Much attention has been given to the preservation of small businesses in th...
2020-07-24 1 ENGLISH REPORTS
As tempting as it is to skip a discussion of the COVID-19 pandemic and focus purely on the recovery, the issue cannot be ignored altogether. After all, a sustained recovery requires that the disease has been largely contained, whether through a natural fading of the virus, herd immunity, effective social distancing, or through the use of vaccines and potent methods of treatment. However, for now, Asia's economic prospects hinge on both the local and global evolution of the pandemic. As Janet Henry, HSBC's Global Chief Economist, and James Pomeroy note in a recent report, the continued flare-ups of infections in various places continue to pose challenges to re-openings and the normalisation of activity (Global Economics Quarterly: the not-so-grand re-opening, 30 June). From a global perspective, the number of daily infections continues to climb, currently at twice the rate compared to the main lockdown phase in late March and April (Chart 1). Even if major new lockdowns in the world’s largest economies may be avoided – and in few places does the political will seem to exist to once again freeze activity on a national level – the continued rise in infections still poses enormous risks to the recovery. In fact, a number of economic studies suggest that the main drag on economic activity stems not so much from mandated social distancing or lockdown measures, but from the fear of infection among consumers.
For example, an analysis conducted by economists at the University of Copenhagen shows that the fall in household spending in Denmark and Sweden was nearly identical, even though the former mandated strict social distancing and the latter did not. The lockdown, it appears, reduced spending among individuals with low health risks, but it supported spending by individuals with high health risks because of the smaller overall prevalence of the virus in society. In Sweden, the opposite was true: individuals with low health risks spent more in the absence of a stringent lockdown, but high health risk individuals cut back even more amid greater infection rates (Asger Lau Andersen, et al., Pandemic, Shutdown, and Consumer Spending, Lessons from Scandinavian Policy Responses to COVID-19, University of Copenhagen, 12 May 2020). Meanwhile, a recent study comparing economic activity in individual US states has reached a similar conclusion. Overall, consumer traffic fell by 60 per cent during the 'first wave', but the difference between states with and without social distancing requirements was only 7 percentage points. In other words: the fear of infection was a bigger reason for the slowdown in spending than official lockdowns (Austan Goolsbee and Chad Syverson, Fear, lockdown, and diversion: Comparing drivers of pandemic economic decline 2020, NBER Working Paper, No. 27432, June 2020).
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