge in infections is, relative to exponential outbreaks, under control. Further, mobility data suggests Victorians have rapidly reduced the number of people they have been in contact with:

“An out-of-control outbreak is where, no matter what you’re doing, you’re seeing an exponential increase,” Sutton said. “We’re seeing an increase, but it’s relatively slow.”

“We know from following up our cases, that the number of nominated close contacts is much less than it was a week or two weeks ago when it was five or six individuals. It’s heading down towards one. They’re all good signs.”

In terms of clusters, Victoria’s largest outbreak remains Al-Taqwa College, at Truganina in Melbourne’s west, with 157 cases linked to the now-closed school. Other clusters have emerged at meatworks, hospitals, HWL Ebsworth Lawyers, and, sadly, 39 aged care homes.

Further, DHHS has confirmed 388 health care workers have acquired the virus since the start of the pandemic, with 150 of those cases currently active.

State wrap: Queensland launches two new arts recovery programs

  • The Queensland government has launched two programs under the state’s $22.5 million Arts and Cultural Recovery Package:
    • Spaces and Places, which offers up to $250,000 for the creation of new works for festivals and events, public art installations, and performing arts tours to drive regional economic outcomes; and
    • the revamped Queensland Arts Showcase Program (QASP), designed in consultation with the arts sector to help stabilise arts companies, support employment, and deliver COVID-safe cultural experiences. Three funding streams — Arts Accelerate, Arts Activate and Arts Advantage — will be available under QASP as quick response funding rounds of up to $30,000 for sole-funded initiatives, and up to $60,000 for projects with co-contribution from the applicant, or other funding source.
  • Following the expansion of the state’s virtual health system throughout COVID-19, the NSW government has announced plans to investigate a wider roll-out of virtual healthcare services.
  • South Australia recorded its first case in a fortnight after a Victorian — who had tested negative after flying in from overseas — entered the state. Premier Steven Marshall has now announced coronavirus testing will be mandatory for those travelling into the state from Victoria, with anyone entering from midnight on Saturday required to take the test within 24 hours and then again on their 12th day of quarantine.
  • With Sydney’s Crossroads Hotel cluster continuing to grow, the Northern Territory will keep its borders closed to Sydney as well as Victoria when it reopens for domestic travel today.

How masks pose a major hurdle for deaf people

Finally, while masks are a demonstratively effective at suppressing COVID-19, they also, for obvious reasons, pose a problem for deaf people who rely on speech reading and facial cues.

In a new Washington Post ($) op-ed, writer Sara Nović explores what seems to be the obvious solution: clear masks.

For health department updates: Federal, NSW, Victoria, QueenslandACTSouth AustraliaTasmaniaNorthern Territory and Western Australia.

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