Trading Places

by Amr Ismail

I live in the Epicenter of the Corona Pandemic north of Milano in the region of Lombardia in Italy where one of the best medical systems in the world has just been dwarfed and overrun by a powerful tidal wave of Corona infections and deaths. People can’t afford to dismiss health risks and fall prey to economic risks, and they can’t afford to dismiss economic risks and limp around consumed by health risks and lonely death. Businesses and sectors in the economy are crippled by a rare twin supply and demand shock, financial markets are on a roller-coaster with loose screws, and everyone is confined to their home glued to their media powerlessly seeking reprieve. And that is now the situation globally.

The race is on for 157 world governments to act on incalculable risks. Governments that are paying heed to citizens and strained businesses will overcome the Pandemic leaving scratches and bruises, while governments that fall short will have their house obliterated beyond recognition. In my experience, and so far, Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean and Hong Kong measures to eradicate the Pandemic represent the best models to follow at a national level, given that health care is primarily a domain of national policy. The Epicenter moved from Asia to Europe and currently setting eyes on the US as the next destination. And what was hoped to be a collaborative work on Vaccine development turned into an ugly scuffle involving Bio-Pharma companies and governments.

My first impulse that millions may share with me is who is the would-be-leader in this situation? And what’s next?

The World authority to follow is the World Health Organization (W.H.O) and nobody else, and they are prepped to deal with such Pandemic at a global level. And the best models to follow are China, Korea and Hong Kong for their management, expertise, measures, compliance, and especially endurance. Most countries in Asia have followed best practice and are stabilizing the situation; many countries in Africa and the Middle East have had measures in place early enough to avoid total shut down to their local economy and a prolonged health crisis. Europe has been mulling a move so long that it is now the epicenter and is grappling with an out of control pandemic and a shut down of many sectors in the economy. The US, the next epicenter of the pandemic, is expected to experience total shut down in many sectors of the economy and an exasperating number of infections.

Judging by the timing, resources, management and measures that each country took to combat the virus; by analyzing variances across regions of the world; by benchmarking China’s leadership; by understanding what balance was struck between economic interests and human life; by not forgetting where we were before Corona came to town; by thoroughly filtering through political interests and financial markets decoupling; and by the mathematical modelling of the heart, we’re in for a long marathon; and many casualties will continue to pile up along the way.

What kind of casualties, you ask? Human life first, and then It will depend on where you stand and what you believe in! Both macro-size casualties and micro-size casualties ripple through societies transforming economies, shuffling social order, changing ideas and beliefs, exposing malice, and re-writing history. There is no question that China’s record speed containment and eradication of local infections in its epicenter will not be matched by any other emerging epicenter for the absence of a number of reasons:

–       A swift speed from identification to full containment,

–       Availability of all resources needed to operate every step of the way,

–       An unconditional sense of community and personal responsibility,

–       Autocratic trickle-down efficiency embedded in both public and private institutions,

–       State of the art technology in healthcare, tracking and monitoring,

–       The sheer number of qualified human resources

No one country has the capacity and readiness china has, and so it is likely to take Europe, for example, as a place where full containment for some countries will take a minimum of 6-8 months, or the US where it can linger longer due to their late start, lack of seriousness and lack of resources. From a health standpoint, the pandemic will be contained at a considerable human loss, yet from an economic standpoint, economies plagued by high government debt, high corporate debt, business buybacks, gone through austerity programs, or a contraction in Q4/2019 will have severe downturns. What about governments’ stimulus packages for those economies? They will feel like a drop in the ocean as we move along, and soon there will be a need for other packages. They simply won’t work; unless a working vaccine is developed in the next three months, I must contend that this is the likely scenario. And that makes the development of a vaccine the top priority for each government today.

Evidence based analysis indicates that going forward we have a three-phase discussion:

The first, and current phase. The discussion is about the containment and eradication of a deadly health Pandemic, the shutting down of economic activities, mass therapy, mounting human loss, and steep or free-fall financial losses at individual and institutional levels. The spar between the US and China is complicating efforts, however the number one problem for many countries is the collapsing health system and the inability to save lives.

The second phase. The discussion is about how each country is succeeding or not succeeding in dealing with the eradication of the virus and with the economic impact, the relevance or irrelevance of many institutions governing a globalized world, and the change that people are experiencing in their lives and in the concepts they live by.

The third phase. The discussion is about rebuilding of societal models, rehabilitation, new international relations, and moving beyond the Pandemic to focus on personal health and security and learning how to work with radically different economic conditions.

I still don’t know when exactly I will have the chance to move freely again, but there is one thing for sure, when it’s all over and people around the world step out of their shelter-in-place, it is going to be a different world.

So, besides the topic of conversation that is changing by the hour, what else is happening around?


(in and out of the trench deep few fathoms)