"It's going to be a multi-year recovery and not without some pain," says Paul Gruenwald, global chief economist with S&P Global Ratings.
But that recovery is going to feel very different for different countries and for different industry sectors, he says.
"We didn't have a playbook for a pandemic."
Gruenwald, speaking to the Herald from Seattle, is a former Asia Pacific chief economist for ANZ.
He now leads S&P Global Ratings' research team in New York. But he retains a fondness for this part of the world, visiting annually (in more normal times) to meet local economists.
This time last year we talked about global recession fears that today look decidedly mild in comparison with what the world now faces.
Gruenwald, an optimist at the time, is under no illusions about the depth of the recession Covid-19 has caused, but he does see signs that the recovery is underway, albeit with a long way to go.
"We saw unprecedented declines in economic activity ... 30 to 40 per cent drops on an annualised basis. Then China bounced back in Q2, they're one quarter ahead," he says.
He's expecting to see pretty good growth numbers out of the US and around the world - including New Zealand - in the third quarter of this year.
But he warns against reading too much into them.
"We're basically going to spend the next couple of years digging out of a big hole, of an unprecedented macro shock, and that's going to be the narrative for the next 12-24 months.
"I think the V-shaped recovery, we can put that to rest."
Those third-quarter numbers will still leave most economies well below the levels of economic activity they had at the end of 2019.
"We've been telling our clients and stakeholders not to pay much attention to the growth rates," says Gruenwald.
"We propose that folks look at the level of activity. So if you think of an index, you can set the [GDP level at the] end of 2019 to 100. In the US we dropped to 90 and now we're going to climb back out.
"But it is going to be 2021, maybe early 2022, before we get back to the level of activity we were at when all this started at the end of 2019."
Despite that relatively grim baseline scenario, Gruenwald retains an optimistic outlook on some fronts.
He's been heartened by the strong policy response he has seen from central banks and governments around the world.
"[On] monetary policy we can see central banks learnt some lessons from the financial crisis," he says.
"Central banks swung into action early and decisively."
So we don't have a credit crisis like did in 2008: "we're keeping yields and spreads in check so all that is good.
"The tricky bit in this crisis is the fiscal response."
That's because the economic damage being done by Covid-19 and the measures to contain it are so unevenly spread.
"The footprint of the crisis has been very different. "
The service sectors, areas of huge economic growth in the past decade, are taking a bigger hit than manufacturers.
"That's not normal," Gruenwald says.
The sectors taking big hits are those most affected by lockdown measures: restaurants tourism, entertainment.
The pandemic is also hitting small and medium-sized businesses harder than previous downturns.
Meanwhile, some sectors such as technology, financial services and health have actually done reasonably well, he says.
So the fiscal response needs to be focused and should aim to achieve two goals.
"You want to cushion the blow and a lot of that is coming through labour market support," Gruenwald says.
"The other thing is, you want to lay the foundations for the recovery."
So far he is heartened by what he has seen around the world, with central governments prepared to do what is needed.
"We've seen policy makers come together, we saw very rapid fiscal response," he says.
"Even using the US as an example - where we haven't had a lot of political co-operation across parties - they came together in the middle of the crisis and delivered fiscal support to the labour market and to small business."
That's building a template for political co-operation that wasn't there before
"So one of the optimistic views, as we build on the recovery - whether it's infrastructure, or green investment, or work on social safety nets, or medical security, there's a whole bunch of things that are macro, structural ... they're going to need to be addressed and if we can build on the co-operation during the depths of a crisis, then maybe that's an upside risk for the recovery - let's hope so."
Ultimately, though, it is the health variables of the virus and the pandemic that will determine the final shape of the recovery.
"It's not going to be a straight line[recovery]," says Gruenwald.
While it may not be a double-dip recession, things are progressing at different speeds in different countries.
"Most of this is driven by health and if the number of Covid infections remains under control then we can see things picking up a little quicker," Gruenwald says.
But there are downside risks too.
"It has become clear that premature opening of economies (in the US in particular) raises health risks and slows [or] reverses the rebound."
Non-traditional real-time indicators that economists have been watching closely this year - Google mobility data, electronic card spending and so on - start to slow down when virus numbers deteriorate, he says.
"The virus and containment and economic performance are very interlinked."
All of which points to the importance of making progress towards a vaccine.
It's not possible for economists to know when that will arrive, Gruenwald says.
But S&P Global does have some health specialists in-house and has adopted an assumption, for internal modelling, of a vaccine sometime in the middle of next year.
Given the number of promising candidates in trials now, this may actually be a little conservative, he says.
"You can envisage a scenario where the Covid shot is kind of like an annual flu shot. Then you can get back to something like normal."
But it would be foolhardy to assume the world will ever be the same as before - even if we get a vaccine and get economic activity back to 2019 levels.
"It's not like we can cut from 2019 and paste it into 2021," Gruenwald says.
"Our consumer preferences are changing, industries are changing. Are we going to go back to the same entertainment industry with big events, the cruise industry, the travel industry?"
"I think we're going to have shifts around sectors. We're going more and more online, less person to person, more emphasis on health technology, health security.
"Even if we do eventually get an all-clear there will be some changes. That's a good operating assumption, in our view."