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Nobody really knows which coronavirus strategy is the right one

November 16, 2020, 11:10 AM UTC

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Good morning. David Meyer here in Berlin, filling in for Alan.

Until proven vaccines are deployed at scale, the fight against coronavirus is one without an easily-defined weapon. While some countries are faring better than others, and some approaches have been a clear failure, no COVID-stricken nation can be sure of the right way forward. As explained in this worthwhile Wall Street Journal piece from yesterday, no-one even knows where most infections are taking place.

And so, we must observe what each country does to grapple with its particular circumstances, and take notes as various experiments succeed or fail.

Here in Germany, the government responded to rising infection rates with a “lockdown lite” that shuttered many businesses in the hospitality, sports and leisure sectors, while leaving most of the economy humming—an approach that seemed proportionate to the fact that case and death numbers were significantly lower than in neighboring countries such as Belgium and Czechia.

Two weeks later, how’s that going? That’s the big question being debated today by Angela Merkel’s administration and those of Germany’s 16 states, who must decide whether the rules—provisionally set to last another couple weeks—need tightening.

Given the lag between infection and diagnosis, it’s still difficult to tell whether or not Germany’s second wave has crested. Infection rates seem to have slowed, but there are strong indications that lockdown lite is no quick fix.

“We will have to live with considerable precautions and restrictions for at least the next four to five months,” said Economy Minister Peter Altmaier yesterday in a newspaper interview, adding that Germany’s leaders “have little room for maneuver” when it comes to reopening restaurants and cinemas.

“The infection numbers are still far too high—much higher even than a fortnight ago,” Altmaier said. Reports suggest new measures could be introduced, including a ban on private parties until Christmas, compulsory mask-weaking in schools, and even quarantine and sick leave for anyone experiencing symptoms of a regular cold.

At least we’re not Austria, where a harsh new lockdown will begin tomorrow: schools will close, as will all non-essential shops, and people won’t be able to meet others from outside their households. These measures, which will run through December 6 at the earliest, suggest the failure of a more tentative approach that was very similar to ours in Germany.

But then again, the Austrian case rate per 100,000 people was 1,034 over the last two weeks, while in Germany we’re still at a markedly less-catastrophic 310. That number is still too high, though—enough to stress intensive-care facilities in many parts of the country.

Germany may have come through this pandemic relatively well so far, but progress comes one step at a time. So let’s spare a thought this morning for the political leaders—in all countries—who currently have to make the toughest calls, with no clear models to guide them.

News below.

David Meyer


Moderna success

Moderna's candidate COVID-19 vaccine is 94.5% effective, the company reported today, sending its shares soaring. That's even better than Pfizer's candidate vaccine, which uses similar technology, and what's more, it doesn't need the same special cooling facilities that Pfizer's vaccine does. Bloomberg

RCEP rises

The world's largest trading bloc hove into existence yesterday, with its signing by China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and the 10 ASEAN countries. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) leaves many areas uncovered, such as state-owned enterprises, labor and the environment. But, while it won't result in any immediate, dramatic economic changes, it's a big geopolitical win for China. Fortune


There haven't been many big bank mergers since the 2008 crisis, but here's one: PNC Financial Services Group is to pay $11.6 billion for the U.S. arm of Spanish bank BBVA, thus creating the fifth-largest U.S. retail bank with over $550 billion in assets. PNC is currently strongest in the mid-Atlantic, Midwest and Southeast, while BBVA is big in the Sunbelt. Wall Street Journal

SpaceX and ISS

SpaceX's first regular NASA mission to the International Space Station successfully launched yesterday. Four astronauts are onboard, with an arrival time of 11pm ET today. and the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket successfully landed on a drone ship after takeoff. Fortune


Apple privacy

European privacy crusader Max Schrems has gone after Apple a lot less than he has Facebook, Google and other Big Tech firms, but no longer: his NOYB organization has made formal complaints in Germany and Spain over Apple's iOS user tracking, which it says happens without the full and proper consent of users. Financial Times

Brexit talks

The runway is running out: Ireland has warned that the substantive problems in the post-Brexit trade talks have to be resolved this week, if a deal is to be ratified in time for the December 31 end-of-the-transition period. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is back in isolation after a lawmaker with whom he'd recently been in close contact (Lee Anderson MP) tested positive for COVID-19. Yes, Johnson has famously already had it, but he's following protocol. Sky News

Now spit

Various researchers and startups are working on mouthwash-based COVID tests that promise high accuracy and speedy processing times, with a view to restarting large sports events, concerts, travel and so on. Some are basically trusty PCR tests; some use a different approach that leans on spectrometry; all should prove more reliable than today's rapid antigen tests. Fortune

Working with Biden

Businesses should not celebrate government gridlock but should instead ally with government in solving social problems and rebuilding the economy, writes Just Capital chief strategy officer Alison Omens in a piece for Fortune. Omens raises corporate disclosure and transparency, which she says business should embrace now rather than pushing back against likely Biden-era bills on such topics. She also notes that "the economy is inequitable and leading to more unrest and hardship for millions. And the climate crisis is getting worse." Fortune

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.