My inbox is a mix of people cancelling meetings and events. The EU faces a "moderate to high" risk of "widespread sustained transmission" of the coronavirus, the European Centre for Disease Prevention & Control said on Monday 2 March 2020.
The epidemic of the COVID-19 is not an ordinary flu. It is not a seasonal influenza of the type that affect many people every winter. Research so far indicates that the coronavirus spreads more rapidly and has a higher death rate than the flu.
Information about the pandemic is confusing and the problem has been upgraded by the media into a life or death matter that concerns the entire planet. Panic is taking over and panic is never a good thing for the economy.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has warned that an escalation in the coronavirus outbreak could cut global economic growth in half and plunge several countries into recession this year.
The OECD, which represents the 36 most advanced economies on the planet, urged governments around the world to cooperate closer, calling for an international response as the virus spreads.
Cities in China and in Italy are in lockdown. We see travel restrictions in place and closures of companies mounting. Global trade, commerce, tourism, investment and supply chains seem to be in disarray. It’s certainly not a good time to be in the automotive industry or in the travel and tourism business. Tourism-dependent countries are struggling economically as fearful tourists decide to postpone their holidays.
How bad could it get? Whether the economy slides into a recession would however be determined by the way businesses react to the outbreak.
The age of hysteria is upon us, but let’s never forget that it is the cool, calm and wise minds that will find the future pathways and embrace sustainable solutions. To reduce the disruption caused by the coronavirus outbreak to an acceptable level, organisations should implement a crisis plan by combining preventative and recovery measures.
They should also prepare for the post-crisis like Hong Kong did in 2003 with the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak. SARS, also a coronavirus, differed from previous epidemic infectious diseases in its explosive spread, which caught the health and hospital authorities by surprise.
SARS killed 774 people. During the outbreak, the city was perceived as the centre of the global fight against the virus with serious consequences for local business and tourism. While the global focus was on fighting SARS, Hong-Kong authorities and the private sector joined forces to prepare the post-crisis phase, to promote economic recovery and prepare a post-SARS return to economic growth.
Hong-Kong authorities committed $129 million (€100 million) to a programme seeking to: (a) promote local and international confidence in Hong-Kong; (b) promote business, tourism and local production; (c) attract international business.
An international communications plan was created for supporting the three objectives mentioned here above. The plan turned out to be very successful for restoring the confidence of the international community and in promoting economic recovery, after the elimination of the virus.
The SARS outbreak, which reached 29 countries, was ultimately contained using traditional public health measures, such as testing, isolating patients and screening people at airports, train stations and other public places where they might spread the virus. There was enormous panic just like now. The virus killed hundreds and then disappeared.
COVID-19 will disappear soon as well and will become a case study like SARS. The press will publish articles about lessons learned from the corona hysteria and how social media contributed to this. Don't forget, there was no Facebook, no Twitter or Instagram in 2003.
The coronavirus is an opportunity to show leadership. Certainly in a turbulent political period in which citizens are no longer used to that. Nevertheless, the condition is that the crisis should be tackled properly and with unity.
This I believe shouldn't be so difficult with an issue that is not ideologically coloured. So be prepared to get back to business as usual and most importantly, be hopeful and keep calm.