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Wuhan Coronavirus: A threat to the global economy

The Coronavirus outbreak that originated in Wuhan has killed at least 427 people and infected nearly 20,000 people across 26 countries so far. Ever since tackling the menace that SARS had brought to China nearly two decades ago, the country’s importance in the global economy has increased exponentially. Now, 17 years later, the world’s most populous country has been attacked yet again with another deadly epidemic: Coronavirus.

Everything you need to know about the Coronavirus

Read more: Everything you need to know about the Coronavirus

According to Andy Rothman, an economist at Matthews Asia, China today accounts for about one-third of the total economic growth, which is a larger share of global growth than that of the U.S., Europe and Japan combined. Over time, besides producing simple low-value products like plastic goods and clothing, China had achieved dominance in more advanced and lucrative pursuits like gadgets, smartphones, computers and auto parts. The country has now evolved into an essential part of the global supply chain that produces components required for factories from Mexico to Malaysia. Also, China had just joined the World Trade Organization, gaining access to markets around the globe. While the country was harnessing its seemingly limitless supply of low-wage workers to produce cheap consumer goods, its economy was more focused on exports.

Moreover, being a nation of 1.4 billion people with a growing appetite for electronic gadgets and fashion apparel, China has now risen into an enormous consumer market. According to the World Bank, since joining the WTO, China’s annual economic output had multiplied more than eightfold to nearly $14 trillion from $1.7 trillion. Its share of global trade has more than doubled to 12.8 per cent last year from 5.3 per cent in 2003, according to Oxford Economics. After SARS, China had suffered several months of economic contraction, but it had rebounded dramatically as well. That might happen this time too, but one thing that we’re certain of is that whatever happens in China will be felt widely.

Everything you need to know about the Coronavirus 2

According to a conservative forecast of the Oxford Economics that is based on the impacts of the virus so far, China’s economic growth is expected to drop to 5.6 per cent this year from 6.1 per cent last year. This would lead to a downfall in global economic growth by 0.2 per cent bringing it to 2.3 per cent (the slowest pace since we faced the global financial crisis a decade ago!!).

The frightening epidemic coinciding with a major holiday in China will certainly bring a substantial loss to China’s tourism and hospitality industry.

While international airlines including British Airways, American Delta and Lufthansa have cancelled all their flights to China, international companies that rely on China for either production or sales are now in deep trouble. As shopping malls remain deserted, apparel stores like Under Armor clothing and Nike face-threatening sales. Besides, as the government has extended the Lunar New Year holidays to halt the spread of the deadly virus, workers who went to visit their families during that time remain stuck in their hometowns. As a result, the activities of car factories that produce for companies like Toyota and General Motors remain suspended. Moreover, stores like Ikea, Apple and Starbucks have already closed all their stores in China.

“It’s too early to say how long it is going to last”, says Ms Rohini Malkani, an economist at DBRS Morningstar, a global credit rating business. It’s true; no one really knows how long the Coronavirus outbreak will last, how far it will spread or how many more lives it will claim. It is impossible to calculate the extent to which it will disrupt China’s economy but the country’s stellar stature in the world economy means that the impact of the outbreak will substantially exceed that of SARS. 

Everything you need to know about the Coronavirus

The Coronavirus is at the forefront of discussions and news. There is plenty of information and misinformation out there. Some commentators are panicked, others are ambivalent and feeling distant from the reach of the virus. Here is an overview of the Coronavirus.

What is the coronavirus?

Coronavirus is a virus that displays symptoms like normal everyday cold or flu – fever, fatigue, sore throat, dry cough and berating difficulties. The family of coronavirus included the SARS epidemic of 2002-3 that infected 8,098 people worldwide and caused 774 deaths. Another coronavirus that infected people was the MERS outbreak that began on the Arabian Peninsula in 2012 and still lingers. Scientists have isolated and identified the virus from its family by the name “nCoV-2019”. 

Where did the virus originate? 

On December 31, 2019, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) China office heard the first reports of a previously-unknown virus behind a number of pneumonia cases in Wuhan, a city in Eastern China with a population of over 11 million. On 11 and 12 January 2020, WHO received further detailed information from the National Health Commission China that the outbreak was associated with exposures in one seafood market in Wuhan City. The Chinese authorities identified a new type of coronavirus, which was isolated on 7 January 2020.

Scientists have speculated that the virus has either spread from bats or snakes.

Scientists from the Wuhan Institute of Virology have been researching the connection between coronaviruses and bats. In 2017, after nearly five years of collecting faecal samples from bats, in the Yunnan cave, they found coronaviruses in multiple individuals of four different species of bats, including one called the intermediate horseshoe bat. The genome of that virus is 96 per cent identical to the Wuhan virus that is currently infecting humans. 

What are the symptoms?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, a person could be at risk if they have:

  • Fever and symptoms of lower respiratory illness, such as coughing or difficulty breathing, after travelling to Wuhan or having close contact with someone who was ill and is now under investigation for the virus in the past two weeks.
  • Fever or symptoms of lower respiratory illness after having close contact in the past two weeks with someone who’s been confirmed to have the virus.

Who is most likely to get this virus? 

As of now, the majority of the people who have been diagnosed with this virus are all elder or have been in close contact with wild animals. People who have come into close contact with someone who has had the virus have also been diagnosed.

How far has it spread?

Even though the virus first appeared in China, it has quickly spread to countries like the United States, France, Germany, Sweden, Australia, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan, Macau, Japan and the Philippines, Singapore, Nepal, Sri Lanka, India, Vietnam and the UAE. As of today, there are over 10,000 cases recorded across China and dozens in other countries. At least 213 deaths have occurred in Chine due to the virus.

What steps are being taken to keep this under control?

China has declared a state of emergency and put multiple cities under quarantine to keep the virus under control. China has imposed travel restrictions on at least 16 cities in the Hubei province. It has become so difficult for China to handle the number of patients coming in for diagnosis that it has begun construction of two hospitals to be completed and in use by next week. The Chinese government has also barred its citizens from booking overseas flights. However, there is scepticism regarding the free flow of information about the virus from China in attempts to not cause alarm or bring further damage to the economy. 

Is the global community doing enough?

Many countries like the USA, France and recently Bangladesh, are evacuating citizens from China. Since there has been confirmed cases of human-to-human transmission, the World Health Organization has declared this a Public Health Emergency.

However, must people who have died are the elderly and other medically vulnerable populations with other underlying conditions. Many experts are saying that the likelihood of dying from this virus is very low. Although the virus is spreading rapidly, 2% of those infected have died.

Is there a vaccine?

There is no known vaccine in circulation for the virus as of yet. Given how the virus continues to mutate, scientists say that it is very difficult to find a vaccine for the virus. 

Antibiotics only work against bacteria, not viruses.

What precautions can I take?

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
  • Try not to travel to affected provinces in China and take extra precautions in transport hubs.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

Should I be worried?

It is important to stay vigilant and up to date about where the virus has spread. However, it also important to filter through the news and check sources to avoid misinformation. Look for updates from the World Health Organisation and other reputable agencies. It is also not a time to be racist towards any group of people and their culture. Stay calm, take precautions- especially while travelling.