This article has been edited to correct a math error.
It’s been just under five months since most of us first heard of COVID-19 and just over two months since a state of emergency was declared in Alberta and province-wide social isolation was mandated. We have adjusted to a “new normal,” reluctantly and with risk to our economic well-being. But we’ve done what we were told to do by the stalwart leadership of Premier Jason Kenney, Dr. Deena Hinshaw and others to help keep the virus at bay. We’re now allowed to venture further away from our homes and meet with a few more people, two meters apart of course.
What’s next? Hopefully phases two and three of the reopening of the province and the country.
Socially and economically, we need to be free again. But everything I read and know says COVID-19 will spike again; a “second wave” is coming, probably this fall. It may already be happening in China. It’s a mean bugger, infecting .06 per cent and killing .004 per cent worldwide to date. That’s a lot in a short time, due to modern global human connectivity. Vaccines or antidotes won’t be available until next year sometime, and then 7.8 billion people have to be treated. The Spanish flu of 1918 took two years to dissipate although the worst of it was over within a year after the terrible second of four waves of infection. The 14th century bubonic plague, the Black Death, was the second of three plague pandemics over 900 years and it still exists today. Today, advanced healthcare, good government (in most countries) and, ironically, our connectivity gives us more hope for recovery from COVID-19.
Economically, federal debt is skyrocketing and could surpass $1 trillion this year, with $250 billion possibly added this year alone. And that doesn’t include provincial debts, which could be $100 billion this year. Canada’s debt payments are relatively low, thanks to low interest rates and credit agencies accepting that governments need to increase debt to fuel a fractured economy. The longer the crisis lasts, the greater the risk of higher interest rates, inflation and lasting recession.
We may return to something resembling normal a couple of years from now, but our economy and way of life will be altered. Governments will need new revenue and lower expenditures, so taxes will likely rise, perhaps new taxes will be imposed, and government services could be reduced. Public money for major projects could be available since that could help reboot the economy. Businesses that survive the pandemic could maintain less expensive means of service, perhaps with less people employed per business or more people working from home. Banks, newspapers and others like them could move more to online services. Retail and service businesses may continue remote servicing and keep limits for onsite service, including social distancing and other hygiene measures, mostly because their customers want it, for awhile longer anyway. Travel, especially international travel, will take longer to recover to its new normal. International trade and relations will change as doubts linger. It took almost a decade after the First World War and the Spanish flu for the entire world to get back to better times, although economic glut and lack of market oversight caused a global collapse in 1929 and brought on a depression. It’s a brave new world, again.