There has been so much talk about the coronavirus you’d think nothing is left to be said. Actually, quite a lot remains. That’s because much of what we had been originally led to believe was incomplete or fake news, and because developments are unfolding so rapidly.
This story broke in December and it remains in the headlines, only now it has become more shocking. Everything that has been happening since it first became news makes this virus even more worrisome than it originally was. The situation recalls the pasuk in the tochacha (rebuke) in Devarim - in the morning, you will wish it were evening, and in the evening, you will wish it were morning, meaning that the situation was very bad last night, but by this morning it had become much worse, and you’ll be wishing it were still last night . And by tonight, the situation will have deteriorated so much that you’ll be wishing it were still this morning.
As we write this, corona reportedly has spread to at least 32 countries. More than 76,819 people have been infected, 2,250 have died from it and an additional 12,066 are either in serious or critical condition. These numbers, terrible as they are, are increasing steadily.
However, there have been quite a few reports, some posted on social media or other sources, that conditions in China are far worse than what we are being told; that crematoria are incinerating bodies 24/7, that so many bodies being burned that it is affecting the sulfur dioxide levels in the air.
Of course, we’d like to dismiss all of these stories as wild exaggerations and hoaxes. However, they’ve been supported by other reports of China shipping 40 industrial incinerators to Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. One could only hope that the massive efforts underway to contain the virus will be effective.
A Mounting Toll
The most important aspect of corona is the toll it has already taken on human life and the health risks the world could face in the very immediate future. But there is an additional crisis that is developing - the impact the virus could have on the global economy.
China has the second largest economy in the world, and it accounts for approximately 20 percent of the world’s GDP. As one website put it, “At this point the rest of the world has become so dependent on Chinese exports that any sort of an extended shutdown of Chinese manufacturing would be a complete and utter nightmare for global supply chains.”
The same can be said of companies exporting to China, which include businesses in Israel that export $9 billion to China annually. Meanwhile, a new study that was just released by Dun & Bradstreet has concluded that the corona virus outbreak in China “could impact more than five million businesses worldwide.”
To paraphrase an old expression, if China catches a cold, the rest of the world’s economy will sneeze.
Anecdotally, someone I know works for a firm that imports children’s clothing from China. This friend told me that not only have the factories he deals with in China closed, but so have all the factories in that province. There are reports that business in two thirds of China has either slowed or come to a complete standstill. If true, this is unprecedented in recent history and suggests that serious economic problems for many companies lie directly ahead. And this appears to be true, as in the first two weeks of February, car sales in China crashed by 92 percent.
Where and When
There is no doubt that the global economy is slowing. The only questions are how quickly is this happening, in which regions is it slowing the most, and which industries will be hit the hardest.
Following are some recent headlines that elaborate on the situation:
*Apple warns on revenue guidance due to production delays and weak demand in China because of coronavirus.
*Adidas’ China business activity crashes 85% due to virus shock.
*Dozens of cities in China are in effect closed with 400-700 million people in quarantine.
*The slowdown in manufacturing is creating a glut in oil and gas and creating economic havoc for the companies and countries producing them.
*As China grinds to a halt firms can no longer afford to pay workers. The outbreak has left many millions of workers and businesses on the brink of disaster.
*FDA braces for drug and medical supply shortages from China.
There are horror stories about people in China locked into their apartments without food, and about people without symptoms falling dead on the street. Projections from well-respected sources warn that in a worst-case scenario, billions of people potentially could come down with the virus and that millions who contract corona could succumb to it.
Meanwhile, the virus is spreading to additional countries, and businesses around the world are grinding to a halt because they are running out of supplies and can’t replenish their inventory.
Rabbi Yosef Mizrachi, the well-known maggid shiur, recently spoke about spiritual aspects of this virus, but he also offered very practical advice. “Store lots of food, tuna, bread, flour, and water, because we don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. He also urged people to avoid making long-term plans, such as buying a new house and committing money to long-term investments, because no one knows what could happen next.
In 2003, the SARS virus broke out. It, too, originated in China, and like corona, it was very scary. However, for some reason, it suddenly stopped spreading and petered out. Hopefully, corona will quickly follow suit, b’ezras Hashem.
However, as this is being written, there are no signs of that happening, and very credible and informed sources have issued warnings about the health risks the world could be facing as well as the risks to the global economy if the supply chain grinds to a halt.
“At some point, when you realize this isn’t just a one-time issue on earnings and could have a longer term impact, you can see an adjustment in stock prices,” Raymond James health care policy analyst Chris Meekings cautioned.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, had an even more blunt warning. “The coronavirus outbreak may be at the brink of a global pandemic,” he said.
The world is now in uncharted territory and no one knows what’s going to happen next. This is scary stuff to be sure. Let’s pray that these nightmare scenarios are all overblown and that calm and peace of mind will prevail speedily for all.