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Issue 27 - So How Does Covid 19 Compare With The Spanish Flu of 1918-19

With only two days until Christmas Day, I thought it would be a good opportunity to reflect on the last year and to try to put a few thoughts into perspective.

As ever, the newspapers and other media are full of doomsday headlines, designed to frighten and draw us in to reading or listening to their “latest news” and yet often, it is the same news that has been regurgitated many times over.

Don’t misunderstand me, I do take the spread of the Corona virus very seriously and think that we should be additionally vigilant as the virus mutates and the “new strain” is spreading faster than ever, but the alarmist reporting would have us believe that we are accelerating into an irrecoverable position and that somehow the mutation creates a much worse scenario. So how do you get to the real story and what should we be doing about it?

Firstly, all viruses naturally mutate and more often than not, they are caused by a chance event that will typically have little impact on the properties of the virus. I read one report which suggested that virus mutations are rarely a bad thing! It would seem that one of the latest mutations identified in the UK, gives the virus the ability to spread more quickly but it would appear that it is no more deadly. Spreading quicker will inevitably mean that more people are infected, which in turn will lead to more hospitalisations and sadly, virus related deaths. Hence the tier 4 lockdown in parts of the UK, which, like the virus, is highly likely to spread to other areas and arguably, should do so.

The current UK Government advice “Hands, Face & Space” are the exact precautions we should be taking and will go a long way to minimising the spread of the virus and actually, they are not bad disciplines to consider, even after this pandemic has run out of steam!

I also had a quick look at the “Spanish Flu” pandemic of 1918/19 to see if we can learn anything from that experience.

This came during the last stages of the First World War with the first cases being identified in the US in March 1918. Cramped conditions, overcrowding and global troop movements, all contributed to the spread of the virus, which globally, went on to infect upwards of 500 million people and claimed in excess of 50 million lives – 10% of those infected. There were no vaccines nor any antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections – the only weapons available were non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as isolation, personal hygiene and limited public gatherings – sound familiar. The pandemic eventually subsided in the Summer of 1919 after a third spike in cases, some 18 months later.

So how does this compare to Covid 19? Globally, we have seen 78 million people infected and to date, reported deaths have reached 1.72 million – 2.2% of those infected. We have a number of vaccines which are starting the roll out process around the world. There is a greater understanding of the virus and how to treat those who are affected, such that survival rates are improving and as to when this pandemic started, that is open to debate. Probably in November last year in China, but we have no way to be certain.

Maybe, when Boris Johnson says we should be in a much better place by Easter 2021, which is at the beginning of April, and added to that with the anticipated rate of vaccinations, the UK should achieve “Herd Immunity” in the summer of 2021, perhaps that is not just wishful thinking but of course only time will tell on that one.

Turning now to the markets, as we approach the year end, it looks very much as though the US, Europe and Japan will all end the year higher than they began, but both the UK and Hong Kong are lagging behind at the moment, although, they have both shown a good recovery since the dark days of March. As always, we don’t know what we don’t know, and there is always the potential for something to change but as we move into 2021, I think we should be able to do so with a growing confidence and indeed, once the post Brexit trade position is clear, both business and markets alike will know what they are dealing with and will be able to move forwards.

As for the last few days and the UK border with France being closed for 48 hours, whilst I try to avoid making predictions, I have a theory that this was driven by a bit of political smoke screening on behalf of President Macron, (who on the domestic front is under pressure) to show that he can be Mr Tough Guy, just before we learn there has been a climbdown on the fishing rights demands which have been blocking the Brexit trade talks from concluding. (We shall see, but don’t shoot the messenger if I am wrong!)

As we reflect on 2020, it can be difficult to see anything but doom and gloom and yet there were many good news stories as well, the greatest of which to my mind, has to be the incredible response to “Captain Tom” who on the 6th April at the age of 99, started walking laps of his garden with his walking frame with a goal to reach 100 laps before his 100th birthday on 30th April. His main objective was to raise £1,000 for the NHS and as we now know, he captured the hearts and imagination of so many people, that he went on to raise a fantastically amazing total of £32.79m, which with the addition of gift aid, will bring the total to almost £39m going to the NHS. Now that is what I call a result!

Let me close by wishing you and your loved one’s a safe and happy Christmas, and although we may not be able to get together in the traditional way, we can at least keep in contact through the various online solutions so we can see or talk to each other and as we wake up in 2021, it should be in the certain knowledge that we will see increasing positive news and in due course, part season will return once more.

As always, best wishes. Richard, Chris and Lesley

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