This is an unprecedented time. Up until a few weeks ago, living through a pandemic was something most of us only read about.
Many of us in Singapore first learned about the coronavirus in January. At that time, Hubei and Wuhan went into a lockdown; most of China also went into isolation. Singapore was quick to contain the spread at first through contact tracing and quarantining.
I remember speaking to a few friends from the US and Europe—almost all felt it was a “Chinese” virus or just a bout of strong flu, and that government intervention would cause more harm than the virus itself. In fact, the western media was busy mourning the passing of Kobe Bryant more than the deaths of a few thousand Chinese.
On the financial market front, while Asian markets grappled with the consequences of the virus, US markets continued to rise on the back of strong 4Q earnings in 2019.
Fast forward to 2 months: how the world has changed.
In a matter of weeks, the epicentre has switched from Wuhan to Italy to Spain and now the US. Most countries have closed their borders and imposed lockdowns or distancing measures to stop COVID-19 from spreading. On the other hand, China, who has practiced almost 2 months of lockdown, has already flattened the curve and people are starting to restart their lives.
I believe it is crucial we take a leaf from China’s playbook. The country and its people have remained united and courageous in their battle against the virus. A strong government can only do so much; a co-operative nation would ensure its community prevails over the pandemic.
The sooner everyone listens and stays home, the sooner we are able to stem the spread and the faster we can all resume our normal lives. And the key word here is everyone. Some of us, unable to stand boredom and work from home, will be tested through this experiment. So are those who lack the knowledge and are defiant to science. This to me is nature’s test to us – to experiment on the unity and resilience of our kind.
The time for solidarity is now.
On the economic and financial front, governments around the world are intervening in their own ways to deal with the fallout. While Singapore adopted strong fiscal policies of close to S$60B in 3 budgets, the US first cut interest rates to zero and further adopted unlimited quantitative easing measures.
While lowering interest rates in hopes of stimulating the economy with lower borrowing costs, it looks more like a relief than stimulus now. Many businesses have literally ground to a halt. Whether it is fiscal or monetary policy, the objective is the universal – to protect jobs, keep businesses afloat and keep the economic engine running.
Time is running out. There is only so much intervention can do to help. If the virus is not contained from spreading soon, the economic consequences will be disastrous. The part that everyone can play is essentially our social responsibility; stay isolated at home so this viral circuit can be broken as fast as possible.
Nonetheless, as with past pandemics, even as the world loses a part of its population, the rest must move on, stronger and better. The same with economic recessions and depressions. Whether it’s a short recession or a long depression depends on how united we act as selfless individuals, how resilient we are to the common enemy and how much solidarity we display as a human race. Some of us will not make it. I hope you, the reader, do.