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Here’s the Next Covid Risk for Retail: Week Ahead

Could the U.S. lead the way out of Covid as Europe faces a feared third wave?

The fashion and retail sector sees vaccinations in the U.S. as a glimmer of hope for a return to a new spin on normal, where consumers can resume parts of their lifestyles that were put on pause for the past year. In fact, the National Retail Federation is forecasting annual retail sales growth of 6.5 percent to 8.2 percent for 2021, starting in February onward with an uptick in May and accelerating momentum in the late summer into fall.

That’s a timeline that also could get a boost based on the Biden administration’s plan to rollout more vaccinations before the summer so Americans have a shot at celebrating Independence Day with family, even if larger gatherings aren’t sanctioned.

But Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s top medical advisor, in an interview with CNN on Sunday, also warned that if Americans want to be able to enjoy a July 4th celebration, they should get vaccinated and maintain recommended safety measures, like wearing face masks and using hand sanitizer.

How much worse could it still get?

Parts of Europe are struggling to contain what has now been deemed a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Half of Italy’s 20 regions are already in lockdown. Serbia is in the middle of a five-day quarantine as it attempts to curb the spread of the virus. And the Czech Republic, in lockdown for two weeks, on Thursday said it would keep current restrictions in place through Easter. Germany and France are watching infection rates rise again. And the U.K., in its third lockdown since Jan. 4, is hoping to reopen nonessential businesses on April 12, although that’s by no means a guarantee.

In the U.S., infection rates are on the rise in California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois, Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and New Jersey. That’s according to an NPR chart citing the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at the Johns Hopkins University, current as of Thursday’s data compilation.

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In the last two surges, Europe was one month ahead of the U.S. And the current rise in infection rates in the U.S. was even before the week of spring break that began on Monday. The fallout from spring break won’t be known for another two weeks, with effects likely seen around the Passover and Easter holidays.

“They’re slower [in Europe] in vaccinating than we are [in the U.S.], but I still think there’s a risk here. Just this week with the spring breakers, there were pictures on the news with a lot of people without masks in large crowds. We’ve already seen over the last year what happened with the super spreader,” said David Berliner, who heads up the bankruptcy and restructuring practice at financial advisory firm BDO.

He warned of the possibility of another wave in the U.S. “We’ve only vaccinated 10 percent of the population here [in the U.S.]. We’re doing two million a day, but it’s going to take a long time to get herd immunity. So, yes, I think there’s a risk,” Berliner said.