Lockdown Diaries – rain, rain go away, time to let us out again?

We’ve had some great weather this April. Alas this is Blighty so you know the good stuff can’t last. And so right on cue to close the month of April, we had some proper rain. Shock and horror, it also prevented me going out for my daily walk – the first time that’s happened this lockdown. Funny how rain keeps all but the hardcore runners indoors! Anyway the subsequent days I took the brolly along and dealt with. With hindsight, it has probably been a good thing we’ve had such good weather during the lockdown. I reckon people’s sanity would have been further impacted if the weather stayed grey and rainy.

Nevertheless, people are itching to get back to some semblance of normality. The statistics show we should be over the “peak” (in hospitals at least, care homes is likely another story). So something has to give. This will no doubt be the topic of discussion until lockdown is finally lifted.

No vaccine? Lots of dilemmas

The Government has 5 tests they’re assessing before they consider exiting lockdown, but the key test is the ‘R’ number or the number of people an infected person can infect. If the R number is above 1, then you’re in for exponential growth in infected cases. The flu hovers at around 1.2, but we have a vaccine for that which makes a massive difference. In the UK, we’re currently hovering at around 0.5-0.7. Given we likely started this pandemic with an R greater than 2 that looks pretty good. But, again without a vaccine, the Government ideally want a number of around 0.2-0.3 within communities. The key concern is ensuring the NHS can deal with the number of cases post lockdown and does not see another peak.

Remember, without a vaccine, the inevitable scenario is we work our way in a controlled fashion towards ‘herd immunity’. That is unless we’re willing to stay locked down for at least another year waiting for a vaccine which I suspect most are not. So we will have to adapt to a new way of living. I still think the Government will advise those who can work from home to continue to do so. Commuting is a big risk and in London, the Tube seems a ripe place for the R number to get a nice boost. Big gatherings such as concerts are going to remain a no go and we’ll probably continue to queue for the supermarket (though home delivery slots are now opening, a great alternative).

So what relaxation will we see? We can look to Spain and Italy where the severe lockdown restrictions have been eased – for them it means the population being able to go outside for a bit of exercise. In the UK things have not been so harsh, but I do think we’ll probably see social distancing rules tweaked – visiting friends and family may be allowed (outdoors in gardens I guess would be preferable) and I reckon major sports will restart, but under ‘bubble’ conditions. ‘Bubble’ means no fans and teams are isolated to minimise the risk of the virus spreading. Maybe a bit of a logistics nightmare, but I’ve certainly missed live sports, and I think nations will appreciate anything to allow as a distraction. No doubt Liverpool fans are praying for that to be the case so they can officially wrap up the league title….

The Government still needs a proper test and tracing strategy, which seems to be sorely lacking. Frankly the Government performance during this crisis has been pretty poor; testing should have been at the forefront of plans, yet seemed to have only been picked up as a priority in April. The Government seems to be at least 2 steps behind where they should be. To distract us from scrutinising too much, we’ve got the Government’s classic deflect strategy, Boris Johnson! Over the past week we’ve had the dramatic headline about a prepared speech to announce his death if he didn’t recover from his bout of Covid-19 and as an added bonus for this week, his partner gave birth to a baby boy – Johnson’s sixth or seventh kid, no one is quite so sure….. I’ll try and cover the testing trends in more detail next week as we get more clarity on the Government’s response.

Market optimism and a new Cold War?

The markets inexplicably continue to rise. This is in spite of large unemployment figures (officially in excess of 30 million in the US) and pretty bad Q1 results. The only reason for this is optimism. Optimism that economies will restart in full swing this May. I would put some caution to that thought. The full grim numbers will become more transparent with Q2 results as we slide and enter recession. I would also add – May is known as the sell month as profits are taken before the holiday season (OK holidays are unlikely this year….) so I can see a sell off coming.

The one thing Trump is keenly aware of is this pandemic is costing a lot of money. One reason why he wants States to open up. However his latest bright idea is getting China to pick up the bill. He’s doubling down on the ‘blame China’ storyline as well by suggesting the virus was created in a lab in Wuhan and due to incompetence, it escaped. Trump needs someone to blame, it helps his narrative to cover his own failures.

I’m not sure how he also plans on getting China to ‘pay’. I guess more tariffs and sanctions? There was a rumour that he wants the US to default on debts to China, which is impossible to do; I’m sure he’ll float the idea in the coming weeks to ramp up the rhetoric. What all this points to is the onset of an economic Cold War between the two nations. Not helpful when the World is staring down the barrel of a deep recession. But if Trump gets re-elected, would you bet against it?

A bit of a ramble this week, so best to conclude with a small note about my own lockdown. I’ve just finished the book ‘The City & the City’ by China MiĆ©ville which I highly recommend. It’s a book you need to persevere with over the first 70 odd pages as you come to grip with slightly foreign names and the bizarre nature of the two cities that the title alludes to. Unravelling those mysteries is probably more rewarding than the main story itself but the book is certainly worth the effort! I still have I think 4 (maybe 5) of my new books to get through so on to the next one! Otherwise I look forward to a bit more sun and maybe even a chance to fire up the bbq. Have a good week folks!

J

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