The number of new daily cases is currently around 25,000, somewhat fewer than in Britain, and rising. But whereas in Britain this surge has translated into an average of 18 daily deaths over the past week, in Russia it has resulted in an average of 670 deaths a day.
The contrast is all the more striking because Russia was the first country in the world to approve a working vaccine, one based on the same science as the British-Swedish AstraZeneca one and apparently just as effective. But whereas in Britain 78% of the population has received at least one jab, in Russia the proportion is only 20%. The difference is not the availability or the efficacy of the jab, but people’s trust in the government and its vaccines.
All of this could have been avoided. A year ago the government decided to lift a partial lockdown (Mr Putin called it “a holiday”), hoping to save itself money and to prop up the president’s faltering popularity after a prolonged slump in incomes. Mr Putin’s ratings did go back up—but so did the risk of infection.
ON JULY 4TH President Joe Biden stood on the White House lawn to declare that America was nearing independence from the coronavirus. But with covid-19 not fully “vanquished”, he called upon his fellow citizens to get vaccinated, telling them that “it’s the most patriotic thing you can do.” About 55% of Americans over the age of 12 have now been fully vaccinated, and a further 10% have had the first of two doses. But in recent weeks America’s vaccination rate has slowed markedly. In April 3m doses were administered each day; since June that figure has fallen to an average of 1m per day.
There are three possible explanations for this slow-down. The first is that it is typical for vaccination rates to fall as more people are jabbed, since those in cities and other easy-to-reach areas are likely to have been targeted already. Yet America does not appear to have reached such a threshold. Other rich countries, such as sparsely populated Canada, continued to vaccinate at a decent clip until about 75% of their populations had received their first dose (see left-hand chart). Germany, which has vaccinated a similar proportion of its citizens as America, is currently vaccinating at nearly three times the rate.
AT A PRESS conference at the White House on June 22nd Anthony Fauci, the director of America’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, issued a warning. The delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, first identified in India in February, was spreading in America—and quickly. “The delta variant is currently the greatest threat in the US to our attempt to eliminate covid-19,” declared Dr Fauci. Boris Johnson, Britain’s prime minister, issued a similar warning a week earlier. To contain the rapid spread of the variant, European countries and Hong Kong have tightened controls on travellers from Britain.
According to GISAID, a data-sharing initiative for corona- and influenza-virus sequences, the delta variant has been identified in 78 countries (see chart). The mutation is thought to be perhaps two or three times more transmissible than the original virus first spotted in Wuhan in China in 2019. It is rapidly gaining dominance over others. According to GISAID’s latest four-week average, it represents more than 85% of sequenced viruses in Bangladesh, Britain, India, Indonesia and Russia. It may soon be the most prevalent strain in America, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, South Africa, Spain and Sweden. (GISAID does not, in its summary data, distinguish between delta, B.1.617.2, and the “delta plus” mutation, AY.1, AY.2.)
AT THE turn of the twentieth century, a newborn white American could expect to live for around 48 years. That was 15 years longer than a newborn African-American could expect. Improvements in hygiene, medicine and other public-health measures led those numbers to rise dramatically. By mid-century, life expectancy for African-Americans had nearly doubled, to 61 years, while for white Americans it rose to 69. By 2017 the gap had narrowed further, to three and a half years: 75.3 for African-Americans, 78.8 for whites. But Hispanic Americans outlive them both, to an average of 81.8 years. In other words, both races have progressed significantly, but gaps remain. This same pattern exists across a number of metrics.
The most disturbing aspect of this pattern is not just the enduring gap in outcomes between black and white Americans, though it has narrowed markedly. It is that, as the work of Anne Case and Angus Deaton, both economists at Princeton, has shown, life expectancy fell for all demographic groups of Americans between 2014 and 2017 for the first time since 1993. The rise in mortality rates has been especially stark for whites without college degrees, owing to what they call “deaths of despair”: drug overdoses, suicide and diseases caused by heavy drinking.
In particular, it is pretty clear to me that specifically in the U.S., the non-COVID excess mortality has been very high. I do not think that’s under-counted COVID deaths. I think it’s due to other causes. We’ve already seen that car accident deaths were up, even though total miles driven was down by a lot.
So yay for their statistics in grabbing the excess deaths, but boo for assuming all those excess deaths were COVID.
Now, results of COVID and COVID policies, sure, I’d go with that. But do you want to start digging into the stats of suicides, drug overdoses, “accidental” deaths, and more? How about deaths of neglect? I bet that is involved in a bunch of non-COVID elderly deaths.
The record suggests that, after periods of massive non-financial disruption such as wars and pandemics, GDP does bounce back. It offers three further lessons. First, while people are keen to go out and spend, uncertainty lingers. Second, crises encourage people and businesses to try new ways of doing things, upending the structure of the economy. Third, as “Les Miserables” shows, political upheaval often follows, with unpredictable economic consequences.
The Communist Party has long known that, partly as the result of its brutal birth-control policies, China’s population would soon peak and start to shrink. It has been startled, however, by how rapidly that moment has drawn near. Now, it looks as if it might have arrived.
There are also indications that China’s total fertility rate (the number of children a woman is expected to have in her lifetime) has dropped faster than previously thought. Chinese planners have assumed a rate of 1.8, but some Chinese scholars (and the World Bank) say it between 1.6 and 1.7. A working paper released in March by China’s central bank suggests the rate is no more than 1.5.
Governments raise most of their money by taxing wages, but President Joe Biden has his eyes fixed on the rich, big business and Wall Street. He proposes to fund his $2.7trn infrastructure plan in part by raising the corporate-tax rate from 21% to 28%. And to help pay for more spending on child care and support for parents, he wants to roughly double the top rate of federal tax on capital gains and dividends. For Americans earning more than $1m per year, he would bring levies on capital income into line with the top rate on wage income, which he wants to put up from 37% to 39.6%. That is about double the rate that is currently levied on rich investors, who are only a small fraction of the population but a large proportion of shareholders.
Tax capital lightly and it pays to disguise wages as capital income — a particularly lucrative pastime for the rich. One problem is the “carried interest” loophole. It lets private-equity and hedge-fund managers class their fees as capital gains rather than income. Another issue is the explosive growth in “pass through” firms, for example partnerships, which accounted for more than half of American business income by 2011, up from about a fifth in 1980.
More disturbing still, India’s soaring official covid-19 count represents the tip of an iceberg. Because of low testing rates outside big cities, say epidemiologists, the actual caseload could be anything from ten to 30 times higher. A national serological survey conducted in December found 21% of Indians were carrying covid-19 antibodies, compared with an official tally which suggested that only about 1% of India’s people had been infected by that time. More recently, local journalists who have cross-checked hospital and funeral records against government numbers have found similar, gaping discrepancies across the country. One report revealed that in the second week of April, when authorities in Vadodara, a city in the state of Gujarat, announced seven covid-19 deaths, the count in two hospitals alone was more than 300. This suggests that India could be facing not 2,000 deaths a day, as the current official count shows, but something much higher.
INDIA’S SECOND wave of covid-19 continues to set grim new records. On April 25th India detected more than 350,000 new cases—the most in a single day in any country at any stage in the pandemic. This number has reached new highs for five days in a row (see chart). So bad has India’s outbreak become that it now accounts for some 38% of global cases—up from just 9% a month ago. That is the highest share reached by an individual country since the early stages of the pandemic.
April 14th was a big day in India. Hindus and Sikhs gathered to mark the new year. Many Muslims celebrated the first day of Ramadan at late-night feasts with friends and family. In Haridwar, a temple town that this year hosts the Kumbh Mela, an intermittent Hindu festival that is the world’s biggest religious gathering, between 1m and 3m people shoved and jostled to take a ritual dip in the Ganges. And across the country, the number of people testing positive for covid-19 for the first time surpassed 200,000 in a single day. It has continued to surge since, reaching 315,000 just one week later—the highest daily figure in any country at any point during the pandemic. Deaths, too, are beginning to soar, and suspicions abound that the grisly official toll is itself a massive underestimate. Makeshift pyres are being constructed on pavements outside crematoriums to deal with the influx of bodies.