On Monday, health authorities of China confirmed roughly 140 new cases of an unknown pneumonia-like virus, which has killed three people until now.
It appears the country’s highly awaited holiday travel season kicks off in advance of the Lunar New Year, rising concerns over the spread of the viral strain and its likely impact on the economic development.
“It’s highly possible we’ll witness this virus spread given that it appears there’s some form of human-to-human transmission and given the hype of travel in the lead-up to Chinese New Year,” Microbiology and Immunology Department’s faculty research incharge at Georgetown University, Alexandra Phelan told CNBC this Monday.
He further stated that “Looking more on, I think we’re likely to receive cases from around China, and also there will likely be cases from other countries as people travel.”
While Sars-virus first observed in the central city of Wuhan during late December, more than 139 fresh cases that had been reported over the weekend in China revealed new cases in Beijing in the north of the country, as well as in the southern part of Shenzhen, said Reuters.
This brings the total to over 200 confirmed cases from the new coronavirus strain. Three of them have passed away.
Effect on travelers
As Lunar New Year starts this Saturday, hundreds of millions of travelers from China are expected to travel both locally and internationally, heightening concerns of a further spread of the virus and kindling memories of the fatal Sars pandemic that took place in 2002 and 2003 and killed nearly 800 people around the world.
The Sars pandemic – mostly caused by a coronavirus – cost the worldwide economy tens of billions of dollars.
South Korea confirmed on Monday its first case of the new coronavirus in a Chinese woman who arrived to Incheon International Airport from Wuhan, China.
Two cases have been reported by Thailand and one by Japan. These involved two Chinese from the city of Wuhan and a resident in Japan who had a travel history to the area – where the virus is found linked to a large seafood and animal market, unveiling that the virus had made its path from animals to humans, the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) described on its website.
It’s important to consider that some of the people infected with the virus haven’t had exposure to the animal markets, “telling that some limited person-to-person transmission is taking place,” said the CDC on Friday.
Airport officials almost all over the world have already initiated measures regarding health screening of travelers at their borders to identify and pick up suspected cases. Procedures include temperature screening.
However, as symptoms from the new Wuhan coronavirus infection are quite same to that of other respiratory conditions, there will be “a lot” of passengers who would be falsely picked up alongside, Phelan said.
He further added that “these steps can be useful opportunities to inform people with information if they do feel sick. But most of the time, border screening is a very expensive, not always effective way of preventing the spread of disease.”
Impact of virus spread on China’s economy
While the detailed description and severity of the new coronavirus is still under investigation, experts felt it could pose a major threat to economies in the Asia Pacific.
Vishnu Varathan, head of economics and strategy at Mizuho Bank, said that “Human-to-human transmission will be (the) tipping point, and mass movement in China during CNY (Chinese New Year) may be an unwelcomed accelerant.”
“The 2003 Sars crisis left a severe negative impact in GDP growth for the Chinese economy and also hit the economics of many Southeast Asian nations,” said Rajiv Biswas, Asia Pacific Chief Economist at IHS Market.
In an email to CNBC, Varathan anticipated that the “fear factor” ignited by the uncertainties that come along the new coronavirus could send economic activity grinding down quickly and “hijack signs of bottoming/recovery in the economic sector,”
On Monday, shares of Chinese face mask-maker and drugmakers soared after raising concerns over the outbreak.
Recent reports from China revealed some bottoming out of the country’s economy that was hit due to its bitter trade war with the U.S.
“Since the 2003 Star crisis, China’s international tourism has boomed. Therefore, the threats of a global Sars-like virus epidemic – spreading globally – have become even more severe,” Biswas said.
Sectors that have been declared particularly vulnerable include merchandise, food and beverage, conferences, special programs – like the 2020 summer Olympics taking place in Tokyo – and aviation.