• News

COVID 19 – The bridge to the other side

In more normal times, in assessing economic news we would be commenting on the recent GDP results for the December 2019 quarter and associated measures important to the forest and wood products sectors, wrote Jim Houghton, FWPA’s Statistics & Economics Manager, in a recent edition of the Timber & Forestry E-News.

(In the fast moving world of pandemic information, it is important to note this item was written around 24th March 2020 with some information updated as at 4 April 2020)

However, the escalating COVID 19 pandemic has made that somewhat academic as we move into unchartered social and economic territory. At the time of writing travel was being limited with some states closing their borders. In the case of Tasmania this was referenced in the Hobart Mercury with the simple frontpage headline stating “we have a moat and we are going to use it”. Key messages of hygiene, social distancing and where necessary social isolation are being regularly communicated by our political leaders and health professionals.

This is where the value of quality data is proving so critical. The virus spreads exponentially which means a few cases can quickly multiply. The World Health Organisation has been collecting data since 23 January when 574 cases were reported globally that day. Move forward just over two months to 2 April and the daily total had increased to 78,000 cases with 1,056,159 cumulative cases reported.

CV1

Source: World Health Organisation website accessed 5 April, 2020

For decision makers the rate of escalation in confirmed cases is the critical data point underpinning a proportionate response with the aim of “flattening the curve”. This is why a whole range of social distancing protective measures have come to the fore. The requirement is to slow the spread of the virus throughout the community at a rate where the small percentage of total cases requiring hospitalisation doesn’t exceed the capacity of the medical system (beds, staff and intensive care equipment) to look after them.

 

CV2

 

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald website accessed 24 March 2020

And it looks like this is starting to have an impact with the cases for the last 5 days declining.

 

CV3

Source: The Age April 5, 2020

Our industry is on the front foot. At this stage building and construction is still occurring and our industry is working to support the supply chain with the materials needed. Company safety leaders have been using collaborative forums to update each other on best practice work arrangements to tackle COVID 19 in the forest and in the sawmill. To state the obvious working from home is not possible for a harvesting contractor or a sawmill operator. But maximising hygiene and practical social distancing measures are all part of maintaining a safe workplace.

At some stage we will get to the other side of this health and interconnected economic challenge. The RBA and all governments have been very active in putting in place support mechanisms and funding to assist businesses and workers hang on as whole sections of the economy are shut down. “Building a bridge to the other side” is a good analogy while the timeframe is uncertain. If you are fan of Nordic crime noir you might also see similarities between Saga Norén the central character in The Bridge and Dr Philip Lowe, Governor of the Reserve Bank who is overseeing the Australian bridge with both prepared to do “whatever is necessary” to get a successful result.

So what might the other side start to look like?

The good news is people need houses to live in and at some stage as confidence returns approvals will start to rise. Other factors to look out for will be our international trade with China. In recent years we have exported record levels of chip for pulp and paper and logs for wood product manufacture. A pick up in Australia’s forest product exports would reflect the Chinese economy starting to move again.

In the broader economy a return in confidence would be associated with increasing employment, improved household expenditure and other factors such as increased business investment. So many moving parts which collectively will impact the time it will take for the economy to come back.

Posted Date: April 6, 2020

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