Summer is just around the corner. It will be a time to remain vigilant against our unwelcome COVID-19 guest. But we will also know that the pandemic finally is drawing to a close, and that soon we will be in each other’s arms again.

By David Olive Star Business Columnist* - March, 2021 

 
We could be in for a wonderful summer.
 
One of the best ever, in fact.
 
Summer is just around the corner. It will be a time to remain vigilant against our unwelcome COVID-19 guest. But we will also know that the pandemic finally is drawing to a close, and that soon we will be in each other’s arms again.
 
This summer promises to be even better. We will have vaccines, unlike last year, and the country will be in an economic boom.
 
“By the time we get to summer,” Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s chief health officer, said late last month, “we’re going to be able to do all those things that we have been missing for the last year.”
 
The ever-cautious Dr. Henry conditioned that outlook on continued adherence to safety measures in a summer economy that can be more extensively reopened than last year’s.
 
The second-wave COVID-19 restrictions have brought a sharp reduction in hospitalizations and fatalities, the chief measures of the pandemic’s severity.
 
True, the rate of infections has stopped dropping in many parts of the country, as Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief medical officer, warned this week. That’s largely due to ill-advised, premature economic reopenings.
 
But that follows an astonishing decline in infections. In the short space of the past few weeks, the number of new COVID-19 cases per day has plummeted by about two-thirds, to the current range of 2,500 nationwide.
 
In that same period, the number of daily Canadian deaths attributed to COVID-19 has also dropped by about two-thirds, to a current range of 60.
 
By summer, the vaccine rollout will have greatly accelerated. By Canada Day, the country is expected to have enough vaccine supply to immunize more than 16 million people.
 
That is a slower pace than the U.S. rollout. But the urgency in America is greater. At current rates, more Americans are dying of COVID-19 every 12 days than the total number of Canadian fatalities since the pandemic began.
 
At this time last year, many health experts warned that even a vaccine of middling effectiveness was many years away.
 
Instead, we already have four safe and highly effective vaccines.
 
The media have copiously reported on potential shortcomings of the vaccines, a useful reminder to keep adhering to personal safety measures.
 
But on its own, that is, as they say in the public-health realm, poor messaging.
 
The vaccines are remarkably good. As the New York Times observed this week, they “appear to effectively eliminate the risk of dying from COVID-19, and nearly eliminate the risk of hospitalization, including, it seems, for the most fearsome variants.”
 
Future generations of the vaccines, under development now, will prove even more effective against the variants.
 
But the thing to do now is to accept whatever vaccine is available to you, since they all provide substantial protection against COVID-19 and its variants.
 
And for best protection against the variants, you might want to upgrade your mask. Options include N95, KN95, KF94 and surgical masks adjusted to fit your face. And a simple cloth mask is much more effective if fitted over a surgical one.
 
This column has addressed health conditions ahead of economic forecasts, since the former determine the latter.
 
And on the economic front, the news is also encouraging. Canada’s economic recovery will be faster and stronger than earlier predicted.
 
Statistics Canada startled experts this week with a report of much better-than-expected economic growth in January. GDP jumped that month by 0.5 per cent, five times the previous month’s rate.
 
“[That] means we will get through the second wave of COVID without seeing a negative month of GDP, which is frankly stunning,” Andrew Kelvin, chief Canada strategist at TD Securities, told Bloomberg on Tuesday.
 
Momentum from impressive GDP growth in last year’s fourth quarter, despite an absence of vaccines and with economic restrictions still in place, has carried into the new year. GDP growth in that quarter was a torrid 2.3 per cent, or 9.6 per cent on an annualized basis.
 
The January numbers, which reinforce other signs of an economic rebound, prompted Bank of Montreal economist Douglas Porter this week to boost the bank’s already bullish 2021 GDP forecast by an extra point, to 6.0 per cent for the year.
 
By any definition, that’s a boom.
 
Such buoyant forecasts aren’t wishful thinking.
 
The U.S. is poised to unleash $1.9 trillion (U.S.) in economic stimulus, more than twice the sum it spent in successfully lifting itself out of the Great Recession about a decade ago.
 
Much of that money is committed to rebuilding America’s infrastructure, retrofitting the U.S. economy for a zero-carbon future.
 
That will spur a big increase in Canadian resource exports, which already are on the upswing. Prices for Canadian base metals, steel, forest products and oil have been on the rise for several months, even ahead of a full reopening of the global economy.
 
Meanwhile, Canadian consumer confidence is at a three-year high. That points to a resurgence of consumer spending to satisfy pent-up demand from the pandemic.
 
Canadians have used federal income supports to pay down household debt, which was at record-high levels before the pandemic, and to build up savings, also in record amounts.
 
The market in housing, perhaps the quintessential measure of consumer sentiment, given that a home is most people’s biggest asset, continues its pandemic boom.
 
It was reported this week that the average Toronto house price has punched through the $1-million level, joining Vancouver in that distinction. Average house prices in the suburban 905 region rose almost 28 per cent in February, to $1.3 million.
 
Throughout the pandemic, there has been talk of permanent damage inflicted by COVID-19.
 
But, in the main, those concerns are overstated.
 
In a report this week, Eric Lascelles, chief economist at RBC Global Asset Management Inc., provides a detailed reminder of how “Prior shocks induced fewer lasting changes than expected.”
 
To pick one example, the epic Spanish Flu a century ago aroused concerns similar to those around COVID-19. Economic damage was expected to be long lasting, along with a permanent aversion to social activities and to cities.
 
You know what actually happened. There were later catastrophes, of course, most notably the Great Depression and the Second World War.
 
But, in the main, the century since the Spanish Flu has been defined by a series of economic booms, rising prosperity, urbanization, and life-improving technological breakthroughs in every field, including civil aviation, the polio vaccines, personal computing and the internet.
 
Summer is just around the corner. It will be a time to remain vigilant against our unwelcome COVID-19 guest. But we will also know that the pandemic finally is drawing to a close, and that soon we will be in each other’s arms again.
 
Keep well. Be safe.

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About the Author

*David Olive is a Toronto-based business columnist for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @TheGrtRecession.

Photo Credit

Photo by Victor He on Unsplash

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