23 February 2020   Leave a comment

I have had a difficult time trying to assess how dangerous the coronavirus (now identified as COVID-19) is to global stability. The Washington Post ran a very helpful article on the virus that I think I actually understood. Much of the uncertainty stems from my own ignorance of biology but I have also been flummoxed by the inconsistent reporting by China–it appears to be constantly redefining how to identify who has been infected. On the one hand, it seems to be highly contagious (particularly if one has the misfortune to be on a cruise ship). Outbreaks have occurred in South Korea and Italy (and, seemingly, Iran, but the information is spotty from there). Fergus Walsh, the medical correspondent for the BBC writes:

“The combined situation in South Korea, Iran and Italy points to the early stages of pandemic. This means a global outbreak, with the coronavirus spreading in the community in multiple parts of the world.

“In each of these countries we are seeing spread of the virus with no connection to China. The lockdown efforts in Italy mirror those that have happened in China.

“The situation in Iran is especially worrying because the health authorities have reportedly said the virus has spread to multiple cities, and it appears the first case in Lebanon is linked to a traveller from Iran.

“If we have a pandemic, it will still be important to limit the speed of spread of the virus. If countries could hold it somewhat at bay until the end of winter, there is a hope that warmer temperatures will reduce the time the virus can survive in the air, as we see with seasonal flu. But this may not be certain.”

There are serious effects associated with the containment measures designed to stop the spread of the virus. Many businesses in China have closed due to those measures, and the closures are beginning to affect the supply of manufactured inputs to many products. According to Reuters: “The International Monetary Fund’s chief said China’s 2020 growth would likely be lower at 5.6%, down 0.4 percentage points from its January outlook, with 0.1 percentage points shaved from global growth”. Even in those countries which have yet to see many cases, the economic effects have been substantial. In France, for example:

“France’s tourism sector has been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak, the country’s finance minister said Sunday.

“’We have less tourists, of course, in France, about 30%, 40% less than expected,’ Bruno Le Maire told CNBC on Sunday at the G-20 meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

“Tourism accounts for nearly 8% of France’s gross domestic product. It welcomes around 2.7 million Chinese tourists each year, which Le Maire said ‘won’t be the same, of course, in 2020.’ France has reported 12 confirmed cases of the virus and one death, according to a WHO report dated Feb. 22.

But it also does not seem to be as lethal as other viruses such as SARS: “Between November 2002 and July 2003, an outbreak of SARS in southern China caused an eventual 8,098 cases, resulting in 774 deaths reported in 17 countries (9.6% fatality rate)”. There have been 2,236 deaths reported so far, but it is hard to be sure that that count is accurate. The death rate is the most important issue and it may be the case that the COVID-19 virus does not merit the containment measures introduced so far. The data from China is somewhat encouraging:

“A recent study of nearly 140 patients at the Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University identified a typical pattern of symptoms associated with the virus, which causes a disease known as COVID-19. Around 99% of the patients developed a high temperature, while more than half experienced fatigue and a dry cough. About a third also experienced muscle pain and difficulty breathing. 

“Research from the Chinese Center for Disease Control suggests that around 80% of coronavirus cases are mild. Around 15% of patients have gotten severe cases, and 5% have become critically ill.”

But it is hard to be sure and there is little question that taking the virus seriously is the only viable option.

Posted February 23, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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