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An injection of optimism in the worst of the crisis

A woman walks past Pfizer headquarters in New York.Bebeto Matthews / AP

Cautious, very cautious, and perennially conjugated verbs in the conditional. But also a powerful injection – never better said – of optimism in times of total drought of good news. Unlike other crises – such as the financial crisis of the last decade, which in southern Europe mutated into a seven-headed hydra – the end of the coronavirus economic shock will come when the health problem at its core can be uprooted. origin. And that day, after Pfizer’s announcement, it seems closer for the first time in 10 months, since the first expansive wave of covid-19 was felt.

The vaccine, when it arrives, will be the great milestone of the pandemic. The one that will begin to put an end to the greatest contemporary global recession: with the economy running at half gas for months, immunization will mean removing the great barrier that prevents growth from taking off. This is how the majority of the ten economists consulted by EL PAÍS see it, who value the advance of the American pharmaceutical company as very good news, always subject to the reservations required by any medical advance still in the testing phase.

2020 can already be considered lost, and no medical solution will stop the bleeding, but the course of 2021 and 2022 may change greatly if the progress made on Monday by the American pharmaceutical company Pfizer is confirmed in the coming weeks. “When the vaccine is really available, that will end the pandemic”, synthesizes the director of the think tank Bruegel, Guntram Wolff. “We’re still a long way from that, but when that day comes our economies will finally be able to recover – the announcement is certainly very good news.” A new one that also arrives “somewhat earlier than expected by the financial markets: it is, without a doubt, a factor to revise upwards our GDP forecasts while governments will be able to ease social distancing measures faster than what we believed, ”adds Sylvain Broyer, chief economist for Europe at the risk rating agency S&P. “There will be a boom consumption and investment ”, he glimpses Ugo Panizza, professor at the Graduate Institute. “But it will take time to return to the starting point: it will not be immediate.”

Most of the economic projections of analysis houses, consultancies, banks and other market players already contemplated the arrival of a vaccine – or, failing that, an effective drug against the most serious symptoms – for the second half of 2021, so any potential breakthrough on that schedule – remains to be seen – is caviar for the ears. “Without a doubt, the great advance of Pfizer is the effectiveness: 90% is much, much more than we expected,” says Neil Shearing, head of analysis at Capital Economics, by telephone: the greater the efficiency, the greater the immunity and, therefore, , also a more agile return to activity.

″ If we were able to start vaccinating soon, our forecasts would change a lot there, with a much faster recovery in the first months of 2021 ″, says Ángel Talavera, head of Europe at Oxford Economics. “And the longer a crisis lasts, the greater the risk of permanent damage to the economy and that it will lead to something worse: if the situation were to drag on, it would be much more difficult to maintain the support policies —ERTE, guarantees… – that precisely seek act as a bridge until there is a medical solution ”.

“He is an anchor at a time of radical uncertainty, and this is great: for the first time in almost a year we have a scenario in which we can begin to behave again in a rational way,” says José Juan Ruiz, former chief economist of the Bank Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). “It will totally change the game,” adds Xosé Carlos Arias, professor of Economic Policy at the University of Vigo. And it will do so for everyone, both in the epidemiological and in the ever more prosaic economic branch: “The exit will be just as uncertain as the entrance to the crisis: these are unknown waters, but my perception is that it can be faster and more intense than what we think”.

However, also as always, the alegrías will go through neighborhoods: not all countries or all industries would benefit equally. Geographically, the countries most dependent on tourism — Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece in the EU; the Caribbean in America – would see a horizon practically clear that now looks very, very black. And on a sectoral level, in addition to transport and hospitality —by far the hardest hit—, commerce and real estate — especially office owners — would be the most favored.

There are, however, some buts that should not be overlooked. First, that physically carrying the doses necessary to achieve immunity to all corners of the planet – if the covid has shown anything is that, in a globalized economy, the virus reaches the most remote places in record time – will not be an easy task in a vaccine that must be transported to 70 degrees below zero. Second, that, as Barry Eichengreen, one of the best economic historians of our day, recalls, the percentage of the population that is willing to apply the necessary doses to be immunized is not exactly high: 60% in the United States, with only 25% % that says that the first solution that sees the light would be applied. These figures lead him to think that, whether or not there is a vaccine soon, covid-19 will continue to weigh down the economy for a long time.

And third, but not least, that even after the logistical and persuasive obstacles to citizenship are overcome, the return to life of the economy will not be how to flip the switch and turn on the light: not even an effective solution will avoid persistent scars. “The sentiment on investment will change quickly, but everything else will take time to return,” adds Alicia García Herrero, head of analysis at the French bank Natixis for Asia-Pacific. “The effects of uncertainty will continue: we will save more and there will be lasting consequences. The world is not going to be the same and this does not end with a vaccine: whoever thinks that has not understood what is happening ”.