Hilary Joffe Columnist

Two weeks into lockdown level 3, it's as yet unclear how far and how fast the economy is reopening — or whether the bleak forecasts of even the relative optimists among economists will prove correct, or those of the profound pessimists. In the absence of up-to-date official statistics, economists have taken to looking at a variety of real-time indicators of economic activity such as Google mobility data and banks' ATM and card transactions, as well as fuel and electricity sales. Indications are that activity is picking up, if not to pre-crisis levels. But this week’s shock business confidence index, which was worse even than after the disastrous Rubicon speech in the mid-1980s, or the 1976 Soweto protests, suggests the economy is still in deep trouble.

In theory, the level 3 regulations, which go further than the government originally had in mind for level 2, allow a return to work by sectors that account for more than 90% of the workforce. In practice, reopening safely is com...

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