In the U.S., the COVID-19 virus continues its spread… particularly in California, Arizona, and Florida…
But my conversations with contacts around the world – particularly in Brazil and India – show that Americans are nowhere close to experiencing as bad as it could get.
In Brazil, you know things are bad when the notary is busy…
A notary certifies legal paperwork like contracts, deeds, and wills. Usually it’s a slow but steady line of work.
Recently, though, for the notary in Dourados – a city with 200,000 people in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul, where my American friend Ernie McCrary is living in quarantine – business is brisk. People are in a rush to “put their affairs in order.”
A local notary there says that she’s preparing double the number of wills a month compared with pre-COVID times. And she’s seen a 50% jump in requests to formalize so-called “stable unions” – that is, putting a ring on it for couples who live together but have never tied the knot.
Why the sudden surge of interest for notary services? Death is in the air. And people in Dourados want to settle their paperwork just in case the coronavirus reaper knocks.
With almost a million cases of the coronavirus, Brazil trails only the U.S. (at 2.2 million). According to University of Washington forecasts, Brazil could overtake the U.S. by late July in terms of both cases and deaths – even though it has just two-thirds the population. That looks increasingly likely, in part because the government doesn’t have a health minister. The previous two left within a month of each other after the country’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, refused to listen to science.
Last month, my friend Ernie left his home in São Paulo, the money (and now, coronavirus) capital of Brazil. He drove 600 miles west to join his wife at her family’s farmhouse near Dourados.
Like for many Americans, home-improvement projects are on the self-quarantine agenda in Brazil, too. Ernie told me this week that he’s spending most his time visiting the hardware store buying cement, sand, and tools for landscaping projects on the farm.
He also went to the local barbershop for a $6 haircut. That’s around 30% cheaper (in U.S. dollar terms) than it would have been in January, due to the decline in the country’s currency so far this year.
Ernie, who’s lived much of his adult life in South America, isn’t planning on leaving Dourados anytime soon. Despite being the state’s coronavirus hot spot, it’s still a lot safer than São Paulo.
Earlier this month, Brazil’s health ministry stopped publishing figures showing the number of coronavirus infections and deaths. They resumed only after a ruling by the country’s supreme courts to make the data available.
This “ignore it, and it will go away” strategy of Bolsonaro is dooming millions of Brazilians.
But that number may pale with the disaster in India…
As if the Entire Eastern Seaboard Was Unemployed
In India, the number of coronavirus cases is accelerating, despite what Bloomberg called “the world’s toughest stay-at-home restrictions.”
In late March, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave the country’s 1.3 billion people less than four hours’ warning before the lockdown started. For millions of migrant workers in India, that triggered the start of a long, desperate journey home.
In one particularly horrible incident, 16 migrant workers in the western state of Maharashtra were killed when a freight train ran over them as they slept on the train tracks. As BBC explained…
The dead… [were] attempting to walk to a station, from where they were hoping to get a train home… After walking for 22 miles, they were exhausted and decided to rest. According to local reports, the workers assumed that trains would not be running because of the lockdown, and therefore slept on the tracks. Images on social media show pieces of roti (Indian bread) strewn near the tracks.
Around 122 million people in India lost their jobs in April. That’s more than the population of the entire eastern seaboard of the U.S.
Since most people in India work in the informal, untaxed economy, total unemployment is probably a lot higher than the 27% reported in May. The government’s economic relief package, in the words of my investment-analyst friend Rahul Goel in Mumbai, is “tiny.”
In a country where the average person earns less than $6 a day, no job and pocket change for public support means for many people the equation is simple… If you don’t work, you don’t eat. And with the economy forecast to shrink by 4% this year, there’s a lot less work to go around.
“Offices, malls, and stores are opening, with some conditions,” Rahul told me earlier this week. “There’s a level of desperation to work because people have to be able to make money.”
So for all that, at least India is flattening the curve, right?
Not at all… As I wrote in March, India is still a country you really don’t want to visit.
India’s lockdown was “squandered,” says Bloomberg. It “failed in its basic objective of boosting capacity in an overstretched health system,” said the Nikkei Asian Review.
The country’s total number of cases of coronavirus is now growing at more than 12,000 per day. That’s more than the total number of new cases reported in California, Texas, and Florida combined on any given day this week. India now has the fourth-most cases in the world, after recently overtaking the U.K. and Spain. And in a case of “the fireman is on fire,” India’s latest coronavirus figures include the health minister of the state government of Delhi, who tested positive and was hospitalized earlier this week.
In terms of total cases per million people, India is at just 4% the infection rate of the U.S. That’s partly a function of much lower testing rates… For every 20 people tested in the U.S., India tests one person.
And it could get much worse there…
If the infection rate in India was just half that of the U.S., India would have 4.7 million cases (more than double the total number of coronavirus cases in the U.S.).
If the infection rate in India was just half that of the U.S., India would have 4.7 million cases (more than double the total number of coronavirus cases in the U.S.). If deaths per million people in India were the same as in the U.S. – which would be miraculous, given the weak state of India’s health care infrastructure – around 500,000 Indians would die.
The Nikkei Asian Review warns of a “lost decade” for the region…
COVID-19 has laid bare the underlying weakness of its economies, from poor public finances and patchy state infrastructure to reliance on migrant labor and remittances.
There will be no rapid return to sustained fast growth, and far fewer resources to manage the pressing challenges the region must soon navigate, from agricultural reform and urbanization to the climate crisis.
I’m guessing the notaries in India are busy, too…
Kim Iskyan is editor of the Chaos Chronicles at American Consequences. Kim is one of the most experienced and well-traveled financial writers in the world today. From covering Iran’s emerging stock market… to landing in Ukraine in the middle of a war… to booking a flight to Thailand as soon as martial law was declared – Kim has been there and helped investors figure out the risks and the opportunities in these “blown out” markets.