Wednesday Briefs – 8 April 2020

Check here every Wednesday for brief commentary on current events, or follow populyst to receive notification.

This week: Europe; New York state; Lockdowns; The re-opening.

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This week it is all about the coronavirus.


Europe is clearly on the mend with a sharp fall in the last week in the number of new cases and new deaths. One useful measure is the number of remaining active cases. These are people who were confirmed to have the virus and who have neither recovered nor died. In the sample of European countries that we track, the number of actives is close to flattening or is already in decline (Germany, Switzerland).

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The UK and US (not shown in the chart) show a similar profile but with a one week to ten day lag. It is probable that the number of actives in these two countries will be declining within ten days, barring the unexpected or the emergence of new hot spots.

New York State

New York appears to be improving as well. The number of actives is still growing near 10% every day but the number of confirmed cases is now growing at 7%. We expect the number of actives to peak within two weeks (in other words, for its growth to fade to zero as in the chart above) and to then start declining.

New York State accounts for 35% and New York City for 19% of total US confirmed cases. The percentage of people testing positive in New York State is still near 40% (double the national percentage) which means either that the virus is more widespread than believed (even if mostly asymptomatic) or that New York is still not testing nearly enough. It will be hard to declare victory before this percentage falls from current levels.


So did the lockdowns work? The conventional wisdom says that they did, because they flattened the curve and lowered the number of cases and of hospitalizations to a manageable level. We should assume that the conventional wisdom is correct until and unless demonstrated to be wrong in a few months.

The larger question is what happens now. Because we took measures to avoid herd immunity, are we going to necessarily have a second wave in the fall season? And will we then have to meet it with the same response? Quite possibly.

There will be mitigating factors however. By then, we will understand the disease much better and we may have some remedies. Although we likely will not yet have a vaccine, we should expect that testing will be fast and widespread, helping isolate the contagious at an early stage.

The re-opening

The economy will likely re-open in May or June, slowly at first and then in earnest. We may have to wear masks and keep our distance beyond the day that we start leaving our homes. Dining out, travel and attendance of concerts or sports events will lag other sectors. But even there, the summer could be stronger than we currently expect. Three months can see a lot of changes, as with the last three.

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