China’s rush to reopen factories and markets in the midst of a poorly understood outbreak may backfire, a failure that could result in one of the worst depressions the world has ever seen.
It’s no secret that the COVID-19 virus has dealt a punishing blow to the Chinese economy since its emergence months ago. With over 700 million now under some form of lockdown to control the coronavirus, work has ground to a halt.
Seeing a slowdown of new cases has prompted the ruling communist party to urge work to resume, with the party’s Global Times mouthpiece proclaiming “we must be resolute in resuming economic activity.”
Considering how little is known about the novel coronavirus, pushing workers to return to factories, markets and sales floors en masse does not look like a good decision.
Fortunately for virologists, a closed system with the virus exists on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship. Unfortunately for the people on the massive boat, their role as a large-scale petri dish shows just how contagious this bug really is.
Despite officials’ best efforts to contain the virus on the ship, the initially small number of infected soon soared to 454.
“The quarantine process failed,” National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci told USA Today.
“I’d like to sugarcoat it and try to be diplomatic about it, but it failed. People were getting infected on that ship.”
It’s unclear why the quarantine failed and transmission occurred, but it may be because the virus is more easily spread through the air than previously thought. Although it’s not thought to be airborne, the CDC still recommends airborne procedures and protective gear.
If COVID-19 is able to spread through the air, the cruise ship’s ventilation system may be a major factor in the baffling infection rates.
Once that possibility is applied to China, where hundreds of millions are holed up in high-rise apartments designed according to loose Chinese standards, the potential of this disaster becomes clear.
Although the Chinese government claims to have a handle on the epidemic, changes in the diagnosis criteria have seen confirmed cases spike by over 14,000 in a single day. Skeptics also remain unconvinced that the country’s communist regime is being honest.
The predicament of the Chinese worker is apparent: The government appears close to giving the all-clear for many. Those voicing skepticism on Chinese social media are swiftly silenced. China’s social credit system likely also puts pressure on citizens to return to work.
While those with symptoms may stay home, the virus can hitch a ride on clothing and other materials. There is even evidence that infected individuals may be able to spread COVID-19 without showing symptoms.
China, the world’s second-largest economy, would be absolutely devastated if this virus made a strong resurgence. The impact on other countries would be downright horrifying.
China’s exports would grind to a halt, depriving the United States of $480 billion worth of goods. Take a look at some of the things around you right now. Many of these items (including the phone or computer you’re reading this on) likely originated in a Chinese factory.
The effect on American retailers would be disastrous. Walmart, for example, imports an estimated 80 percent of its products from Chinese suppliers, according to the Alliance for American Manufacturing.
Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom, three of the largest economies in the world, also rely on Chinese exports worth billions.
Needless to say, all of these exports grinding to a halt virtually overnight would not be pleasant for the world economy. Even the U.S. economy, at an all-time high thanks to President Donald Trump, would not escape without a major beating.
If the quarantines in China are failing just as they are on the Diamond Princess, we could be headed for the biggest economic gut punch since the Great Depression.
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