Markets took a new tumble on Monday as WHO indicated a global pandemic may be on the way. If coronavirus becomes 2020’s biggest story, what should the world prepare for?
PHOTO: A disinfection professional wears protective gear at the National Assembly in Seoul on Feb. 24.
Global stock markets dropped steeply on Monday amid fears that the coronavirus could be having wider economic impact than thought. Meanwhile the World Health Organization (WHO) announced Monday morning that a global pandemic of the coronavirus hasn’t yet arrived—but is highly possible. That’s an opinion increasingly shared by epidemiologists, especially as outbreaks struck multiple countries over the past week: South Korea, Iran, and Italy. Cases of transmission with no traceable link to the origin of COVID-19 in China are becoming more common. Frighteningly, deaths are emerging in countries with few reported cases, suggesting a much wider undetected pattern of infection.
If this happens, no other story will be more important in 2020. It’s been many years since the world faced outbreaks of this scale. The Hong Kong flu outbreak of 1968 killed approximately 1 million people worldwide, and appears to have been considerably less lethal than the coronavirus. It’s not yet certain what the virus’ case fatality rate—the percentage of those infected who die—is, but it looks to be at the level of the Spanish flu in 1918, which killed more than 50 million people. Medical technology has come a long way since then—but so has globalization and population growth.
China was first to be hit, so it gives the rest of the world some idea of what might be coming. What does that look like?
A shut-down world
Panic buying and hoarding
Racism and division
None of this is inevitable. People are remarkably resilient, adaptive, and cooperative in times of crisis. Vaccines may come sooner than expected, and the arrival of summer may help slow the virus’s spread. The case fatality rate is far higher in overwhelmed Wuhan than in cases outside of the immediate disaster zone, and even lower outside China itself. Public education can do even more to fight the virus than quarantines and restrictions can — if the world’s leaders step up and treat the risks involved seriously. And that’s a big if.
It's a great time to create and innovate, together. A crisis reveals the mindset that is already there. When the virus first broke out in China, it was very easy to either dismiss it as a China problem, or point the finger of blame. But now the knowledge and insight's gained from China's trial by fire are going to come in crucial to the next weeks and months. As well as the health crisis, there are also economies to keep going. Not an easy challenge by any means. Who's up for some collaboration? Join the community and receive the help you need, give the help you can.