People are troubled today. They are anxious, hurt and worried about what lies ahead. Unfortunately, however, there are few clear answers to their many common questions. Rather, the conflicting signals are causing more harm than good, especially with people realising that much of the proclamations by leaders across the political spectrum today could be laced with political agendas.
Given this context, let’s take a look at some of the burning questions and their economic and financial implications.
DOES THE VACCINE WORK?
Fully vaccinated people have been contracting COVID 2.0. So, does the vaccine work? Will it work, against variants? Here’s what we know. In Seychelles with a population of about 98,000, of which over 61 percent are fully vaccinated, there are now about 2,700 fresh cases. Of these, 33 percent are people who have been fully vaccinated. Will they pull through without any serious health damage? That remains the big question.
Meanwhile, the US Centers for Disease Control & Preventions (CDC) has said that wearing masks and social distancing for the fully vaccinated was not necessary for most instances, barring certain cited exceptions. This sudden change of stance has surprised many. While some call the move premature, others suggest it’s been a long-time coming given earlier evidence. The CDC’s argument is that cases and deaths have declined sharply in the US and recent studies, including one of the healthcare workers across 33 sites, suggest the vaccine has been very effective in controlling the spread of the virus and its impact.
Also read: Vaccine shortage will last for over 2 months, says National COVID-19 task force's Dr NK Arora
Is that the truth? Or do the powers want to give a big push to vaccination, which many Americans are opposed to? This, after free beers, burgers and fries seem to have failed in luring the populace to vaccination centres. We may learn more about it soon. Till then, we just need to assume vaccines work (even if you can still get Covid), in some way to curb the spread and effect. So we must get vaccinated.
WHERE'S THE VACCINE?
Covishield, Covaxin, Sputnik V… these are part of everyone’s vocabulary today. What’s worrying, though, is that India doesn’t have enough of them to go around. The number of vaccine doses administered has dropped to near 1.1 million a day. Even at 2 million a day, it would take us almost 2 years to deliver one dose to the entire population and about 6 months to cover about 30 percent. What this implies is that to get to the level of confidence in opening up like the US and UK, which have near 30 percent of their people fully vaccinated, could take India about a year. That’s not a happy state. However, there’s hope that the pace will pick up significantly in June, err July, no August. The shifting goal post on India’s vaccination drive, which was planned to be accelerated with the Tika Utsav in mid-April and with vaccinations for the 18 to 44-year-olds from May 1, has left many befuddled and fuming. The May kick-off turned out to be a damp squib, and the drive was barely paid lip service as states ran out of doses to go around. And many have now decided to preserve these for the 45+ to meet their second dose needs.
Population Fully Vaccinated (%)
Source: Our World in Data
When will more vaccines arrive? The latest on this came from Dr NK Arora, Chairman of Technical Advisory Group on COVID-19, to CNBC-TV18 when he suggested that a ramp-up in vaccinations was likely two months away. So, the wait has just got longer, and we still don’t know how much will be available when, though the government has put out some indicative data. The reliability of this data is now being called into question given the past track record on planning and the frequently shifting timelines. We can only pray for early arrival.
WHAT’S THE RIGHT VACCINE GAP?
Sands have been shifting on the vaccine gap too. The latest advisory is that Covishield vaccine recipients need to provide a 12 to 16 week gap before taking the second jab. This interval was 6 to 8 weeks earlier. This has those who have already taken the second jab wondering if they jumped the gun, and left those who were hoping to get fully vaccinated stumped. This especially since the body that has made this recommendation has also shared that studies had initially recommended a 44-week gap and that Canada has already recommended a 4-month gap. So, will this interval be expanded further? Will it be better to just take a Sputnik Light jab if approved, and be done with it? Such moves clearly have people at their wit’s end, and speculating that the shortage of doses has most likely spurred this latest interval expansion move. Efficacy? Who knows? There are people demanding that the trial data for vaccines be made public. Without that, and independent reviews, who is to know what’s what.
WHAT’S COVID’S WUHAN CONNECTION?
It is strange that the world’s most populous country reports less than 15 new Covid cases, despite being the place of origin of the virus. While official statements from certain sections, including from the WHO don’t lay the blame for COVID-19 at China’s door, there seems to be enough material out there to suggest that the virus didn’t just spring from bats to animals in Wuhan’s wet meat market and to humans. Rather, indications that the virus was manufactured in a virology laboratory in Wuhan, the possibility of which has interestingly not been ruled out by an expert body, seem far more plausible given the limited impact it has had on China’s people and its economy.
Here a piece by Nicholas Wade in The Bulletin is particularly enlightening There’s an equally compelling read on the true nature of the virus and whether social distancing helps at all, by Megan Molteni in The Wired. Both call into question what the world at large is being told, and why Covid may not be what we think it is. And the true answers to these will likely offer the way out of the current pandemic.
WHEN WILL THE 3RD WAVE STRIKE?
No one seems to know the answer to this one. But everyone believes we’ll have a third, and maybe a fourth and a fifth wave. What will it do? Will it be a new, more dangerous variant? The big fear is that the third could attack children more severely. That is truly troubling. And most haven’t even started to think what this could spell. That’s frightening. Children suffering, with no pre-vaccination for them, is going to be really tough. God forbid it comes to pass. It will kill confidence. It will spell the death of consumer appetite. It is just unthinkable.
IS THIS INFLATION FOR REAL?
If you are paying for it, it is. Commodity prices are up, freight rates are up, and these will work themselves into higher consumer prices, sooner or later. Will the inflation be transitory? To answer that, you must first answer: will Covid be transitory? If not, supply disruptions will continue, the stop-start-stop economies will blunder through phases of expanding outputs and shutdowns. None of this is going to be good news for business, economies and consumers. And such periodic disruptions will likely send demand-supply equations out of whack. So, inflation? Quite likely. Uncertainty on supplies and prices? Most certainly.
IS AN EARNINGS DOWNGRADE COMING?
Surely. Economists have already started trimming their GDP forecasts for India after COVID 2.0 stretched beyond their earlier expectations. A deferment of vaccinations will likely push back the opening of the economy even further. And, remember, people haven’t even factored in the third wave. What if COVID strikes again in March next year? All the 2023 fiscal year forecasts will need to be drastically recalibrated. And with that, share valuations will have to be marked sharply down.
Clearly, these are uncertain times, and much of how things play out on re-opening, on the inflation front, on consumer confidence and demand are imponderables. What is a certainty, is uncertainty. That’s not good news for the markets and investors.
(Edited by: By Jomy)
First Published: IST