Machines, money and medicine are some of the markers of a society’s progress. We accumulate, and flaunt, these feats on the road to riches and development. It stands true that proper use of resources will aid in COVID-19 healthcare and economic recovery, but it’s the very basics available to all of us which are proving most effective in the initial fight.
Social distancing en masse is the frontline defence of governments worldwide, and this is not the first time we’ve been reminded of the resourcefulness in our behaviours. In the 1300s, Asia and Europe were struck by the Bubonic Plague1, at a time where understanding of viruses and communicable illnesses was in its very infancy. But physicians came to understand that person-to-person contact and touching the same surfaces through trade created a petrie dish for disease2.
It was also during the Bubonic Plague epidemic about 700 years ago, often referred to as The Black Death, that we saw the first known quarantine orders. This is regarded by some as one of the greatest achievements in early medical practices, as it was testament to the effectiveness of social separation during an incubation period, when infection may be present but symptoms are not.
Much like the spread of COVID-19, this was a time when humans united in the absence of medicine to fight an invisible foe. It was these measures that saved lives until the outbreak ran its course3. It’s these measures which are now, credited with slowing the spread of COVID-19 worldwide4, and reminding us again our behaviours are powerful enough to stop a pandemic.
Learnings from the lucky country
Australia has had its share of existential threats this year. The COVID-19 outbreak clashed with the devastating bushfires which ravaged the east coast for months, claiming lives, homes and a share of GDP.
Two of the biggest efforts in the bushfire crisis – the frontline firefighting and the relief work – were powered by people simply wanting to save land, lives and livelihoods. It was another potent example of the power of people with a common goal.
Volunteers were out in force fighting flames, the NSW Rural Fire Service alone is the world’s largest volunteer fire service5 and it recorded a massive influx of people wanting to join in early 20206. Corporations, celebrities and individuals also took part in what was a high-profile, crowd-sourced fundraising effort. The result was The Australian Red Cross reporting7 $180 million in funds raised.
AMP Capital’s Pete Burnett, who is a strategic accounts manager in Melbourne, volunteers for the Country Fire Authority in Victoria. He was struck by the force of the blazes, and the forces of kindness and community support in their wake.
“This fire reason, the sheer scale of it, it felt like you were at war. The country was under siege, and the enemy was fire,” he said.
“Without volunteer firefighters, tens of thousands of homes would’ve been lost. So many people in my life said to me then ‘I understand now why you do what you do'.”
“On our way back from one of the first days fighting, we stopped in a small town which had been devastated by the fires. There was about out half a dozen of us. We just wanted some food and some coffee. The place we stopped wouldn’t let us pay – they said 'boys, it’s on the house'.”
“On the last night for me, I was sitting in a dark tent, using some of the products that were put in a care package by the locals. I used those products and wanted to say thank you to the community. I posted that thanks to Facebook, and it got one of the biggest reactions I’ve ever had.”
“The sense of community was strong; the sense of the greater good.”
This too, shall pass
This is, understandably, a worrying and untested time for investors. AMP Capital CEO, Adam Tindall, takes a long-term view amid the panic – in the knowledge that this will pass, and a recovery will come.
“We believe the defensive characteristics of our strategy means our assets are well positioned to retain value during this testing period. Investors can have confidence in our fund management teams who buy quality assets, understand their intrinsic value, and manage their portfolios well,” he said, in a recent note to clients and investors.
The human health side of this crisis is also overwhelming in scale and ferocity. Its devastation knows no borders, and its growth rate, if left untreated, is exponential. In that context, there is an understandable panic sweeping the globe, for fear that infection cannot be stopped or controlled.
However, there is nothing to suggest the virus cannot be contained, and that the pandemic won’t settle. History tells us, and current rates of success in countries like South Korea and Singapore, that human responses create the critical turning points.
“One of the things that panics people is not being able to see the finish line. Inevitably, that finish line comes into sight when there’s a human response, and we are seeing that again here,” said Brad Creighton, portfolio strategist in the dynamic markets team at AMP Capital.
“Our economic and financial system is designed around the idea of rising living standards; health and prosperity, and the people in charge are working with those objectives in mind, as they’ve always done,” he said.
‘Unprecedented’ is an overused term, but it’s appropriate in the case of COVID-19. The world is facing a host of unknowns at a time when we’ve never been more mobile and more able to spread diseases among each other. There is one sure thing among it all though: this will end. The virus will run its course, economies will re-open, and both those things will be powered by human intervention.