It’s been a hard week. There is no getting around it. The constant headlines on corona, and the number of countries affected. The tough health policies put in place. And the biggest daily drops in stock markets since 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis. Sometimes we lose sight of the larger picture. It is time for some perspective.
The corona virus is not a plague or some unknown pathogen. It is close in structure to many viruses including the common flu. The problem is that we have no anti-viral drugs or vaccines to combat it yet. Much as many common pathogens have become resistant to some of our anti-biotics and new ones are developed, we will have drugs to combat this. American companies Gilead Sciences and Moderna as well as Israel’s Migal Research Institute are close to producing anti-virals against corona.
However, due to the fact that we live in a global village with so much travel, this virus is spreading fast. A downside of globalization. That is the reason for such strict health policies that range from quarantines and lockdowns to reductions in personal interactions and cancellation of large events. From China where it began to the United States to Italy to Iran and some 40 other countries, the major protocol in place is “extreme social isolation.” The reason for it is that we are moving from “containment” to “mitigation” and “suppression.” In an increasingly faster and smaller world, there aren’t any private corners to contain something within. So we mitigate.
Wash your hands frequently. It is the frontline in stopping transmission. Transmission is most frequently through the mouth, nose and eyes.Touch your face as little as possible. Shake hands as little as possible. Try to open doors with elbows and hips, not your open hand. Use disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizers. Cough or sneeze into a tissue and discard immediately. Do not use your elbow as you will spread it into your clothes. Avoid unnecessary travel, particularly in planes and trains. Avoid going to events to thousands of people.
Some of these mitigating measures may stay in place even when the spread of corona starts to plateau and drop as it has done in China. That may not be a bad thing. It is estimated by most public health authorities that a third of humanity may get this virus even if they remain asymptomatic. The reason for the necessity of these measures is that it is better to err on the side of caution. Not just to mitigate the spread, but to protect our most vulnerable. Though the mortality rate is relatively low, it is higher than the flu and it affects seniors with compromised immune systems more than any other group.
Yes all this has a practical price. We have seen it in the markets. The stock markets are not divorced from our everyday lives. They are the lifeblood of capital, expansion and jobs. The drops have been severe. But we must keep in mind that this is not 2008/2009. There is no systemic problem of lack of credit or dangerously contracting earnings. However, due to so many shutdowns of façtories due to quarantines — particular in China that produces so many of our products — we are beginning to see what is called supply chain disruption. In simple terms, our markets are reacting to a contraction in products to sell and with industrial shutdowns and quarantines, anticipating that some people may be the victims of temporary layoffs thereby having less money to spend.
It is important to remember however that this will all be temporary. And as with all previous crises we will come back stronger than before. And in less time. The drugs will come online. Warmer weather will help to mitigate — and may very well eliminate — the spread. Factories will come back online. Yes it will be a relatively difficult number of months to come. But it is also an opportunity perhaps to recalibrate our societies.