This is the second time I have written this post.
My first attempt was much more of a fluff piece and in the end, I didn’t think it added much if anything to the issue; as it was very much more of a light heartened post than I had originally intended and didn’t focus enough on the issues or how I felt, but sharing some funny pictures and making a mockery of the panic buying.
The tone and approach of the first post didn’t address the increasing seriousness of the situation and I felt overall would have been inappropriate.
What sparked my interest in writing this again was an in-depth discussion with my wife one evening. As a family, we discussed our fears and concerns over how COVID-19 was playing out globally and close to home in Malaysia.
I was keen to check we were on the same page for how we saw our behavior change, or not, over the coming weeks.
My wife has thought about this in much more detail than me. Back when the outbreak first started in January she started to be concerned. Ironically now she is less so, basically, you can only worry for so long. Then you just carry on with life but with more vigilance.
I wanted to consolidate and present my common sense, practical advice for what myself and family aim to do. Also, what ideally, we all should be doing in my opinion and why. I should place a caveat that I am no medical doctor and also not claiming to be standing on a soapbox preaching. If in any way this comes across that’s not my intention.
This sh*t has got real!
We have now moved on from the initial outbreak in China where we saw funny pictures of how people were making impromptu masks for protection. (Check out my post from a friend about the importance of wearing a mask).
Things have moved on and the risk has become much higher to the point that Europe is in lockdown and the number of coronaviruses related deaths in Italy has surpassed China and the US has recalled it’s citizens and banned all flights from Europe with the exception of flights for repatriation. And now we have our first cases nearer to home in Penang, at the time of writing there are 32 cases.
The world as we see it has now changed, I have seen an overall 25% drop in my share portfolio’s value and although I don’t plan to sell it’s a tough one opening up my trading account, this is tapered with incredible sadness with what is going on around the world.
One thing that is evident is that I open up my SaxoSelect broker account way too much!
I do keep reminding myself that most of my shares were purchased for the dividends, which in the short term I hope won’t be affected.
The medium to longer-term is another story.
I have tried to time buying shares to take advantage of the price volatility in equities since the virus has gained momentum. Without much luck of course in the short term at least. Prices have been rebounding so much that no one has an idea of where this is heading day today.
One thing is clear though, we’re in for a tough period both financially and emotionally.
There is talk about how much of a black swan the COVID-19 pandemic is. My worry is on the impact on an individual basis as many people in the West have very few savings – I remember reading that the average person in the US would struggle to afford a $400 emergency. (Bloomberg argues the stats on this have been distorted).
Many small businesses will go bankrupt, forcing many business owners to incur big financial losses, but the livelihood of millions of employees will be affected too.
People’s perception of risk
The assessment of risk is very interesting.
Personally, and for many in the age group up to 50, the personal health risks are low for anyone who is healthy with no underlying health conditions.
What’s interesting, and somewhat concerning, is that the personal risk is often not associated with social risk.
We have not seen my wife’s parents for over a month now as were making sure we pose no risk to them. Infecting them, without knowing we had the coronavirus, would be heartbreaking and who in their right mind wants to be responsible for giving someone a potentially life-threatening disease. As such, our usual Sunday lunches and shopping mall trips have been on hold. I actually miss this; my wife and kids especially do.
This week I have been suffering and getting over a cold.
On a few occasions I was genuinely concerned, did I have the Coronavirus?
But I didn’t show any of the symptoms of dry cough (I had no cough) or fever. I had the typical cold symptoms of runny nose, sneezing, headache, and tiredness.
I decided on the best part to self-isolate, but my family continued with life as usual.
I stayed at home for a few reasons.
I was unwell and so tired and so it made sense to take it easy and rest up, to give myself the opportunity for a full recovery.
What if we get COVID-19?
At the moment I feel reasonably confident that we will be fine even if we were to get the coronavirus. That said the situation is very fluid and changes each day, so there is a limit to what you can do.
We were prepared for when the schools closed. We had food for a week if need be and got the usual number of toilet rolls to last 7 days too.
Fortunately, both my work and my wife’s work patterns are flexible. I can work completely from home if I want (have done for years now) and my wife can do some of her work there too.
Of course, having two very active kids running around is not ideal for home working but it’s possible. My wife and I will do less work to spend more time with the kids, but we must still dedicate time to run our businesses as and when required.
Part of me thinks that staying at home a bit more with the family could be fun, the other part makes me think how much are the kids going to drive me crazy!
How Businesses have been coping
By now you have most likely received an email from companies who are letting you know how they are dealing with the outbreak, both to continue serving you and how they are protecting their staff and business.
I know because I have received around 15 emails in the last 48 hours!
I haven’t sent out such an email yet, and maybe I won’t, at least this won’t be the subject of the email. I mean who really cares about this email after reading 15 so far?
Emails concerning the impact of orders and or stock are essential but anything else is simply adding to your inbox of unread, but quickly deleted email.
Businesses that can function in working from home and don’t rely on foot traffic for sales are faring better. It’s still tough as supply chains have been severely disrupted.
I have been concerned with how my supplement business will go in the coming months. At the moment we can run the business as usual and have even seen an uplift in sales this month due to the nature of the product (helps support the immune system).
As an online business selling physical goods is really at the mercy of shipping companies, so as long as these aren’t disrupted we should be okay.
The other impact is of course on supply chains for the products itself. My ingredients are sourced globally and so the manufacturer may have issued further down the line managing to get hold of supplies.
They are a lot of unknowns and you can only prepare so far.
Stay informed with reliable sources
There has been a massive amount of information flow in the last few weeks. Staying on top of this and being able to decipher the BS from the more informed news can be a challenge.
The fact is there are a lot of unknowns – don’t worry not going in to make a Donald Rumsfeld speech here about known unknowns 😉 (it’s still a classic speech to this day! You can see it here on YouTube)
As with all big global news events, there has been the release of conspiracy theories on how the virus first started. Some countries have even weighed in on this as well.
I have a few friends who have been digesting a lot of information on the COVID-19 virus and so thought it would be useful to put some of the best ones here.
Having a read through these sources will have to provide a more mathematical solution to the problem, and not relying on prophecy.
How the main strategy for countries to deal with the spread is being called “Flatten the Curve”, this simple one-page website explains more https://www.flattenthecurve.com/.
This approach is in theory simply reducing infection rates to allow healthcare systems to cope and provide support. Without rate limiting the infection rate then healthcare professionals will need to make decisions over who lives and dies due to insufficient resources.
Simulation to show the spread of the Coronavirus using four different strategies.
The outcome of the simulation showed how “extensive social distancing” will usually outperform moderate social distancing and attempted quarantine. It is a simulation though and can only take into account certain factors.
For fellow Malaysians and those expats based there, this site I have found most useful – https://newslab.malaysiakini.com/covid-19/en
To get a visual representation global of the spread along with news for each region I suggest taking a look at – https://www.bing.com/covid
Source for World case COVID-19 Statistics
And for just stats and updates I can highly recommend https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/ as it puts together all the country stats with news updates, it can be very sobering especially when you look at the plight of Italy and also some raised eyebrows – Russia, for instance, has no new cases of coronavirus with almost the same number of cases as San Marino a tiny mountainous republic of 33,000 people.
Malaysia takes action – Quarantined life
The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported in the BBC News recently that South-east Asia is not taking the situation seriously enough, and that the countries in the region need to take more aggressive strategies to reduce the rate and spread of COVID-19.
In Malaysia, we started a 14-day “lock-down”, which is actually a Movement Control Order, brought in to reduce social movement from the 18th March until 31st March.
I was thinking it wasn’t too bad as we have a nice big condo, very good internet connection (now that I have upgraded) and plenty of toys and stuff for the kids to do. Like many expats living in Malaysia, we are in a fortunate position, many here are not and their living conditions are not so grand!
I have become quite frustrated and especially for me, quite passionate about the reaction of some people to this such a serious situation. Some of them are friends, which has made it incredibly difficult and even more frustrating.
I couldn’t, and still don’t, understand why it’s so difficult for some to spend a few weeks at home, especially when some of my friends have no kids running around like maniacs during the day, in light of what the consequences could be to friends and family Italy has now moved past China in total deaths with a 43% mortality rate among those that are serious.
I appreciate it’s not great to be told by anyone that you shouldn’t go out, especially when you’re used to the freedoms that many expats enjoy in Malaysia, myself included. I can’t help but think that Instead of spending so much time complaining and fighting the “system”, time could be spent much more effectively.
For one, on our businesses, which for the most part are online and so which more often than not are ideally suited to home or remote working WITHOUT any disruption.
Alternatively, if you don’t run a business or are retired, then the perfect opportunity to learn a new skill. There is no shortage of online courses that you can take a look at.
The attention really should go towards those small business owners that have physical stores and rely on foot traffic to pay the bills, staff, and families. These guys will be hit very hard during the next two weeks and longer if the virus is not contained.
Some of these businesses have pivoted already by offering takeaway services, like a popular expat food and beverage place we often go to at the weekends.
As I wrote about in this post about the importance of co-working spaces for solopreneurs, I really enjoy going into an office, even though I can technically work from anywhere. It’s the equivalent of my man cave and a source of socializing with other fellow minded people, both local Malaysians, and expats.
I am embracing the next few weeks, spending time with my family, and much to my wife’s amusement reducing my shopping bill on T-shirts, and I’m rediscovering home-cooked food (I may even do some cooking myself). All this whilst supporting and running my business with minimal interruptions.
I feel fortunate. Part of me wishes that more people were also in a similar position.
This is already an unprecedented event, the virus will no doubt have significant implications for the next few years both financially and emotionally. Here are my observations from what I have seen and how I feel.
- Many of us will lose loved ones prematurely not just from the nature of the virus itself, quite possibly from the actions of other people through ignorance and selfishness
- It’s going to test many people’s resolve and affect relationships. The pandemic will show some peoples true colors both positively and negatively, in doing so, it will pull some people together and push others apart
- Many people are still not taking this seriously or simply panicking. Some ignoring advice from health professionals and the governments and others panic buying and behaving as if Friday nights can be the same as they were pre COVID-19
- It will financially ruin and cripple many people. Businesses are already and will suffer greatly, with many becoming insolvent. Investment strategies are being severely tested, mine has definitely not been as robust as I hoped
- Governments will get further in debt with bailouts and stimulus packages. The value of money will decrease even further making potentially Gold and possibly cryptocurrency more attractive
- Many people will be so preoccupied with watching the media, discussing the merits of their view and why others are wrong, that valuable time will be wasted that could be spent on their business or with family and friends
You never know for sure how prepared you are until it comes. We believe we are and all without needing to raid the supermarket for toilet rolls!
It’s tough not to follow the herd mentality or be the polar opposite to rebel because you believe your rights aren’t being respected because you miss going out to eat at your favorite restaurant.
Surely the answer goes back to not get real about what is happening but at the same time don’t panic, denial puts others at risk, and panicking rarely solves anything!?
I enjoy reading Mark Manson, the author of “The subtle art of not giving a f*ck” (you can check his books out on Amazon), he makes some really good points that resonate with me. Although I suspect the situation may be worse than the picture he paints, regardless his mindset is in line with mine.
I of course could be simplifying this too much, but for me and my family, this seems like the most sensible approach to adopt. It will make dealing with the coming weeks easier so we can focus on what’s important; my family and friends.
Be safe, be mindful of personal and social risks. Remember no one makes a rational decision when in panic or denial mode.