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TOTAL QUARANTINE IS NO LONGER LOOKED AT AS A SOLUTIONFaced with a second wave of the pandemic

Dan Nicolaie (Translated by Cosmin Ghidoveanu)
English Section /

Faced with a second wave of the pandemic

With few exceptions, the world's government have responded to the pandemic with a total quarantine. Medical experts claim that this has saved lives, economists claim that the measure has heavily affected the world's economy. Since the first wave of the new coronavirus epidemic has gone and a second could be coming, obviously, the talks concerning the closing of borders and of people in their homes have begun anew. Citizens are "turning up their noses" at such a prospect, businesspeople say that this will ruin them, politicians are no longer that enthusiastic about this measure.

The first in the latter category is US president Donald Trump, who said that, if a second wave of the epidemic hits the US again, he won't try to shut down the country again: "We will put out the epicenters, we won't shut down the country, we will put out the fire. Whether it's sparks or flames, we will put them out".

This statement comes as all of the 50 American states have eased the restrictions somewhat. Counties led by Republicans have tried to reopen the economy more rapidly, while the states ruled by Democrats have taken a more strict approach. Officials in the area of public healthcare have warned that an easing that is too quick, could cause a second wave of infections in the autumn and winter. They are worried that there won't be political or public will to reintroduce the restrictive measures if things require it. In spite of the statements by president Trump, the restrictive measures applied to the economic activities, which have affected most of the country, have been enacted by the local and state authorities, which would be responsible about the application of new orders in the event of a second wave of the COVID-19 epidemic. Also, Donald Trump has refused to wear the mask in public during the visit at a car factory in Michigan, in spite the call from the surgeon general, who has asked the president to wear the mask according to the public healthcare order.

Dragoş Anastasiu: "Everyone has understood that a total lockdown can't be the best solution"

The talks on the matter have begun in Romania as well. Not at the level of the authorities, who are still caught up in their states of alert, emergency, ad nauseam...The president of the Romanian-German chamber of Commerce and Industry (AHK), Dragoş Anastasiu, said that Romania will not be able to afford full quarantine if a new wave of coronavirus cases were to occur: "Everybody has understood that a total lockdown cannot be the best solution. I think people have understood what personal and professional responsibility mean and I think that if a second wave comes and we don't have a vaccine until then, which is very likely, I think that the measures will be of a different nature then the ones enacted two months ago. I don't think Romania's economy can afford something like that. We understand what medical risk, what epidemiological risk is, we do not underestimate it, we do not believe in conspiracy theories, but I think that there will have to be a balance between the mandatory measures to stop the slowdown of a disease, regardless which it is, and the effects which these measures produce. I don't think that we can afford a second wave of measures like this, from an economic perspective. (...)

On an economic level, we have all understood what a lockdown means and what the effects are and that there is a huge bill that someone needs to bear. Through home isolation we can avoid any kind of disease, we can avoid by banning tobacco, many cardiovascular and lung diseases, so there are measures whereby we can avoid any kind of disease in this world, the question is at what cost". Anastasiu is not a lone voice. There are worries over an economic collapse, even without a total quarantine concerning a second wave.

The leadership of the ECDC is speaking of a second wave 

Europe needs to get ready for a second wave of COVID-19, center for European Center for Disease Control Andrea Ammon, warned. The problem is not in knowing whether there is going to be a new wave of contaminations, but "when it is going to happen and how big it will be", said Andrea Ammon, in an interview to British newspaper The Guardian. "The virus is all around us, and it is circulating more than in January and February", she added, and pointed out that the numbers concerning the immunity of the population are not encouraging at all: "85% to 90%" of people remain exposed to COVID-19. But as many European countries have started raising the isolation restrictions, Andrea predicts, however, that a second wave will not necessarily be disastrous, if people continue to follow the social distancing rules. Fed up with the restrictions, especially now "when we can see that the number of infections has droppped, people think it's over. But that is not the case", Ammon says.

"The Sweden case"

There has been a lot of talk in Europe about how Sweden has handled the pandemic. There has been criticism, but also praise, for the fact the Swedish government did not rush to lock people up. Choosing to go the opposite way instead of resorting to the often very strict measures of isolation passed across Europe, Sweden, which never decreed a state of emergency, has kept open its bars, coffee shops and restaurants, while asking its citizens to follow their social distancing recommendations and to "take the responsibility". That approach has generated a wave of criticisms both at home and abroad, as the total number of deaths was higher than in the neighboring Nordic countries, which have all imposed a number of draconian measures. The state epidemiologist in Sweden has said that more than one in five residents in Stockholm, could have already developed antibodies against SARS-CoV-2. Contacted in order to comment on the results of a study conducted by the Swedish Public Healthcare Agency, state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell a said that in his opinion, by the first half of last week, "slightly over 20%" of the residents of Stockholm had probably contracted COVID-19.

The study, which is ongoing, has shown that 7.3% of a sample of randomly selected people from the Swedish capital - the region which had the biggest number of cases in the country - have developed antibodies when tested in the last week of April. In other parts of the country, the number of people that have developed antibodies has been a lot lower, with just 4.2% in the far south and 3.7% in the region around Goteborg, in South-Western Sweden. The results have shown that the propagation of the new coronavirus has been more consistent among people aged 20 - 64 than among individuals aged over 65. The percentages of those that have developed antibodies in these two categories are 6.7%, and 2.7% respectively. Even though the connection between developing antibodies and a certain immunity to the new coronavirus has not yet been established, the development of antibodies should, in theory, contribute, to reducing the propagation of the virus.

Sweden could be a model of new normalcy for countries all over the world which are starting to gradually lift the restrictions, said Michael Ryan, a director with the WHO, of the emergency program: "I think that if we want to get to a new normal, Sweden represents a model, if we do want to return to a society where we no longer have isolation. I think that there is the perception that Sweden has not imposed control measures and that it has allowed the disease to spread. It is not true at all. Sweden has implemented a very strong public policy concerning social distancing, when it comes to the care and protection of people in care institutions and many other things. What it has done differently is that it has relied a lot on its relationship with its citizens and on their ability and willingness to self implement social distancing and self-regulation, if you want to use that word. In that regard, they have implemented a public policy through a partnership with the population. They have tested, they have significantly increased the capacity of intensive care rooms. The healthcare system has constantly remained within the operating parameters to answer the number of cases which they had".

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CRISTIAN PÂRVAN:

"Some problems of the first wave remained untreated"

We are facing problems that have not been dealt with properly even during the first pandemic wave, says Cristian Pârvan, secretary general of the Romanian Businesspeople Association (AOAR). He said that during the current coronavirus wave, we are seeing a fact that is a cause for concern that very few people talk about: "Out of the total number of applications for furlough, about 310000 are in the productive sector, and on top of that there are 50000 suspended contracts, in the same sector. In other words, 360000 manufacturing jobs no longer exist, out of the 1.2 million that exist in the productive sector. That is one of the sectors that heavily contributes to the GDP, about 23-25%, and the fact that the first wave has led to such losses of jobs is extremely worrisome. In comparison, in the HoReCa segment, which has been deadlocked through a government decision, the number of people that have been laid off is 114000. That should be a cause for concern, but I see no trace of that in the Government.

The government has asked for masks and there are companies that have started making protective masks, I've heard nothing about them calling in officials of the mask producers and placing a firm order for a certain volume which would be acquired by the government, in order to ensure the daily consumption and we can start making a stock for the second wave".

We do not know what will happen to those who started making masks, according to Cristian Pârvan, who states: We could find ourselves in the situation where we produce masks and some "clever guy" imports them. Not even this crisis is making us understand that things should be done quickly and differently than before.

To provide similar examples concerning other products, in order to keep the industry afloat the government should place orders for mobile irrigation installations. Also, the Tomato program is starting. The first tomato crops may have been sold, but in May-June, instead of announcing that we have three major areas which have generated the most applications for subsidies for that program and ordering installations for processing the surplus tomatoes, we aren't doing anything.

The PM has announced that we can draw up to 5 billion from the EU. We can draw them if we have programs that we can put on the desk and finance them with 10%. But what are those programs? They aren't - the problem is that we do not have projects, we have no beneficiaries, people to manage them, because there is plenty of money".

In this context, before the second wave comes we have problems that have not been dealt with appropriately during the first wave, the representative of the AOAR says: "We could have used this first wave, because we have never had the problems of other countries. We should use this opportunity to try and force domestic production, which has responded positively to the government's calls - when it said it wanted masks, they started making masks, when it asked for biocides it started making biocides. So if the state were to place some orders in some very clear areas - subway cars, locomotives, tractors etc. -, things would be different".

Unfortunately, we do not have concrete and brave public policies for this, to allow us to use this difficult period to help create domestic supply that would somewhat cover domestic demand.

(Emilia Olescu)

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IONUŢ DUMITRU:

"In the event of a second wave, the economic scenario will be very nasty"

Confidence of the business sector has dropped to an even lower level than in the previous financial crisis

If there is a new wave of contagion and new measures of social distancing and lockdown, then we will probably be talking about a very nasty scenario, in economic terms, says economist Ionuţ Dumitru. He says that the first pandemic wave has created major problems on an economic level, as we have had a long period of economic shutdown, and many sectors have seen a sizable contraction, after being effectively closed down.

"If we look at the month of March, for which we now have the statistical data, when there were only two weeks of shutdown, we have seen drops across the board in every economic sector. In the industry for instance, we have had a drop of over 12% over the previous month, and in the processing industry it was 18% over the previous month. Perhaps the data in April-May will look very bad, as we've had a heavy contraction of economic activity. Now, the economy is gradually restarting its engines, but not in all sectors. Obviously there are areas that will be affected for a longer period of time".

The economist also told us that the feeling of fear persists at the consumer level and that sectors such as transport, tourism, HoReCa will be affected for a long time: "Whether or not there will be a second wave we do not know for now, but for sure, if a a second wave of contagion and new measures of social distancing happen and the economy gets shut down again, we will probably be discussing a very nasty scenario from an economic perspective. Mood indicators already show that, for example, in April, confidence among businesspeople fell even lower than during the previous financial crisis. Confidence in the services segment, which was severely affected by the crisis, is extremely low. As such, it is to be expected that we will see very weak figures in terms of the dynamic of the economy in the second quarter. We expect a decrease of 15-20% compared to the previous quarter at the overall economic level, but there are sectors with decreases of 70-80% or more. If we have another wave like that, things will get very complicated both for the business sector and for the budget".

Public revenues fell very sharply in March, by about 32% compared to February, and the budget will have a hard time overcoming this crisis, warns Ionuţ Dumitru, who also points out that the country subsequently had additional expenses - technical unemployment, medical equipment purchases, etc. - and in this context, the budget situation will seriously deteriorate. Also, the level of economic activity in April was quite low.

"In our baseline scenario, we expect there will not be a second wave and the economy to recover starting in the third quarter, but for the economic activity volume of 2019 to be recovered only in 2022, he says, and in his opinion, after the very sudden and dramatic fall of this period, the recovery will be gradual and some sectors will remain affected for years to come. (EO)

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