"The human costs have been very damning indeed."
In our August 11 column, we noted the devastating effect of the two major pandemics which ravaged the world a century apart, the Spanish flu in 1918 and COVID-19 in 2019. Reports have it that unlike Covid 19 which has affected all countries save for the Pacific islands of Vanuatu and Solomon islands, the 1918 pandemic affected mainly the United States, most European countries and a number of smaller nations in the known Western world.
In terms of severity, the Spanish influenza resulted in acute illness in 25 percent to 30 percent of the world population, with over 50 million deaths, whereas COVID-19 has infected nearly 55 million to date, with 1.3 million deaths. Somehow, the major breakthroughs in disease prevention and treatment since 1918 mitigated COVID-19’s death embrace.
In terms of diagnosis and treatments, scientists and medical experts took time to get things right in both cases. In the case of COVID-19, the World Health Organization initially demurred in declaring a pandemic and took time to prescribe the needed diagnostic tests and related health protocols to contain the disease. Save for China and Russia which had their own coping measures in place including fast tracking their own vaccine development efforts, it took a big push by the Trump administration through its Operation Warp Speed before the Western vaccine manufacturers got into the groove. The 1918 coping effort was even more crude as bleeding was initially used as treatment until a dedicated group of doctors in the United states developed and tested a vaccination to prevent pneumonia causing pneumocci types I, II and III pneumococci.
In sum, in both instances worldwide containment efforts relied heavily on isolation and quarantine as in the current COVID-19 S protocol of social distancing, mask wearing and hand washing) protocol. It is as if we are on a “Back To The Future” routine but with more and better understanding of pandemics and consequently or should we say hopefully with a hundredfold better results.
It is a hope we continue to hold on to, realizing that earlier this year just when we were on our way to sustainable recovery this COVID-19 Delta variant came roaring with a vengeance. Now we are on our third wave of infections and an uncertain 2021. Even the United States and most developed countries in Europe and Asia are in for another round of reviewing and rethinking their coping measures. The great debate in these countries right now is to vaccinate or not at all given the fact that the vaccinated have not been spared Delta variant infection. If this debate is prolonged and unresolved sooner, not only will it cascade and create an even bigger challenge given the billions of unvaccinated peoples in Asia and the Pacific, Africa, Middle East and Latin America which have been decrying the continued inability of the WHO and the six vaccine manufacturers to provide access to the vaccines and accelerate the much needed vaccination roll out worldwide. Prolonging the roll out will definitely run down any efforts to get the global economy back on track.
As various studies from the WHO, World bank and even such journals as the PMJ (Post Graduate Medical Journals) show, the global effect of this viral pandemic has not only been an unprecedented globally shared health and economic phenomenon but a highly personal, individual experience with wide ranging repercussions as well. The pandemic has disrupted lives across all countries and communities and negatively affected global economic growth in 2020 beyond anything experienced in nearly a century. Estimates indicate the virus reduced global economic growth in 2020 to an annualized rate of -3.4 percent to -7.6 percent, with a recovery of 4.2 percent to 5.6 percent projected for 2021. Global trade is estimated to have fallen by 5.3 percent in 2020, but is projected to grow by 8.0 percent in 2021 if the variants will allow it.
According to a consensus of forecasts, although governments were able to mitigate the negative impact of the economic downturn in 2020 still the expected rebound never came
to fruition having been challenged by the prolonged nature of the health crisis in almost all countries and sectors. Even as some developed economies start recovering, potential inflationary pressures as is evident in the United States, for example, have become matters of concern. These concerns are compounded by the emergence of new disease variants and rolling pandemic hotspots.
The reports, especially the one issued by the US Congressional Research Service, also noted that major advanced economies, which comprise 60 percent of global economic activity, are projected to operate below their potential output level through at least 2024, which indicates lower national and individual economic welfare relative to pre-pandemic levels. Compared with the synchronized nature of the global economic slowdown in the first half of 2020, the global economy has shown signs of a two-track recovery that began in the third quarter of 2020 and has been marked by a nascent recovery in developed economies, but a slower pace of growth in developing economies. As a whole, developed economies have made strides in vaccinating growing shares of their populations, raising prospects of an economic recovery in 2021 and, in turn, the broader global economy. However, new variants of the COVID-19 virus and a surge in diagnosed cases in large developing economies and resistance to vaccinations among some populations in developed economies raise questions about the speed and strength of an economic recovery over the near term.
These forecasts notwithstanding there is no denying that the human costs of this still-raging pandemic have been very damning indeed. Quite apart from the millions of lives lost which will permanently affect global economic growth, the elevated levels of poverty, lives upended, careers derailed, and increased social unrest will surely be a feature of the global landscape for years to come. Some estimates indicate that 95 million people may have entered into extreme poverty in 2020 with 80 million more undernourished compared to pre-pandemic levels.
In addition, some estimates indicate that global trade could fall by an annual amount of 9.0% or slightly less in 2020 as a result of the global economic downturn, exacting an especially heavy economic toll on trade-dependent developing and emerging economies. The economic impact of the pandemic is expected to lessen in developed economies where vaccinations are facilitating a return to pre-pandemic levels of activity although that is now being impeded by the surges. In developing countries, however, outbreaks of new viral variants could prolong the pandemic and dampen prospects of a recovery.