COVID-19 Monday Roundup 16 November 2020

Whilst Victoria has now recorded 16 straight days of zero cases, South Australia is the only state to record locally acquired cases this week with what is suspected to have originated in a quarantine hotel.  A big week with vaccine updates, Pfizer’s announced that its vaccine is 90% effective, Australia has started manufacturing Oxford’s vaccine candidate in Melbourne due for release in first half of 2021 if approved, and Russia announced that its vaccine is 92% effective. Australia has released its vaccination strategy – it will be highly encouraged but not mandatory. And in terms of the local economy, business confidence has surged further, driven by easing restrictions in Victoria.

Australia Summary – 15 November

This week, Australia recorded 72 new cases (63 last week), taking total case numbers to 27,726.  Of those, 68 cases were from overseas travellers (54 last week), leaving only 4 locally acquired cases.

South Australia was the only state to record locally acquired cases:

  • One case was a Victorian aged care worker who had tested positive in Victoria in August, recovered and was cleared later that month. She then tested positive on arrival in SA. Testing has been unable to determine if it is a new infection or shedding of old virus.  She is being treated as positive and included in the SA count.
  • Three cases were diagnosed on Sunday – an 80-year-old woman, her child and her child’s partner, one of whom works at a quarantine hotel. It is suspected that the virus originated at the quarantine hotel, and genomic testing is being undertaken to confirm this.  Four other family members are showing symptoms and a large number of people have been put into quarantine, including 90 people who were in the emergency department the same time as the 80 year old woman.

 

Victoria has now recorded 16 days in a row of zero cases while NSW has recorded eight days of zero locally acquired cases.  However, in NSW, sewage testing has returned positive for virus fragments in south-west and north-west Sydney.  While this could reflect the presence of older cases in these areas, NSW Health is concerned there could be other active cases in the local community.

COVID news

Positive vaccine results. Pfizer’s announcement that its vaccine candidate was 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 in trial participants caused global share prices to surge, but it was not the only vaccine announcement this week. Australia’s CSL commenced manufacturing Oxford University’s vaccine candidate in Melbourne, ready for distribution should the vaccine be approved, while the University of Queensland’s Phase 2/3 trial is expected to commence in December, with initial Phase 1 results positive, particularly for the elderly. Russia claimed its Sputnik V vaccine is 92% effective, while initial results of Moderna’s Phase 3 trial are expected this week.

Australian roll-out. The Australian COVID-19 Vaccination Strategy released by the Federal Government identifies three priority groups for early vaccination, with vaccines potentially available from early 2021. Vaccination will not be mandatory but will be strongly encouraged, though holders of some visas may need to pay. The Australian Immunisation Register will issue Immunisation History Statements that may be needed for school, employment or travel.

Market update

Economy. GDP fell by 0.3% in 2019-20 ( +2.2% 2018-19) driven lower household consumption due to the pandemic. The RBA reduced the cash target to 0.1%, forecasting GDP growth of 6% and 4% in 2020-21 and 2021-22 respectively with unemployment expected to peak at 8% and reduce to 6% by Dec 2022, lower than the RBA’s previous estimates. Taylor Fry’s latest COVID-19 financial impact index with data to 10 October shows visually the impact of Victoria’s lockdowns on people’s incomes.

Jobs & Business. Payroll jobs are still 4.4% below mid-March levels nationally and broadly flat since June. The easing of restrictions in Victoria has driven business confidence to its highest level since mid-2019, according to NAB.

Legislation. With a revised roadmap allowing for the impact of COVID-19, Treasury has introduced a package of legislation addressing the remaining recommendations from the Hayne Royal Commission into the Financial Services Industry.

Banking. Loans subject to deferrals dropped in September to 6.7% (8.5% in August) with the majority returning to performing status. Australian major banks reported a decline in financial performance for FY2020, down 36.6%. Banks have maintained a focus on supporting their staff and customers, with resilient operations and continued lending, enabled by strong capital adequacy. However, there are challenges ahead as the economic crisis broadens and temporary assistance comes to an end. KPMG, EY and PwC offer insights into the results.

Insurance. Swiss Re’s latest report, Rebuilding better, credits strong rate momentum in the commercial lines space for the insurance industry’s resilience to COVID-19. Finity estimates the Australian general insurance industry will bounce back slightly in FY21 and forecasts a 7% ROE compared to 4% in FY20, the lowest in almost two decades. EY offers insight on how insurers can seize opportunities from the unexpected silver linings of COVID-19 and hard-wire them into their culture.

Workers compensation. NSW’s workers compensation regulator SIRA has released a consultation on cost sharing for COVID-19 workers compensation claims.

CFO insights. A KPMG COVID-19 survey of finance executives showed that while staff health and wellbeing is a priority, there is also a focus on cost reduction and cash management across businesses.

For the number crunchers

  • New Zealand experienced lower overall mortality to September 2020 compared to previous years, largely due to fewer respiratory deaths from colds and flus thanks to lockdowns and social distancing.
  • Modelling published in the journal Nature suggests reducing maximum occupancy at certain public venues will do more to limit SARS-CoV-2 transmission than reducing mobility overall.
  • Science magazine visually explores the maths behind superspreading events.
  • Data from New York shows that non–COVID-19 hospitalizations dropped significantly early in the pandemic, particularly for sepsis, heart failure, myocardial infarction, stroke, biliary tract disease, epilepsy, injuries, appendicitis and COPD. Hospitalizations for some conditions later rebounded (e.g., for myocardial infarction, biliary tract disease, appendicitis), but many others did not.
  • Modelling by The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) estimates that universal mask use could save 130,000 lives in the US between 22 September 2020, and 28 February 28 2021.

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