Dr. Chantel Sloan, professor of health science at BYU and expert in the subject of infectious disease prevention and control, discusses the global implications of the Coronavirus. This disease has had a massive impact around the globe in a matter of months. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, governments and citizens worldwide will need to be prepared not only for sharing knowledge and culture, but also for sharing the costs of these viral epidemics. Dr. Sloan suggests that “a product of having a more global society is an increase in infectious and dangerous viruses.”
What is the Coronavirus?
Formally referred to as COVID-19, the coronavirus is a disease that affects the respiratory track of those who contract it. According to the CDC, symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Reported cases range from mild illness to death. The typical incubation period for the virus is between 2 and 14 days. Infections tend to be worse in those with weakened immune systems, including those older than 65, and anyone with respiratory issues, like asthma. At this point, the fatality rate of COVID-19 is around 0.7% according to the World Health Organization, with significantly higher rates among those older than 65—although this number could be artificially high based on the fact that those with mild symptoms are less likely to be diagnosed.
From Friday, February 21st, 2020 through the week following, every stock market in the world declined based on the fear of how this disease would affect global business. Over that time span, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell around 2000 points. Airlines have shut down several routes in and out of China. Business travelers fear being quarantined after travel to Asia. Supply chains, especially those centered in China, have been disrupted. The Chinese economy has been slowed as workers are forced to stay home. The tourism industry has been hit especially hard, as fear prevents many from traveling abroad.
This means the impact is potentially lessened. Many workers are able to perform their work at home due to advanced technology, allowing companies to stay afloat even though their workforce is scattered. Many factories in these major cities are highly automated, so production can continue with a minimal workforce. Conferences and negotiations can still be held through online platforms. While no one is celebrating this deadly disease, it will be interesting to see how the COVID-19 epidemic changes how workplaces function in the future.
Cultural Implications of the Coronavirus
One of the problems with reporting early case figures for disease outbreaks like this is that they vary widely from day to day. The total count may drop one day and spike up the next. This volatility breeds fear. Sadly, that fear can and has manifested itself in racism towards those from countries where the disease is prevalent. For the most part, COVID-19 has simply increased the level of social distancing. Social distancing involves acts like reducing the number of human contacts in a day, wearing a mask, or avoiding public places. Hand washing is also on the rise. In the countries hit the hardest by the virus, these reactions are more pronounced.
Globally, the virus has strained the already tense relationships between major world powers. The West has criticized China for the speed of its response to COVID-19 and has questioned the official reports released by the Chinese government regarding the number of cases. The World Health Organization has also come under fire and been accused of toeing the line China has drawn with these official numbers. China has not appreciated the criticism. On the other side, once the virus escalated to an epidemic, the Chinese government was quick to back relief efforts with full force. A hospital was constructed and fully operational in 10 days. It is questionable whether the governmental structures of the West would allow for that kind of response to an epidemic. China’s controversial surveillance state has also helped the government identify potential cases of COVID-19. While many in the West are generally horrified by that level of surveillance, there has been increased discussion of its merits in countries like the United States.
The world is globalizing—that means viruses are too. COVID-19 is forcing citizens around the world to ask difficult questions about culture and the global economy. How these countries answer those questions and respond to this disease may be a defining moment in the history of the early 21st century. To learn more about how the Coronavirus is impacting the world economy, listen to the iHub Cultural Conversations podcast with Dr. Sloan here.