Rob Rose Editor: Financial Mail

Welcome to the first edition of the Financial Mail’s daily coronavirus newsletter. As you’ll have noticed in the first few days of the lockdown, there’s a lot to read out there — good and bad. But our mission has always been slightly different: to bring you the intelligence behind the news — usable information that clarifies, not confuses.

So every day, our editors will sift through the churning ocean of stories throughout the world to flag the three best, must-read articles of the previous 24 hours. We’ll also bring you exclusive news and analysis about SA’s response to the outbreak from Katharine Child, one of the country’s top health reporters. If there’s a story out there you’ve heard about, she’ll be able to tell you how true it is, and what it means for you. Our award-winning graphics team — Vuyo Singiswa and Shaun Uthum — will also create new daily graphs, and find the best pictures of a world in lockdown.

As a start, we’ll be sending this virus email out to all our existing newsletter subscribers, as part of our daily FM update. We’ll also update our newsletter options in the next few days, for those looking to get highlights of the magazine too.

You don’t need to be a subscriber to get added to this newsletter. What you’ll need to do is register on the website here (you’ll then get the option to sign up for newsletters) or sign in if you’ve already registered, go to your profile and click on "Daily newsletter" under the Financial Mail tab.

You can e-mail me (roser@fm.co.za) if you think there’s something we’re missing, or if you have an idea that you’d like our reporters to investigate. Today, we’ve got more information than ever, but the intelligence we can distill from this avalanche has become increasingly rare. We’re here to do that for you.

Top of today’s reading list

The first of the three must-reads today comes from the National Review, a 64-year-old US publication that is often surprisingly good, despite its conservative bias. The article debates an issue that many have discussed: are the measures we’re taking now, like President Cyril Ramaphosa’s lockdown, worth the economic cost? Or, as US President Donald Trump has put it, is “the cure worse than the disease”?

In one sense, the answer is obvious: of course we have to act on the humanitarian crisis now — there is no other option, even if you do happen to subscribe to Trump’s view. In the National Review, Kevin Williamson (author of The Smallest Minority: Independent Thinking in an Age of Mob Politics) weighs up the economic debate and concludes that the economic consequences of not locking down economies could be far worse than opening the doors.

If you want to expand on this, read the Harvard Business Review’s disturbing article, “Understanding the Economic Shock of Coronavirus”. For a country that’s just been downgraded to junk status, let’s hope we can avoid the fate of Greece. 

The second article looks to predict where it all ends up. The Atlantic, founded in 1857 as a literary magazine in Boston, has been doing fantastic analysis on Covid-19. Here, it looks to how the pandemic will end. And it’s a bleak post-apocalyptic future it describes — right from the mental health pandemic that may follow this coronavirus, to the economic wasteland it’ll leave behind. In SA, we may have some of the same scars, but our economy will be far harder to lift back on its feet. The junk status conferred on us by ratings agency Moody’s on Friday confirms how dire the structural problems are – and that was before a virus began eating our small businesses and our pensions.

The third in this list is already a bit dated – it came out last Wednesday, when global infections were just 350,000 compared with 650,000 today — but the argument has resonance for those still arguing for the “herd immunity” approach initially advocated by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. In The Guardian, Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Yaneer Bar-Yam point out the obvious flaws in this “scientism” — things that have the cosmetic appearance of science, but without the rigour. For those who think it’ll still be best for Ramaphosa to cancel the lockdown, read “The UK’s Coronavirus Policy May Sound Scientific — It Isn’t”. 

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