THE festive season is soon upon us, and vivid memories of a lockdown that snuck up on many Zimbabweans soon after the 2020 year-end holidays have some wondering if this will be the case again.
This has also been compounded by the resurgence of Covid-19 cases in countries such as Russia and Germany. Russia’s cases have surged since mid-September from average daily confirmed cases of 21 017 in the 60 days before September 15, 2021, to 28 987 in the two months after the same date.
This also underpinned the tragic rise in deaths, from 44 109 fatalities recorded in the 60 days before September 15, 2021, to 60 230 in the 60 days after September 15, 2021.
Germany has been on a similar trend, with an increase in the rolling seven-day average of confirmed Covid-19 cases skyrocketing from 7 724 September 28, 2021, to 26 358 on November 7, 2021.
The country’s average daily Covid-19 deaths surged sixfold from 771 between July 11, 2021, and September 11, 2021, to 5 374 between September 11, 2021 and November 11, 2021. The UK and the US recorded similar rises in Covid-19 cases, but they have managed to contain the new wave.
What is more concerning is the vaccination figures in these countries amid a variety of vaccines available locally.
At as the beginning of November 2021, Russia had vaccinated 33% of its population, while Germany, UK, and the US had respective rates of 18%, 49%, and 37%. We opine that (i) vaccine attitude, (ii) climate conditions, and (iii) long-term effectiveness of the vaccines have been key drivers of the renewed wave of infections and deaths in several economies.
In a survey done by Ipsos and the World Economic Forum earlier this year, Russia’s attitude towards vaccines was the lowest among 15 economies that were part of the survey, while more than half of the surveyed population of other economies showed signs of warming up to vaccines.
Key reasons for a lax attitude towards the vaccines included worries concerning side effects, the unusual progression of clinical trials, and a lack of confidence in vaccines.
Research on the impact of temperature on the transmission of Covid-19 documented by Prata et al (2020) shows that tropical climates like Brazil are linked to slower transmission of the virus.
In the study, each 1°C rise in temperature was associated with a 5% decline in the number of daily cumulative confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Brazil.
An inference based on this study and the very low temperatures in countries such as Germany and Russia therefore hint to more conducive conditions for the spread of Covid-19 in several countries towards the end of the year. Renewed waves of the virus since the roll out of vaccines has also been accompanied by concerns of the long-term efficacy of vaccines and this has underpinned the production of Covid-19 booster shots by various manufacturers.
Recent data from the Centre of Disease Control shows that the effectiveness of vaccines declines 12%, on average, over a period of six months after administration in subjects older than 18 years.
The decline was also found to be much steeper in adults older than 65 years. As a result, people who received vaccines by Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson are being encouraged to take booster jabs in the UK and in some states in the US.
However, this also raises questions of the long-term efficacy of other vaccines and plans to distribute booster shots in less developed countries, should the need arise.
If we put all this in Zimbabwe’s context, a slightly unsettling picture emerges. Firstly, Zimbabwe has fully vaccinated only 14% of its population and, much like the global community, citizens have adopted a lax attitude towards vaccinations on the back of side effect concerns, a lack of confidence in vaccines, and even religious beliefs.
This is further compounded by the documented decline in vaccines over time, which implies that the few that have been fully vaccinated are still at risk, albeit less severe compared to the unvaccinated population, and the country will likely need booster shots to maintain immunity from the virus.
Sinovac and Sinopharm are a few of the vaccines administered in Zimbabwe that also showed signs of weakening effectiveness and the booster shots are already being deployed in the UAE and China.
However, we note the warmer climate as a silver lining to Zimbabwe’s cloud and we opine that this has been instrumental in the decline in daily confirmed cases from 1 884 in July 2021 (during winter) to 30 in November 2021 (during summer).
Risks of yet another wave in Zimbabwe, however, remain warranted and investors can stay ahead by making contingencies. We observe that, when the country was slapped by stringent lockdown measures a few days after 2021 started, many did not have enough money saved and the limited working hours driven by the lockdown affected disposable incomes in the weeks that followed.
We also note that, when the resumption of classes was abruptly announced, savvy investors drew down from their investments on the ZSE to cope with the growing financial demands amid constrained incomes.
We, therefore, recommend investors to march into the coming season with balances set aside for next year’s demands in the possible case that cases in Zimbabwe rise again and stringent lockdown measures are announced.
We recommend parking balances in liquid blue chips stocks on the ZSE such as Innscor, Delta, OK Zimbabwe and Econet.
Mtutu is a research analyst at Morgan & Co. — firstname.lastname@example.org or +263 774 795 854.