Lousy demographics will not stop China’s rise

The old maxim ‘demography is destiny’ no longer holds in the same way that it used to

Gideon Rachman

© James Ferguson


“China will grow old, before it grows rich” is one of those things people like to say at conferences — usually followed by a dramatic pause. 

The implication is that China’s rise to global dominance will soon hit a giant barrier: demographics.

China’s low fertility rate means that its population will shrink and age over the coming decades. 

Last week the FT reported that China’s population has already begun to fall — a few years earlier than the UN had predicted.

A large, expanding and youthful population has driven the rise of nations for much of human history. 

Great powers needed warm bodies to put on a battlefield and citizens to tax. 

Napoleon’s conquests were preceded by a population boom in France in the 18th century. 

By the 20th century, France’s population had fallen behind Germany and Britain; a source of justified anxiety for the French elite.

But a shrinking and ageing population may not have the same gloomy implications in the 21st century. 

The great-power struggles of the future are unlikely to be decided by vast land battles. 

In the recent war between Azerbaijan and Armenia, unmanned drones played the critical role on the battlefield. 

Britain’s recent strategic review cut the army, while investing heavily in technology.

If technological prowess, rather than hordes of young men, is the key to future power then China is well placed. 

The country has cutting-edge capabilities in fields such as robotics and artificial intelligence. 

With a population of 1.4bn people — which is likely only to decline gently until mid-century — China will not be short of manpower either.

It is the structure rather than the size of China’s population that will be the real challenge. 

By 2040, around 30 per cent of the country will be over 60. 

More old people will have to be supported by a smaller working age population, slowing economic growth.

China may never achieve the per-capita wealth levels of the US. 

But even if the average Chinese is only half as rich as the average American, the Chinese economy would still easily surpass America’s in overall size.

China will soon lose its title as the world’s most populous nation. 

The populations of India and China are roughly equivalent. 

But by the end of the century, UN projections suggest that the India’s population will be 1.5bn, compared with 1bn people in China. 

(Some other academic studies put China’s population in 2100 below 800m).

But the Indian economy is just a fifth the size of China’s. 

So the wealth and power gap between the two countries will not close quickly.

China’s population slump was hastened by its one-child policy, abandoned in 2015. 

But Chinese demographic trends are fairly typical for east Asia. 

The Japanese population peaked at 128.5m in 2010 and is now falling. 

The UN projects Japan’s population to be just 75m by the end of the century. 

The trends in South Korea are similar.

The shrinking and ageing of populations is also taking place in parts of Europe. 

Italy’s population has already begun to fall. 

Even the US is slowing down. 

The latest census shows that America’s population is now 331.5m — but growing at its slowest rate since the 1930s. 

Demographers speculate that America, like Europe and east Asia, may soon be grappling with the problems of an ageing population.

Overall, the world’s population is expected to keep growing from 7.8bn today to roughly 11bn by 2100 — with most of the growth in Africa and south Asia. 

The population of Africa alone is set to double between now and 2050.

By sheer weight of numbers, countries such as Nigeria and Pakistan, will gain global influence. 

But they are also likely to remain relatively poor and politically unstable — with climate change worsening the prospects for much of sub-Saharan Africa. 

Some of the fastest population growth is taking place in already failing states such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Niger.

Demography will continue to shape world politics, as it always has. 

But the historic connection between a growing and youthful population and increasing national power is giving way to something more complex. 

The most significant division may now be between rich and middle-income countries — where populations are static or falling — and poorer countries, where populations are expanding fast.

Left unchecked, the natural corrective tendency would be mass migration from the Global South to Europe, North America and east Asia. 

But east Asians are currently much less open to immigration than the west. 

Even though Japan’s population could almost halve by 2100, the Japanese are clinging to social homogeneity in preference to mass migration. 

China, which has a very ethnically-based view of citizenship, will probably make similar choices.

By contrast — despite the current political rows about immigration in the US and the EU — the west is likely to remain comparatively open to migrants. 

Western societies will gain economic dynamism as a result. 

But they could also lose political stability — since the backlash against immigration has helped to drive the rise of politicians such as Donald Trump.

The big question of geopolitics will be not who has the larger population — but whether China or the west have made the right call on mass migration.

Biden’s $6 Trillion Budget Is Here. What It Means For Markets.

By Daren Fonda

The market appears to be taking a wait-and-see approach to President Joe Biden's first budget. / Chris Kleponis/CNP/Bloomberg


President Joe Biden  unveiled his first budget to Congress on Friday, asking for $6 trillion in spending for 2022, escalating to $8.2 trillion in 2031. 

It’s an ambitious 10-year plan to increase government spending by trillions of dollars, while raising a host of new taxes, in a bid to remake the U.S. economy.

Yet the market’s reaction has been to shrug it off. 

Stocks continued to rally on Friday after the budget came out with the  S&P 500  gaining 0.3%. 

Bond yields even fell a bit with the 10-year Treasury note at 1.58%.

At 72 pages, plus a 1,422-page appendix and 246-page analysis, the president’s budget presents a blueprint for his economic and social agenda. 

It assumes that Congress passes Biden’s two big legislative initiatives: the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan. 

Amid the tables, charts, and forecasts are also plenty of political aspirations—from revitalizing manufacturing and the “care economy” to free college tuition, expanded child tax credits, and green energy.

Near-term, the president is asking for an 8.6% increase in military and discretionary spending to $1.5 trillion for fiscal 2022. 

The rest of the budget goes to non-discretionary spending like Medicare and Social Security, along with emergency programs for Covid-19 relief. 

The long-term goal is to spend more than $4 trillion on infrastructure and social programs, much of it outlined in the aforementioned legislative plans.

The budget also includes initiatives to raise corporate and individual taxes. 

The proposed overhaul of corporate taxes, including an increase in the tax rate from 21% to 28%, would raise nearly $2.1 trillion over a decade, the White House forecasts. 

Closing corporate tax loopholes would contribute $64 billion, and the administration aims to raise $779 billion overall from enforcing Internal Revenue Service rules more stringently.

Biden’s plans also include an increase in the top marginal capital-gains tax rate to 43.4% on household income over $1 million, according to The Wall Street Journal, and a new tax on unrealized gains of individuals’ estates, with a $1 million exemption. 

The proposed changes to the capital-gains taxes alone would raise $322 billion overall.

As with most White House budgets, Biden is making some optimistic assumptions about the economy, inflation, and interest rates. 

The budget assumes that real gross domestic product growth will average 2.4% for the next decade, in line with some private estimates and the Federal Reserve’s forecasts, but above the 2.2% forecast by the Congressional Budget Office.

The White House also sees unemployment dropping faster than CBO forecasts over the next few years, and it sees inflation contained at 2.4% in the long run. 

The White House sees only modest gains in short- and medium-term interest rates, topping out at 1.7% through 2027. 

That would be slightly above the current 10-year Treasury yield.

None of this means the U.S. won’t continue to rack up large deficits. 

Biden sees the deficit falling to 4.6% of GDP in 2027, down from an estimated 16.7% in 2021. 

The deficit would then hold around that rate until 2031.

The revenue shortfalls would push up the U.S. debt sharply. 

Outstanding U.S. debt would increase by 50% over the next decade, adding $14.5 trillion to bring the total to $33.4 trillion. 

The U.S. economy would also grow by an estimated 52%. 

But public debt as a percentage of GDP would still increase, reaching 117% in 2031, up from an estimated 111.8% in 2022, according to White House forecasts.

These are all huge numbers that, in other economic circumstances, might be perceived negatively by the markets. 

But that isn’t happening now for several reasons.

One is that the near-term outlook is looking robust as businesses reopen and consumer spending ramps up with stimulus checks flowing through. 

With about half of U.S. adults now fully vaccinated—and on track for 70% by July 4—the market is looking forward to a strong second half of the year for corporate profits.

Fiscal policy is also competing against a host of other factors, including inflation data, interest rates, monetary policies, and international trade. 

And as Barron’s has noted, the markets are being supported by plenty of liquidity from the Fed.  

“The markets have been rigged by a lavish excess of money,” says strategist Ed Yardeni of Yardeni Research. 

He’s still bullish on stocks, he says, because the positive fundamentals are outweighing the negatives.

Overall, the market appears to be taking a wait-and-see approach to what emerges from Congress. 

Democrats will have to thread a needle through a closely divided House and Senate. 

In the Senate, there isn’t room for even one defection by Democrats, assuming no Republicans support the proposal.

Expect a long, hot political summer as lawmakers battle it out.

Europe’s Strategic Autonomy Trap

Europe’s share of the global economy may be declining, but the EU remains a major economic power with strong ties to the rest of the world. If its pursuit of strategic autonomy devolves into a push for protectionism or even autarky, it risks losing that status – and becoming more vulnerable than ever.

Clemens Fuest



MUNICH – When it comes to economic growth, Europe has been lagging behind the world’s other major economic powers – the United States and China – for some time. 

No surprise, then, that the old continent’s relative weight in the global economy is declining fast. 

How vulnerable does this leave the European Union – and what should EU leaders do about it?

When the Iron Curtain fell in 1989, the countries that comprise today’s EU, plus the United Kingdom, accounted for 27.8% of global GDP (in terms of purchasing power parity). 

For the US, that share was 22.2%. China, with a share of 4%, still hardly registered as an economic power.

Thirty years later, the EU, together with the UK, accounted for 16% of global output, still slightly ahead of America’s 15%. 

The big shift was in China’s position, which had surpassed its Western counterparts with a share of 18.3%.

The COVID-19 pandemic is set to accelerate these trends. 

Despite a brief recession, the US is on track to surpass pre-crisis output levels as early as this year. 

More impressive, China’s economic output could be 10% higher in 2021 than in 2019. 

The EU, by contrast, will not return to pre-pandemic GDP levels until 2022 at the earliest.

In principle, the robust recovery in China and the US is good news for Europe: industry in the EU, especially in Germany, is benefiting from strong demand from the world’s two largest economies. 

Nonetheless, Europe’s diminishing economic weight relative to the US and China raises serious questions about its ability to defend and advance its core interests.

Already, many fear that EU countries are being forced to make risky compromises. 

For example, Chinese investors have been buying up companies in Europe and even taking over critical infrastructure, such as ports, in countries like Belgium, Greece, and Spain. 

Germany has been accused of being slow to condemn Chinese human-rights abuses, in an apparent bid to protect its economic interests.

Europe’s dependence on the US – particularly in security matters – has of course been viewed less critically. 

Yet, as former US President Donald Trump made clear, this also carries significant risks. 

And, indeed, calls for Europe to increase its “strategic autonomy” – that is, to reduce its dependence on outside powers – have been growing louder.

But all dependencies are not created equal; only those that are one-sided are truly problematic. 

Identifying which of the EU’s economic dependencies fit into that category will require more careful analysis than has so far been carried out.

For starters, in international trade, is the importer dependent on the exporter, or vice versa? 

For goods and services with large fixed costs and high margins, the seller’s dependence on market access is greater than for goods with lower margins. 

Importers are more dependent on supplies from a particular country if the goods are essential and difficult to obtain elsewhere.

In 2020, the EU (excluding the UK) imported €383 billion ($468 billion) worth of goods from China – more than from any other country – and exported €203 billion worth of goods to China. 

We don’t know which partner earns higher margins or can substitute imported goods more easily. 

But the volume of trade in both directions suggests that there is considerable interdependence – certainly enough to provide some protection against aggressive trade policies.

The same is true with the US. 

When Trump threatened to impose tariffs on goods from the EU to address America’s bilateral merchandise-trade deficit, Europeans pointed out that the US had a similarly sized surplus in services and primary income (for example, from licensing). 

And those US exports had high margins. 

With US companies highly dependent on the European market, the US could not have won a trade war with the EU. 

That’s probably a major reason why Trump ultimately didn’t pursue one.

Dependencies can also arise from cross-border investment. 

But here, too, it can be difficult to determine which side is better off.

Overall, European companies invest much more in China than Chinese companies invest in Europe, despite stricter regulations. 

The main concerns, it seems, relate to the types of investments Chinese companies are making in Europe.

If Chinese investors buy a European port company, have Europeans become dependent on China? 

Not necessarily. 

On the contrary, given the vital importance of port facilities, it is relatively easy for a national government to bring them under its control, or even to expropriate them, if the operators are deemed to be in breach of their duty to run it properly.

Technological dependencies raise further questions. 

For example, does Chinese companies’ participation in building telecommunications infrastructure, such as 5G networks, create serious risks for the EU? 

Again, the answers are not cut and dried, not least because they may depend on factors, such as political influence, that are opaque and difficult to control.

There is no doubt that excessive dependence can carry risks. 

So, in principle, the EU is right to strengthen its strategic autonomy. 

But, rather than rely on simplistic assumptions, it should carry out a comprehensive analysis of its economic relationships and the associated mutual dependencies, to identify which need to be reduced.

The EU must also consider carefully its options for doing so. 

Engaging less might not be the solution. 

In fact, Europe might balance the scales – or even tip them in its favor – by deepening ties. 

For example, promoting Chinese investment in Europe could help to reduce European investors’ disadvantages in China by giving the EU more leverage.

Europe’s share of the global economy may be declining, but the EU remains a major economic power with strong ties to the rest of the world. 

If its pursuit of strategic autonomy devolves into a push for protectionism or even autarky, it risks losing that status. 

If that happens, Europe really would be vulnerable.


Clemens Fuest, President of the Ifo Institute, is Professor of Economics at the University of Munich.

A Fleeting Opportunity in Chinese Stocks

Foreign investors are piling into Chinese shares, but those betting on a further jump in the yuan might be disappointed

By Jacky Wong

China’s CSI 300 is still lagging behind most other major markets./ PHOTO: ALEX PLAVEVSKI/SHUTTERSTOCK


Foreign investors are piling into Chinese stocks. 

Is the market turning a corner?

There are some clear near-term tailwinds for stocks as regulators crack down on other asset classes. 

But investors betting on a further jump in the yuan might be disappointed.

Chinese market benchmark CSI 300 rose 3.2% Tuesday, the biggest one day move in almost a year. 

That has put the index into positive territory for the year, but it’s still lagging behind most other major markets. 

The S&P 500 is up 11.7% in 2021. 

China’s market is still 8% off its February peaks.

Offshore investors are behind the rally: They bought the net equivalent of $7.1 billion of Chinese stocks since Tuesday through the Stock Connect platform, which allows investors to access mainland shares through Hong Kong. 

That was the highest three-day inflow since the trading link’s launch in 2014.


The yuan has also appreciated below 6.4 per dollar this week, its strongest level since 2018. 

That is mostly down to dollar weakness, though the yuan has also done better than most other major currencies this year. 

Recent comments from some researchers at China’s central bank may have triggered hopes that Beijing could allow the yuan to strengthen further. 

One said that China should stop controlling the exchange rate, while another suggested appreciating the yuan to offset rising prices in imported commodities.

Yet those comments shouldn’t be taken as official policy. 

A stronger yuan may alleviate inflationary pressure, but this could hurt exports, which have been a key part of China’s economic recovery from the pandemic. 

An essay in state media on Wednesday rejected the idea that an appreciating currency should play a key role in fighting commodity price inflation.

There may still be a tactical case for Chinese stocks in the near term as the market remains highly driven by momentum. 

China’s recent crackdown on speculation in other assets such as commodities and cryptocurrencies may have driven some flows into the stock market. 

Morgan Stanley’s sentiment indicator on the Chinese stock market, which looks at data such as turnover and margin transactions, saw a sharp increase Tuesday. 

The CSI 300 went on to gain 7.8% on average in the following six months after similar or bigger jumps, according to the bank.

But investors should also keep in mind that the fastest part of the Chinese recovery is already past and credit growth is ebbing. 

Chinese stocks are due for a catch-up with other markets, but the wind may quickly turn chilly again.

Spain’s Grand Plans in Africa

Geography and timing play to Madrid’s advantage. 

By: Allison Fedirka


It wasn’t so long ago, historically speaking, that Spain was a great power. 

It ruled much of the Americas, dominated the Atlantic Ocean and exerted its influence throughout Europe. 

And though today it isn’t the empire it once was, its geostrategic position – one of the qualities that once made it a great power – means it isn’t a country to be ignored.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

At a time of economic recovery, priorities matter. 

As most countries face the challenge of balancing short-term needs against potential long-term gains, Spain seems to be striking a good balance. 

For example, it has pushed for reform to unlock EU recovery funds even as it launches initiatives to engage more with Africa, a move that could well be a viable solution for a unique set of economic and security challenges that cannot be addressed through its membership in other organizations. 

Spain is choosing to move forward with this strategy at a time when its moves can advance with minimal chance of receiving backlash from European competitors.

Fitting the Bill

Spain’s interest in Africa starts from its position on the Iberian Peninsula. 

Its location, aided by the Pyrenees Mountains, has always given Spain a sense of separation from the European mainland. 

It has also given Spain strategic value as a sort of gatekeeper and beneficiary for maritime traffic between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.

Unsurprisingly, maritime control and security play a prominent role in Spain’s defense and foreign policy.

Indeed, Spain’s membership in European institutions belies and complicates Spain’s national interests. 

On the security front, Spain’s location creates a reality distinct from mainland Europe. 

Spain did not participate in World War II the way mainland European countries did, and it did not join NATO until 1992. 

It does not share Eastern Europe’s intense fear of Russia, and its beefs with China come more from its economic alignment with the EU and eurozone than from China itself. 

On the economic front, the EU and eurozone’s extensive rules greatly impact the country’s trade relationships, access to funding, regulatory environment and spending behavior. 

Membership also impacts the movement of foreigners and how Madrid deals with them. 

Put simply, Spain has security and economic needs that NATO and the EU cannot meet, so Madrid is looking at other options.

Africa certainly fits the bill. 

Spain is physically the closest European country to the African continent – it even holds some territories that directly border Morocco – and so many of its defense and security concerns emanate from there. 

For example, more African immigrants ended up in Spain via the Western Mediterranean route in 2020 than any other route, including those that have caused so much consternation over the past few years for Central and Eastern Europe.

Spain’s growing interest in Africa indicates its longer-term approach to strengthen and diversify its relationships in areas outside of Europe, especially at a time when competition for influence in Africa is rising. 

Spain’s general director for African affairs has explained that the current diplomatic and business push into Africa aims to position Spain to take advantage of the anticipated economic boom in decades to come. (He also noted how Spain failed to do so during China’s rise.)

Notably, the timing is no coincidence. 

The United States entering a period where it is actively engaging more with Latin America, which has long been a source of economic diversification for Spain. 

In fact, Madrid has already had to deal with the negative consequences of increased U.S. engagement, as evidenced by the Helms-Burton Act, so developing alternative regions for economic engagement is one way to help decrease this risk.

And it must be a little creative in this regard. 

Unlike other European countries, Spain never had extensive colonial holdings in Africa, so it needs to create inroads nearly from scratch. 

Its newly released Focus Africa 2023 (part of a decadelong Africa Plan) aims to create such inroads. 

The document focuses on security, social and economic development, trade, investment and orderly migration, and homes in on three select regions.



In terms of increased security cooperation, Spain will prioritize operations in the Sahel, Gulf of Guinea and, to a lesser extent, the Horn of Africa. 

The Gulf of Guinea and Sahel are key transit routes for trafficking drugs from South America to Europe via Spain. 

These areas are also home to various insurgent groups whose activities cause locals to flee north to Europe. 

The idea is that improved security in these regions will help reduce the flow of drugs and migrants. 

Spain’s strategy on this front is to leverage the French-led EU efforts for security in the Sahel. 

For now, this is a logical approach. 

The Sahel is huge, and Spain alone does not have the capability or resources to take on such security efforts alone or compete with France for resources at this time. 

Though French and Spanish interests in the Sahel may diverge in the future, for now they overlap enough that Spain benefits from continued collaboration.

In terms of business and economic development, Spain has two objectives. 

The first is to repair the structural economic causes behind migration. (There’s a greater sense of urgency to this component thanks to the pandemic.) 

This explains why Sahel and North African countries figure prominently in these areas. 

Priority countries in east and south Africa have economies that align more with Spain’s economic interests in finding promising investments and tapping into new markets. 

It’s notable that Spain’s plans in this area call for greater reliance and cooperation with African organizations and partners (as opposed to the EU) and public-private partnerships for key projects like infrastructure.

Notably, Spain plans to designate Morocco and Senegal as the pilot countries for these grand ambitions. 

The two are in close proximity to Spanish territory and are major departure points for migrants, and their governments (as well as business) have an established history of working together. 

In other words, Spain is trying it first with a relatively safer bet. 

If it cannot succeed in these countries, there’s little hope for success in other African countries.

Competition

Carving new inroads into Africa risks stepping on the toes of other European countries that have a much longer, larger and better-established presence in Africa. 

Again, security and development in the Sahel have traditionally been France’s domain. 

Even if Spain were able to pursue its own agenda in the Sahel, it would do so knowing that it could pit it against France. 

More, many East African nations maintain close security and defense ties to the U.K. 

Part of the U.K.’s post-Brexit economic strategy is to revive trade and economic relations with its former colonies.

That leaves Portugal. 

Spain’s pursuit of improved ties with Africa resurrects old tensions with its Iberian neighbor. 

Obviously, Portugal and Spain compete for much of the same space. 

Like Spain, Portugal sits on the Iberian Peninsula, putting distance between it and Europe and directing its attention to the Atlantic and West Africa. 

This explains why Portugal was among the first nations to develop sophisticated maritime navigation, the first European power to establish itself in Africa, and among the last to leave Africa. 

Even after the final wave of independence, Portugal and former colonial holdings formed the Community of Portuguese Language Countries to use diplomatic and political ties for improved relations and collaboration. 

Initial efforts focused on cultural and political ties but have since expanded to foster economic cooperation, promotion of business connections and the like.


Through this community, Portugal has maintained close ties with its former colonies and even drew upon these partnerships in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis by having Brazilian companies step in to prop up the Portuguese economy. 

Portuguese workers even found employment in places like Brazil and Angola. 

Spanish ventures into Angola and Mozambique will therefore be somewhat contested. 

Spain’s plan encroaches on Portugal’s traditional sphere of influence (and main foreign policy area outside of Europe) and Portugal does not view this lightly. 

However, at this point in time, Spain has more to offer these countries than Portugal, and Portugal will be hard-pressed to keep Spain out.
 

Spain’s location dictates that it must have an Africa strategy, and the timing is right to pursue it. 

The post-pandemic economic and security environments in Africa increase the risks and threats faced by Spain and force a move. 

While vying for stronger space in Africa runs the risk of conflicting with other European countries’ interests, the current economic and political situations of these players allow Spain to press on with minimal consequences.

 Long covid

Health care and workplaces must adjust for long covid

1.5% of working-age people have lasting symptoms


As the world enters the second year of the pandemic, two crises are unfolding. 

The more urgent and visible one is in poor countries like India, where a surge of covid-19 cases is threatening to overwhelm the state. 

India is recording more than 350,000 cases a day, and many more than that are thought to be going undetected. 

The suffering is grievous. 

Oxygen supplies at Indian hospitals are running far short of what is needed, and crematoriums are overwhelmed.

The other crisis is more subtle. 

This is long covid, which is becoming apparent in rich countries like America, Britain and Israel that have largely vaccinated their way out of the pandemic, but which will affect poor ones, too. 

Post-covid syndrome, to give it its formal name, is a set of symptoms affecting any part of the body that persist for at least three months after a bout of covid-19. 

Three stand out: breathlessness, fatigue and “brain fog”. 

In Britain three in every five people with long covid say their usual activities are somewhat limited, and one in five says they are limited “a lot”—which often means being unable to do even a part-time, desk-based job.

The numbers are chilling. 

Half a million people in Britain have had long covid for more than six months. 

Their chances of full recovery are probably slim. 

The vast majority are in their working-age prime. 

At the last count (which does not fully take in the country’s second wave) 1.1% of Britain’s population had had long covid for at least three months—a group that includes 1.5% of those of working age. 

About 15% of Britain’s population had been infected by then. 

Applying this rate to global covid-19 cases, numbering an estimated 1.2bn so far, suggests that more than 80m people may already have long covid.

The costs of the condition have yet to be tallied, but they will be huge. 

Britain’s National Institute for Health Research found that, in 80% of sufferers, the illness affected the ability to work. 

Over a third said it had weighed on their finances.

As yet, long covid has no cure. 

What scientists know so far about the disease points to it being a combination of a persistent viral infection (for which a drug may be found at some point), a chronic autoimmune disorder (which would need expensive, complex care like that for rheumatoid arthritis or multiple sclerosis) and lingering damage to some tissues caused by the original covid-19 infection. 

Medicines for the first two of these causes may ultimately be found. 

America alone has put $1.15bn into research. 

At the moment, though, sufferers need months of rehabilitation to help them cope.

Health-care systems and employers must prepare to assist long-covid sufferers, including those who have no proof of past infection because they were not able to be tested. 

Prompt rehabilitative care can prevent a downward spiral in personal health and finances. 

Dedicated long-covid clinics will speed things up. 

As things now stand, patients often bounce from one specialist to another in search of a diagnosis.

Employers, for their part, must rethink how to accommodate workers with a disability that flares up in unpredictable bouts. 

Governments can help, with incentives that encourage sufferers to stay in work and employers to cater to their condition. 

If governments miss the boat, millions of young and mid-career workers could permanently drop out of the labour force. 

One approach could draw on a scheme for disability benefits that is used in the Netherlands. 

Dutch employers and employees who are too unwell to work as normal are required to come up jointly with a plan on how the sick employee can return to work under new conditions. 

Remote working and flexible schedules would make it easier for long-covid sufferers to work at least part-time. 

Many of them will improve, though even that can take months.

Lots of mistakes were made in the pandemic’s acute phase. 

But that came out of the blue. 

There is no excuse for failing to respond to long covid. 

And there is no time to waste.