Much of the world recorded sharp contractions in GDP during the second quarter as countries restricted travel, issued mandatory stay at home orders and took other steps to try to control the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many countries have been easing restrictions in the last several months that were imposed typically in March. The hoped for revival of the global economy is being slowed by the continued high incidence of new COVID-19 cases, the resurgence of cases (albeit so far at low levels) following reopening actions in many of the countries who had gotten control of the virus. In a number of countries, schools are reopening presenting additional challenges for governments in trying to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus. News reports continue to be promising that one or more vaccines may be approved by the end of 2020 or early 2021, and the Russian Federation has gone into production of a vaccine which reportedly has not undergone a phase three trial.
One question of potential importance in mid-August is has the world gotten to the peak of the number of new cases during the last two weeks or will the number of new cases resume an upward trajectory in the coming weeks?
The world has seen a rapid growth of new cases during the March – July period. As recently as the two week period of May 11-May 24, the total new cases globally in the two week period was 1.28 million. The next two weeks (May 25-June 7) showed new cases of 1.57 million. June 8-June 21 recorded 1.93 million new cases; June 22 – July 5 added 2.46 million. July 6-July 19 added 3.02 million new cases. July 20-August 2 added 3.57 million new cases. The data for the last two weeks, August 3-16 added 3.62 million new cases. So the rate of growth is slowing. While the number of new cases in the most recent two weeks was nearly three times as many as recorded in mid-May, in the last two weeks, the growth was only 1.4%.
The United States for the first time since early June has seen the number of new cases fall from the prior two weeks, although the new cases in August 3-16 were still the second largest (740,721) after only India (838,959) and remain two and a half times as high as the May 25-June 7 period (297, 391) and were 81.5% higher than the original peak figure (409,102) in the latter part of April. Complicating the picture going forward for the United States are the early problems with school reopenings in certain states with most school districts working to open in person, remotely or in some combination in the coming weeks. The U.S. also has a very high incidence of affirmative tests in large parts of the country which is problematic particularly as testing (while large in number) continues to have problems in timeliness of results. Despite the need for even larger numbers of tests (that are timely), the number of tests has been declining in the U.S. despite the continued high level of new cases on a daily basis. In addition, the U.S. continues to suffer from mixed messages from government officials on actions needed to control the virus, and from a general fatigue by large parts of the public with the efforts to minimize the spread. This past week’s Sturgis motorcycle rally, where some 250,000 bikers from around the country were expected to attend, is an example of a huge social gathering where limited safety precautions have been seen at least at some events with unknown consequences for the spread of the virus not just in South Dakota (Sturgis is a small town in South Dakota) but across the United States.
Brazil was also slightly lower in the last two weeks (609,219) than the preceding two-week period (633,017) but remains a major source of new cases. South Africa showed a significant decline from 152,411 new cases in the July 20-August 2 period to 80,363 new cases in the last two weeks.
India has taken over the top spot for most new cases in the last two weeks, 838,959, more than 160,000 higher than the prior two weeks (673,108).
There have been upticks in the number of new cases in a number of developed countries reflecting presumably the effects of reopening the economy — Germany, France, Spain, Poland, Australia, New Zealand, Japan. The spike of cases (though still small compared to prior volumes) has led for some tightening up on the economic restrictions in particular cities or more broadly.
Continued growth of cases in the developing world
With the number of new cases in the United States declining, the trend to new cases being focused on the developing world continues. While India and Brazil had by far the largest number of new cases from developing countries, they were followed by Colombia (150,508), Peru (103,620), Argentina (91,135), Mexico (83,521), South Africa (80,363) and then dozens of other countries with smaller numbers of new cases.
The United States has the largest number of deaths of any country to date and in the last two weeks. If one looks at deaths/100,000 population, in the lats two weeks, the countries with the highest number of deaths per 100,000 population were the following: Peru (20.91), Colombia (8.90), Bolivia (8.16), Mexico (7.11), Panama (6.99), Brazil (6.48), South Africa (6.02), United States (4.57). All other countries (including all other developed countries) had lower rates of death per 100,000 population. For all countries, the death rate over the last two weeks was 1.06 deaths/100,000 population.
If looking at the entire period since the end of December 2019 through August 16, the average number of deaths for all countries per 100,000 of population has been 10.09 deaths. The seven countries (of 71 which account for 98% of total deaths) with the highest death rates/100,000 for the full period are: Belgium (86.73), Peru (80.20), United Kingdom (62.06), Spain (60.97), Italy (58.54), Sweden (which did not impose any restrictions)(56.53), the United States (51.50). With the exception of Peru and the United States, each of the other top countries overall has shown a drastic reduction since their peaks in April and as reflected in the experience in the last two weeks (all the European countries were less than 1 death per 100,000).
The world in the first seven and a half months of 2020 has not managed to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control. While many countries in Europe and some in Asia and the major countries in Oceania have greatly reduced the number of new cases over time, that has not been true for the Americas (other than Canada), for parts of Asia and for parts of Africa where the pandemic has turned its attention or where the pandemic has not been brought under control.
That said, the last two weeks suggest the global total of new cases in a two week period may have just peaked in August. There are major challenges ahead as reopening of economies gets tested against possible resurgence of cases, schools reopen in many countries, and greater indoor months approach. So there are potentially unwelcome scenarios that could see the huge number of new cases resume an upward trend. But with effort, the world may see the backside of the growth curve.
With the sharpest global economic contraction since World War II, with slumping global trade, with even the wealthier countries struggling to maintain the needed stimulus to reduce the severity of the economic contraction and with potentially hundreds of millions of people around the world losing their jobs, and food insecurity rising with increasing poverty, the world needs to see the pandemic receding and needs breakthroughs in both vaccines and therapeutics, although realistically, 2021 is more likely than the rest of 2020 for the medicaL breakthroughs.
The WTO webpage has a page dedicated to COVID-19, and the WTO Secretariat has generated a host of information notes reviewing the range of challenges that the pandemic is presenting to nations. The most recent looks at the increased costs of trade that flow from the travel and other restrictions. My post from yesterday, looked at the rising food insecurity for dozens of countries facing rising extreme poverty because of the economic contraction being experienced around the world. Stated differently, the trade, economic, health and humanitarian challenges flowing from the COVID-19 pandemic are extraordinary. Stemming the number of new cases is an important step to reduce the pressures on governments, companies and citizens.