The virus fights back

As vaccination roll-outs fail to gain momentum because of lack of state-local coordination and exhausted health care staff across the West, Asia is also reporting new flare-ups.  In Turkey, case declined below 10K  first time since November peaks of 30K per day, but the victory is fragile. Given that most of Europe is under some kind of lockdown or curfew, a full recovery from the epidemic in 1Q2021 is very unlikely.

 

The pandemic is taking its toll on global services, with JPMorgan Global Services Business Activity Index falling to five-month low of 51.8 in December, down from 52.2 in November. The index has now signalled expansion for six successive months. Incoming new business also increased, despite a further solid decrease in new export orders, which may suggest further slow-downs in coming months.  Much will depend on US, where President Biden is expected to accelerate the vaccination campaign. Yet, the epidemic in US is so severe, that he may have to urge Democrat governors and mayors to declare lockdowns, which would add to global economic costs.

 

 

It took just 39 new coronavirus cases for health authorities in China to put almost 11 million people into lockdown in the city of Shijiazhuang, reports NBC news.

 

Health officials took no chances on Wednesday, sealing off the capital of the industrial Hebei province and ordering a mass testing drive.

 

Travel restrictions were put in place in the remainder of the region, which encircles China’s capital Beijing and is home to some 76 million people.

 

By Saturday, Mayor Ma Yujun told a news conference that it had taken just three days to complete the first round of mass testing in Shijiazhuang, with 354 people found positive for the virus. A second round of testing is due to begin soon, he added.

 

Yan Xixin, a critical care director at the Second Hospital of Hebei Medical University, told the same news conference, “the risk of having more infections is still there.”

 

This hard-and-fast approach is being echoed elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region to fend off coronavirus flare-ups — including in Japan, Thailand and Australia — making measures to curb the virus spread in Europe and the United States appear almost sluggish.

 

 

Authorities put Hebei — known for textile, steel and pharmaceutical industries — into a “wartime mode” on Tuesday. This meant that government-coordinated action could begin, investigation teams to trace contacts could be set up and medical supplies distributed.

 

For residents of the provincial capital, Shijiazhuang, travel out of the city was barred and gatherings banned. Schools were closed down, while flights and trains were cancelled and the main bus terminal shut.

 

Late Friday, citizens were urged to stay home for at least seven days.

 

Nearby, officials in the city of Nangong announced on the social platform WeChat that they would offer rewards of 500 Yuan ($77) for reports of anyone refusing a Covid-19 test.

 

“People should fully understand the necessity of this approach,” Shi Mo, a graduate student in Shijiazhuang, told NBC News.

 

 

The Chinese government has been criticized for its lack of openness and minimizing the severity of the outbreak since its outset. The country has also been accused of mishandling the initial phase of the outbreak and silencing whistleblowers.

 

A vaccination program is underway in Hebei, however, and the National Health Commission has said vaccines would be provided free of charge once they become available to the general public.

 

 

Similar tough approaches are being carried out in other countries.

 

In the 2 million-strong Australian city of Brisbane, the city entered a three-day lockdown Friday night after a single case of the more contagious coronavirus variant that emerged in Britain was identified.

 

“We are going to go hard and we are going to go early, to do everything we can to stop the spread of this virus,” Queensland state Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said at a press conference Friday.

 

Japan also declared a monthlong, limited state of emergency in the capital, Tokyo, and three neighboring prefectures on Thursday, to stem the virus spread.

 

Residents have been asked to stay home after 8 p.m. as Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga conceded the measures may need to be extended to other parts of the country.

 

The tough curbs come despite Japan being less seriously hit by the pandemic than many other countries, recording around 3,900 deaths, according to health ministry data.

 

Thailand also declared 28 provinces, including Bangkok, as high-risk zones and asked people to work from home and avoid gathering, as authorities confirmed a daily record of 745 new infections on Monday.

 

The country has reported just 67 deaths overall, according to its Department of Disease Control, among the lowest in Asia.

Iran’s health ministry reported 5,924 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, raising the total nationwide infections to 1,280,438.

 

The pandemic has so far claimed 56,100 lives in Iran, up by 82 in the past 24 hours, said Sima Sadat Lari, spokeswoman for Iranian Ministry of Health and Medical Education, during her daily briefing.

 

Russia recorded 23,309 more Covid-19 cases over the past 24 hours, slightly down from 23,652 a day earlier, the country’s Covid-19 response center said.

 

The national tally of Covid-19 cases has increased to 3,379,103, including 61,381 deaths and 2,754,809 recoveries, the center said on Saturday, Xinhua news agency reported.

 

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In Turkey, restrictions that were imposed around seven weeks ago have resulted in a decrease in the spread of the virus, but the situation is still fragile. Thus, the government will likely hold the restrictions in place for more weeks to come to avoid a new surge.

 

Although the continued closure of cafés, restaurants, and bars effectively curbed the spread of the virus, experts recall public transportation continues to bear risk on public health. As working life and businesses continue to run, no effective solution could be found to reduce the intensity of public transportation means, particularly in Istanbul.

 

Under current conditions, there is no sign that the government will lift the restrictions in the coming weeks, although the food and entertainment sectors are pressing to get re-opened under certain conditions.

 

The government will re-assess the restrictions once the daily numbers will convincingly show that the risks on public health are at a minimum level. Another important aspect to this end is how the vaccination process will develop and whether there will be enough doses for 83 million nationals and five million refugees. Turkey’s expectation is to get its own vaccine ready by April and therefore smoothly handle the pandemic.

 

In the meantime, a return to schools will be evaluated in the first days of February as the second semester will start on Feb. 15, depending on the government’s performance in keeping the coronavirus under control.

 

Published By: Atilla Yeşilada

GlobalSource Partners’ Turkey Country Analyst Atilla Yesilada is the country’s leading political analyst and commentator. He is known throughout the finance and political science world for his thorough and outspoken coverage of Turkey’s political and financial developments. In addition to his extensive writing schedule, he is often called upon to provide his political expertise on major radio and television channels. Based in Istanbul, Atilla is co-founder of the information platform Istanbul Analytics and is one of GlobalSource’s local partners in Turkey. In addition to his consulting work and speaking engagements throughout the US, Europe and the Middle East, he writes regular columns for Turkey’s leading financial websites VATAN and www.paraanaliz.com and has contributed to the financial daily Referans and the liberal daily Radikal.