Author : Hari Bansh Jha

Expert Speak Health Express
Published on Feb 13, 2020
Outbreak of Coronovirus in China: impact on the region

After two months of the outbreak of the lethal coronavirus that originated in Wuhan city of China in December last year, it has not merely affected different parts of China, but  fast spreading to many cities of the world. As per reports 27 countries, including India, Germany, the US and UK are already affected by this disease. Over 1100 people have been killed and 37,000 people are infected in China alone due to coronavirus.

 Since, China is predominantly connected to the whole globe, the chances of its spread through human-to-human contact has increased to an all the time high. The disease is adversely affecting social, cultural, economic, political and even diplomatic relations between China and the rest of the world resulting in China’s isolation by the rest of the world.

Perhaps, the coronavirus would not have created so much of havoc in China and other parts of the world, if the Chinese government would have acted immediately after the first case itself was detected last year in December in Wuhan province. The doctor who first reported the government of the outbreak in Wuhan, later on, died of the disease.

Understanding the alarming situation caused by coronavirus, the World Health Organization (WHO) even went to the extent of declaring the outbreak as a public health emergency of international concern. Recently, the WHO has also warned that the coronavirus cases would multiply further.

In 2002-2003, 774 people were killed by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in China, another coronavirus type disease. But this time, the coronavirus has even surpassed that record as over 800 people have already been killed. In its bid to control coronavirus, Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province in China, is virtually turned into quarantine. About 56 million people of Hubei are also under effective lockdown.

A number of countries, including India, Germany, Indonesia, the US, have started air-lifting their citizens from China. India also helped the Maldives, in airlifting its citizens from China. On  humanitarian ground, India also offered to help Pakistan in evacuating its citizens from China, but there was no response from that country.

Unfortunately, Nepal, like that of Pakistan, has also not shown adequate interest in evacuating its citizens from China, though they are crying. Nevertheless, each day many of Nepalese citizens are returning home from China without any restriction as there is no health desk at the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu to conduct the medical checkup. There are six Chinese carriers, including Air China, China Southern, China Eastern, Sichuan Airlines, Cathy Dragon and Tibet Airlines that operate between Kathmandu and China.

The Nepal government is also reluctant to keep an eye on Chinese and residents of other countries living in China on their arrival to Nepal. Nepal does have close to 1400 km long border with China in the north and many of the Chinese could enter into Nepal through different land routes too.

On the other hand, Hong Kong, a part of China, has suspended all the cross-border rail and ferry services with mainland China to ensure the safety of its population from Chinese coronavirus. As if this was not enough, Hong Kong also enforced mandatory two-week quarantine for any person coming from China in its bid to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Similarly, India has temporarily suspended e-visa facility to the Chinese travelers and also to the foreigners living in China to check the spread of this disease. In view of the porous border between Nepal and India, the Uttar Pradesh government has started creating awareness campaign in those districts that touch Nepal’s border, which include Pilibhit, Lakhimpur Kheri, Bahraich, Shravasti, Balrampur, Sidhharthnagar and Maharajganu districts. Since, Uttar Pradesh has 579 km long open border with Nepal, this step seems to be commendable.

The health teams of Uttar Pradesh have started working along with the 19 Sahastra Seema Bal outposts on Indo-Nepal border to keep eye on people entering India from the official routes through Nepal with possible connections with China. Nearly 35,000 persons with some kind of flu, cough, breathlessness and heaviness symptoms have been checked by the health teams on SSB check posts in this State. However, no such measure has been taken by the Bihar government, though this State has also a long border with Nepal.

Impacts of coronavirus on the Chinese economy is proving catastrophic. In cities like Beijing and Shanghai shops and restaurants are all closed and transportation services have almost come to standstill.  Most of the air flights between China and other countries have been stopped. Chinese share market has dropped all time low. Many of the manufacturing and consumer goods industries have been hit the hardest.

To resolve the liquidity crunch in the banking system, the Chinese government has pumped $22 billion in its economy. Additionally, the government has also allocated $10.26 billion to fight the coronavirus disease. Nevertheless, the Pantheon Macroeconomics Chief of Asia Economist, Freya Beamish, has estimated that the growth of the Chinese economy could fall to less than 2 per cent this year from 6.1 per cent in 2019.

Nepal’s trade with China through the ‘Rasuwagadhi-Kerung’, point at the Nepal-China border has almost come to a halt because of coronavirus. During the first five months of the current fiscal year, Nepal’s imports from China accounted for Rs. 88.6 billion, while the exports to China from Nepal was only to the level of Rs. 863 million. Nepal’s exports to China include mainly handicraft items, but its imports cover a large number of items ranging from garments, footwear products, chemical fertilizers, electrical goods, machinery, pipes, raw silk, telecommunication equipment and televisions. Price of garlic in the Nepalese market has doubled from about Rs. 300 per kg to- Rs. 600 per kg due to lack of supply of this item from China. In Hong Kong, even toilet papers, pharmaceutical products have run out. In South Korea, major car-making factories have been compelled to close as they are not getting supplies of crucial components from China. Crude oil prices in the international market are down by 20 percent to $55 a barrel. Similarly, the price of liquefied natural gas fell to a record low in Asia to below $3/mmBtu. India, however, is going to gain as cheaper crude oil and liquefied natural gas will help it balance the current account deficit, apart from helping the consumers to benefit from the evolving situation.

Coronavirus without any doubt poses a major threat not only to China but a large tract of the world population. WHO and other concerned organizations need to go to the root of the problem and find out why coronavirus or SARS-like epidemic evolve in China alone. If this problem is related to the consumption of any particular food, that needs to be avoided and necessary awareness developed among people. The epidemic caused by coronavirus is a global problem. Therefore, the global community needs to come forward and see that coronavirus cases are controlled without any further delay. Any negligence on the part will prove catastrophic.

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Hari Bansh Jha

Hari Bansh Jha

Hari Bansh Jha is a Visiting Fellow at ORF. Formerly a professor of economics at Nepal's Tribhuvan University, Hari Bansh’s areas of interest include, Nepal-China-India strategic ...

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