With Georgia, Tennessee and now Texas – the biggest and most economically vital state so far – starting to lift coronavirus restrictions, initial data suggest that the American consumer is throwing caution to the wind and venturing back out to retail ‘hotspots’ and other locations.
Whether we’ll see the same in Europe isn’t yet clear, but last night, France, Spain and Portugal released plans for reopening their economies, joining Italian PM Giuseppe Conte, who shared some broad strokes from Italy’s plan on Sunday night. On Wednesday, Poland joined the growing number of European states – including the Czech Republic, Germany (sort of), Denmark, Austria and others.
As the leaders of Europe’s largest economies have warned, the reopenings will happen gradually, and any signs of the virus’s reemergence will be met with an immediate rollback. The sum total of all the caveats and complications shared by Italy’s Conte and French PM Édouard Philippe, who laid out France’s plan in detail during a marathon address last night, is that the “European era of national confinement will not end for months,” as WSJ reports.
Ongoing evaluations of the epidemic, officials say, will determine whether stricter rules need to be reimposed.
Overall, the rules mean an era of European confinement will not end once national lockdowns begin to officially lift in May. Instead, governments are digging in for months to come, crafting changes that are likely to place longer-term strains on social and democratic norms.
Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez has been, in many ways, even more cautious than his colleagues. Spain’s lockdown won’t truly begin until May 12, meaning many Spaniards still have at least 2 weeks of WFH to go.
On Wednesday, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Poland will reopen hotels and shopping malls on May 4 while it will consider reopening pre-schools on May 6. Poland started relaxing some restrictions in April, claiming they were too costly for the economy. It has also reopened parks and eased rules on the number of customers allowed in shops. As of Wednesday, the EU member with a population of nearly 40 million had only 12,415 cases and 606 deaths (Spain’s population is only ~8 million larger than Poland’s), according to the New York Times.
As President Trump reportedly urged governors to at least consider reopening some schools before the end of the year, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who recently told employees at Tesla’s Fremont factory to report back to work before California’s ‘stay at home’ order expires.
“Give people their freedom back!” Musk tweeted while citing a WSJ analysis suggesting that the lockdowns haven’t saved that many lives.
The CDC recently revised the government’s ‘official’ projections to reflect a slightly larger number of anticipated deaths around the country after Georgia and Texas kicked off the reopening.
California must be giving Elon Musk trouble about reopening Tesla’s Fremont plant, because Musk in a series of tweets demanded the US and all states end the lockdowns now, becoming the first CEO of a major American company (“major” based solely on Tesla’s market cap) to criticize them in such strident terms.
FREE AMERICA NOW
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 29, 2020
Bravo Texas! https://t.co/cVkDewRqGv
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 29, 2020
Give people their freedom back! https://t.co/iG8OYGaVZ0
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 29, 2020
Now, will Musk be joining his former partner Peter Thiel in LA after committing the heresy of disagreeing with the Silicon Valley groupthink? We certainly have cause to wonder…
Silicon Valley has become Sanctimonious Valley
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 27, 2020
Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the spectrum, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted a menacing message to NYC’s ultra-orthodox Jewish Community, warning that he has instructed the NYPD to start issuing summonses and making arrests when people are found in large groups not obeying social distancing requirements.
de Blasio tweeted that the funeral in Williamsburg was “unacceptable.”
My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple: the time for warnings has passed. I have instructed the NYPD to proceed immediately to summons or even arrest those who gather in large groups. This is about stopping this disease and saving lives. Period.
— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) April 29, 2020
For the US, it’s probably too early to read too much into leading indicators, though they’re certainly something to consider. On Wednesday, economists straining their eyes for ‘green shoots’ in Europe were probably disappointed to learn that European business and consumer confidence plummeted in April by a record margin, falling to its lowest level since the financial crisis more than a decade ago.
Data released by the European Commission revealed a popular economic indicator had fallen by 28.8 points to 65.8 for the EU-wide reading on consumer confidence. And that drop would have probably been even larger if data from Italy hadn’t been excluded (the survey reportedly couldn’t even be carried out in Italy).
As the FT pointed out, sentiment on the continent has never deteriorated this quickly before.
Among the biggest eurozone economies, the Netherlands saw the biggest drop with 32.6 points, while Spain saw a 26-point drop and Germany was down 19.9 points, while France declined 16.3 points.
And that’s not all: Industrial activity in the UK is running at ~50% activity. UK industrial production is running just above half of its capacity while sentiment in the services sector has dropped to an all-time low in April as businesses shut down in an attempt to limit the spread of coronavirus.
As we reminded readers last night, there’s no guarantee that a COVID-19 vaccine will be ready for mass distribution within the 2 year timeline provided by public health officials. Despite the musings of some British scientists at Oxford claiming they might have a vaccine ready by the fall (initially, it would be distributed only to front-line health-care workers), questions remain about whether long-term immunity to COVID-19 is even possible.
In light of this, the UK has set up a new clinical trial initiative to fast-track research on six potential treatments. Poland cautiously sets dates in May for shopping centres, museums, hotels and schools to re-open. Beijing loosens border controls for most domestic travellers. James Shotter in Warsaw and Yuan Yang in Beijing report.
In what was perhaps the biggest news story overnight, Beijing has ended its mandatory quarantine period of 14 days for anybody – Chinese and foreigners – traveling into the city from low-risk areas. That means most Chinese (except residents of Wuhan) will soon be allowed to travel to the capital.
Beijing’s municipal deputy secretary Chen Bei announced the news in China’s state press on Wednesday, the same day the CPC announced it would hold its annual “Two Sessions” parliamentary meetings starting May 21. Of course, Beijing has plenty of other measures in place to try and prevent a resurgence. Most notably: China’s “Health Kit” app, which every citizen must have installed on his/her phone before entering a public space.
Earlier this week, several of China’s largest cities, including Beijing, allowed some older students to return to school.
Elsewhere, as the number of new cases balloons in Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned that holding the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 will be “impossible” if the pandemic hasn’t been contained by next summer, the latest sign of exasperation as Japan discovers its outbreak is much larger than it had expected.
Before we go, we’d like to end with a dollop of good news: UK PM Boris Johnson and his fiance Carrie Symonds have given birth to a healthy baby boy in a London hospital, according to the BBC.