COVID-19 Monday Roundup 12 October 2020

With the world’s attention on Trump’s COVID-19 infection, it was easy to miss another global record number of new cases, thanks to second waves in North America and Europe. Locally, Australian cases declined and New Zealand declared itself COVID-free for a second time, but cases in the Pacific have emerged. Research highlights concerns about a pandemic-induced spike in Parkinson’s disease and explores potential immunity to COVID from the common cold, while APRA resumes its work on Disability Income Insurance.

World Summary – 10 October

While regions like India, much of South America and (possibly) Indonesia and the Philippines are getting their first waves under control, their efforts are being outweighed by second and sometimes third surges in countries which were previously working toward control, particularly in North America and Europe. The WHO reported record daily increases this week and some fear transmission in these countries may increase further as winter approaches.

Despite substantial increase in weekly new cases rose, deaths rose only slightly and for a second week, deaths as a percentage of two-week lagged new cases were a record low of 1.92.%

Looking quickly at G20 countries:

Controlled & low case numbers: China, South Korea, Australia

Controlled but material new cases: Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Japan

Moving toward control: Brazil, India, Mexico, Turkey, Indonesia

At risk of losing control: Germany, France, UK, Italy, Canada

Not in control: USA, Russia, Argentina

Locally, NZ declared the virus eradicated outside hotel quarantine for the second time, but there is an outbreak in French Polynesia and a low level of cases in PNG. A week ago, Solomon Islands had their first and only case so far.

Australia Summary – 11 October

Australia recorded 129 new cases this week (95 last week), taking total case numbers to 27,262.  Overseas travellers accounted for 41 cases (29 last week), leaving 88 locally acquired cases, all of which were in NSW and Victoria.

Victoria recorded 72 new cases this week, up from 64 last week:  

  • It has taken a long time, but it appears aged care is finally coming under control. Six cases were linked to aged care facilities, but importantly no new cases were reported in residents. According to the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre, there have been 4,629 cases associated with aged care settings, accounting for 25% of second wave cases. Residents account for 1,963 cases and 644 (33%) have died.  2,035 cases were in staff and 631 in contacts.
  • 10 cases this week were linked to the Chadstone Butcher Club cluster which has grown to 33. A further six cases linked to the Oddfellows Café in Kilmore spread from the Butcher Club cluster.
  • 12 cases linked to a new cluster at Box Hill Hospital
  • 13 cases linked to a new cluster in a Frankston household
  • 31 other cases, most of which remain under investigation but three are confirmed to have no known source.

 

There were only four deaths in Victoria this week, down from 22 last week, all of which were associated with outbreaks in aged care.

DHHS data on cases in healthcare workers at 6 October shows 3,538 cases in healthcare workers, accounting for 18% of second wave infections.  Almost half (48%) of these cases were acquired by aged care workers and nurses in aged care settings; much of the remainder were acquired by nurses in hospital settings (22%).

NSW reported 16 locally acquired cases after a run of 12 days without them. Six were linked to the Liverpool Hospital, 11 are from two new clusters with unknown source.

Key market update

  • The Australian Government announced its latest budget with tax cuts, infrastructure spending, JobMaker subsidies and business initiatives. It assumes a vaccine will be available late 2021, unemployment will peak at 8% this year dropping to 5.5% in 2023-24, and net debt will rise from 25% of GDP in 2019-20 to 44% ($1 trillion) in 2023-24. The Actuaries Institute’s update summarises key points.
  • The Aged Care Royal Commission found that the industry was insufficiently prepared for the pandemic. Government has accepted all recommendations.
  • Payroll jobs are still 4.1% below mid-March levels nationally (Victoria 8.0%). Small and medium sized businesses ( <200 employees) have experienced a ~7% reduction whereas large businesses (>200 employees) have seen a small increase.
  • Owner Occupier home loan commitments were at record levels in August. First home buyer loans increased to their highest level since the GFC, according to the ABS. A word of caution that data pre-dates Victorian lockdowns.
  • Loans subject to temporary repayment deferrals have fallen again in August, with the majority returning to performing status. As of August 8.5% of loans outstanding have been granted deferrals (16.2% for SME loans and 9% for Housing loans).
  • Unemployment and underemployment tops the list of business executives’ concerns globally, according to a World Economic Forum survey, beating the spread of infectious diseases. Climate related risks have moved up in the list and cyber risk is up in Australia.
  • Global extreme poverty is expected to rise in 2020 for the first time in 20 years to 1.4% of the world’s population, according to the World Bank. Save the Children warns that up to 2.5 million more girls are at risk of marriage in the next 5 years because of the pandemic.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic will cause claims trends and risk exposures to evolve in the mid-and long-term, according to Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty. Traditional property and casualty claims have been subdued but this has been outweighed by COVID-19 related notifications, especially due to event cancellations.
  • APRA is set to resume work to enhance the sustainability of individual disability income insurance (IDII) after the program of work was put on hold in March 2020. From 1 October, IDII providers will be subject to upfront capital penalties until APRA is assured they have taken adequate and timely steps to address sustainability concerns.
  • APRA published new FAQs on the interaction between JobKeeper payments and ‘work test’ contributions.
  • KPMG’s Life Insurance Insights 2020 dashboard provides analysis and insights based on Australian financial results up to 30 June 2020.
  • Deloitte’s survey of 8,000 respondents from eight countries found that customers are re-considering the value and flexibility of home and motor insurance products. Customers favour “simple flexibility”, younger generations are particularly interested in new product models, customers do not want to share data from car and home sensors with insurers and COVID-19 is increasing demand for flexibility and online transacting.

 

New COVID-19 research

Could COVID cause a spike in Parkinson’s? Researchers are concerned that the five-fold that occurred after the Spanish flu pandemic could be repeated.

Mental health. October 10 was World Mental Health day and the WHO reports disruption to mental health services in most countries, while the Lancet highlights the mental health challenges seen in previous epidemics.

Novel virus not so novel? Researchers are currently exploring whether prior exposure to common cold viruses may offer some immunity to SARS-CoV-2.  If true, this has significant consequences for herd immunity.

Rapid testing may be a step closer. Point-of-care molecular tests for SARS-CoV-2 have shown similar accuracy to the standard lab-processed PCR tests, producing results in an average of just 1.7 hours.

Psychiatric Illness linked to COVID-19 mortality. Among 1,685 US patients hospitalized with COVID-19 between February and April, those with psychiatric illness had 1.5-times higher risk for death that was not explained by medical comorbidities.

The wealth effect in India. India’s case fatality rate has been lower than other countries, in part because those surviving to older ages are likely to be wealthier and hence less likely to come into contact with the disease.

Vaccine efficacy in older people is critical as they are most susceptible to serious illness. A recent phase I trial included 40 participants over age 55, and found antibody responses comparable to those aged 18 to 55.

Vaccine approval unlikely before US presidential election. New guidance from the US Food and Drug Administration mandates that before emergency use authorisation is sought, participants in phase three trials should be followed for a median of at least 2 months after their final vaccine dose. This makes it difficult, though not impossible, for a vaccine to be authorized before the election.

New on the Actuaries Institute website this week.

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