COVID-19 Monday Roundup 14 December 2020

The last fortnight has been all about vaccines with the UK, US and Canada all commencing roll-out of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine after emergency use authorisation in all three countries. Research in the University of Queensland’s vaccine has been halted after study participants registered false positive HIV results. In case numbers, globally numbers of new cases continue to break new records and death numbers also increasing. Australia, however, continues to do extremely well, registering no locally acquired cases for the first time since March!

This will be our last round up for 2020!

We’d like to remind readers about the Pandemic Resource Centre, which stores a multitude of information about COVID-19, including all papers and briefing notes published by the Actuaries Institute as well as links to other relevant sites. 

World Summary – 10 December

Report based on data for the 12 days to 10 December.

Last report’s hoped-for change in the trajectory of the pandemic has not come to pass. Instead the pandemic continues growing with just a ‘Thanksgiving’ blip at the end of November.

Globally, there are now over 70 million cases and new case numbers have increased, with those in the week ended 5 December the highest yet, but the up-coming week ended 12 December likely to be higher again.

Deaths have followed cases up. The last 12 days included 8 of the 10 deadliest days of the pandemic. Deaths as a percentage of two-week lagged new cases is hovering at 1.84%, higher than some recent weeks, but still low across the whole pandemic.

The picture varies considerably across the regions.

In North America, the USA has gone from bad to worse, with daily cases now averaging over 200,000 and daily deaths the highest they’ve ever been and nudging an average of 2,500. Canada’s cases still rise without sign of let-up, now nearly four times their early May prior peak, but deaths, although rising with cases, have only just reached half their early May peak.

In Europe, Central and South America, new case numbers and deaths are reducing, although only slowly.

Russia is yet to cap out cases, but Ukraine has. France appears to have established control, while Italy and Spain are moving towards it. UK is having a small uptick in cases after bringing them down to 2/3rds of the early November outbreak and Germany may be having control issues with cases possibly rising again and daily deaths now over 400, ahead of Spain but not Italy or the UK.

Mexico and Brazil are having fresh surges in cases, but better deaths outcomes, and elsewhere in Central and South America cases are falling.

In the Middle East, the overall picture was driven by a huge jump in Turkey’s reported daily cases to over 30,000 (from around 7,000). One has to guess that is a change in testing, reporting, or both, leading to a clearer picture. Elsewhere, cases are falling and overall deaths are stable or dribbling down.

In Asia, India continues to reduce new cases (now 1/3rd of their September peak) but deaths have flattened at about half their September peak. Indonesia’s cases and deaths continue to rise after a slight decline in both in October. There are some fresh outbreaks elsewhere that are being stabilised.

Africa remains low in cases and deaths compared to elsewhere. Morocco is bringing their outbreak down and Egypt remains in control. South Africa is having another surge, but still well below their first surge in July.

The only outbreak of concern in Oceania, French Polynesia, is rapidly progressing to control.

Australia Summary – 13 December

Australia recorded 66 new cases this week (71 last week).  We are pleased to say that for the first time since March, there were no locally acquired cases (and only one last week).  All new cases were from overseas travellers:

  • Victoria’s hotel quarantine program recommenced this week and recorded six cases.
  • Tasmania commenced receipt of charter flights of returned Australians and recorded four cases.
  • The Northern Territory continues to receive charter flights into the Howard Springs facility and recorded three cases.
  • NSW, Queensland and WA recorded 34, 13 and six cases respectively, broadly reflective of the caps on hotel quarantine places in each jurisdiction.
  • South Australia’s quarantine program is still on hold following the Parafield outbreak.

 

NSW Health’s COVID-19 Weekly Surveillance in NSW shows that less than 1% of returned travellers have tested positive during their stay in hotel quarantine.

Following the National Cabinet meeting on Friday, Scott Morrison announced that there were currently around 40,000 Australians registered with DFAT as wanting to return to Australia.  Around 10,000 of those people are currently in India and around 5,000 are in the UK.

COVID news – Vaccines, vaccines, vaccines

  • Canada, the UK and the US are all commencing roll-out of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine after emergency use authorisation in all three countries. Advice from the UK’s medicines regulator warns against giving the vaccine to people with a history of significant allergic reactions, after two health care workers experienced severe anaphylaxis on the first day of the UK’s vaccine roll-out.
  • Research into the University of Queensland / CSL vaccine candidate was stopped when study participants registered ‘false positive’ test results to HIV. Parts of the HIV virus were used to create the vaccine, and researchers knew this was a risk. The vaccine has shown promising results in terms of safety and effectiveness, but CSL and the Australian Government agreed the HIV results could damage public confidence in the vaccine.
  • The Australian Government has secured 20 million new vaccine doses from Oxford University-AstraZeneca and another 11 million from Novavax to cover for the 51 million doses the home-grown product was to supply.

 

Market update

Business Interruption Insurance: The ICA will be lodging an application for special leave to the High Court of Australia to appeal the decision of the NSW court regarding exclusions referring to the Quarantine Act.  Meanwhile, the Council of Financial Regulators has encouraged the industry possible to resolve any remaining uncertainty and promptly pay out valid claims.  The UK FCA has launched a consultation on proving the presence of COVID-19 for the purposes of radius/vicinity clauses in policies.

Jobs & Business. Payroll jobs continue to rise in Victoria including recoveries for Accommodation and food services and Arts and recreation sectors.  Casual workers accounted for nearly two-thirds of the job losses during COVID, according to the ABS. Total jobs increased by 2.2% in the September 2020 quarter with the number of people working multiple jobs increasing by 17.5% from record low levels in June 2020.

Economy. The Economy grew by 3.3% in the September quarter following a 7% decline in the June quarter. Whilst, Tourism GDP fell nearly 19% in FY20 with employment in the sector falling by 6.6%, according to the ABS.

APRA. APRA Chair Wayne Byres highlighted the importance of risk management in dealing with “black swan” events such as COVID-19 at the 2020 Forum of the Risk Management Association. He also pointed to stress testing as a key capital planning tool and the importance of managing operational, cyber and people-related risks that came to the fore during COVID.

APRA Insight – Issue four 2020 includes insights from the COVID-19 Pandemic Data Collection, launched in June, and paints a detailed picture of how the superannuation Early Release Scheme is impacting funds and member outcomes. APRA’s COVID-19 loan repayment deferral data also tells an interesting story about the scale and nature of this credit risk.

RBA. The RBA has maintained the cash rate target at 10 basis points and has flagged that it does not expect to increase it for at least 3 years

General Insurance.  Munich Re has announced expected COVID-19 impacts in FY20 of EUR 3.4 billion (90% in IBNR) with some further, albeit reduced, impacts in FY21.

New research

  • An investigation into the high rates of infection amongst Victoria’s healthcare workers found that geriatric wards were an unexpected superspreading area. Residents from aged care facilities who were hospitalised without knowing they were COVID-positive unwittingly infected health care workers in the geriatric wards where infection control was far weaker than in hospital COVID wards. ‘Aerosol-generating behaviour’ – shouting and screaming from patients experiencing delirium – is thought to have exacerbated the spread.
  • Disappointing news from the World Health Organization initiated SOLIDARITY trial which found that none of the multiple alternative antiviral drugs (remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, lopinavir, and beta interferon) reduced in-hospital mortality.

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