Friday 28 February 2020

The Price of Fear

Fighting back

What you can do in the face of the global coronavirus outbreak

By Peter Hoskin

In the days since we published our set of data visualisations on the subject, the economic side effects of COVID-19 have become even more apparent. Last Wednesday, the S&P 500, the stock index that’s perhaps the best representation of the American market, was seemingly immune to the coronavirus, having registered a new record high. This Wednesday, it was left staggering and spluttering after two of its worst one-day slides for years. Investors had finally caught wind of warnings that the illness wasn’t just confined to medical wards – nor just to China.

What’s just as striking is the types of stock that have been most affected. American Airlines’ share price fell by 9 per cent on Tuesday. Royal Caribbean Cruises’ by over 7 per cent. The cancellation of flights, boat trips and train journeys is one of the best metaphors there is for the financial impact of the coronavirus, which is likely to be massive overall. As the economist Linda Yueh told our podcast this week, “The integration of China today is so significant that, having this kind of virus spread and halt travel and shut down shops, it’s probably not surprising that the estimated effect is about ten times what SARS was.”

What can be done in the face of such tidal forces? The hardest work of all will have to be performed by doctors, nurses and scientists, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us are powerless. We’ve put together this list of actions you can take.


The London-based analysts at Capital Economics have been tracking the economic effects of COVID-19 more assiduously than most – to the extent that they now have a ‘Coronavirus updates’ tab on the main navigation bar of their website. The charts you see by clicking on that tab, which cover everything from the number of confirmed cases in the world to cinema ticket sales in China, are updated regularly. Much of their other writing is paywalled, but a note headlined ‘Counting the long-term cost of the coronavirus’ is available to all.

Foreign Policy magazine is also a good source of reading material on the coronavirus, much of it worrying from an economic perspective. This article on the spreading gloom quotes the consultancy Wood Mackenzie: “It seems increasingly likely that February will prove to be an economic write-off for China.”

How much worse could it get? A couple of weeks ago, the president of the organising committee for the Tokyo Olympics, Yoshiro Mori, said that “we are not considering a cancellation or postponement of the games”. However, in more recent days, a senior member of the International Olympic Committee has raised the question: “Is this under sufficient control that we can be confident about going to Tokyo or not?” The Diplomat has looked at what cancellation might mean for Japan’s already-fragile economy, concluding that losing lots of tourists over an extended period might be worse than just losing the Games.

As for the virus itself, this detailed Atlantic article sets out how difficult COVID-19 will be to contain, let alone cure, as well as the scientific community’s efforts to respond. Meanwhile, for those who can get their heads around the science, the publishers of Nature journal have made all their research on the coronavirus free to read, through one online portal.


It pays to be careful when donating money to organisations responding to coronavirus outbreaks; there are already plenty of claims that money is being mishandled. Big charities such as Save the Children and Unicef might be safer bets, and are working to hand out surgical masks to people in virus-ridden areas.

Money isn’t the only thing you can donate. A support centre has been set up in Merseyside, near to Arrowe Park Hospital, where British people have been quarantined having flown back from China, and it is taking in everything from toys to cakes to volunteers to help those who have been affected. You can get in touch with your local authority to see whether there are any similar initiatives near where you live.

Take care

The National Health Service has useful guidance on what to do to protect yourself and others from catching coronavirus. The short version is that simple precautions, such as regularly washing your hands and avoiding contact with people who are unwell, are eminently sensible and helpful. The NHS also recommends that people who have recently visited certain high-risk regions, such as China’s Hubei province and northern Italy, should “stay away from public places”.

Of course, if you feel any of the symptoms of coronavirus, which include a cough and a high temperature, then you should seek medical attention. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has put together a checklist for anyone who actually has the illness.

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