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The Pandemic Is Coming

Experts: Now no longer 'if' it's going global, but 'how soon' -- so prepare!
blonde girl in a hood with a medical mask on her face with the inscription coronavirus in the dark. Concept of health care, medicine

A reader sends this story from Yahoo! Finance:

Just how severely has the coronavirus curtailed cargo flows to and from China, the world’s most important trade engine? Chinese government data is both after-the-fact and suspect, but Boston-based big-data company CargoMetrics is now providing a real-time answer.

CargoMetrics has spent the past decade amassing and analyzing ship-movement data, discerning patterns and developing quantitative predictive algorithms. It’s now bringing its powers to bear on what’s happening in China.

The company has just publicly released data that sheds new light on what transpired in the weeks following Chinese New Year (CNY). To better understand what the numbers mean, FreightWaves interviewed CargoMetrics CEO Scott Borgerson and Dan Brutlag, head of trading signal and data products.

You should read the whole thing, but these two charts tells you the basic fact: the Chinese economy has all but shut down:


What happens in the next two weeks is “critical,” asserted Borgerson.

“We’re looking at this purely from the lens of the maritime perspective,” he said. “Shipping moves 90% of the planet’s trade, and while China is not literally an island, its economy is figuratively one because it imports nearly all of its raw materials and exports nearly all of its finished goods by sea. So, the lens we apply is very much a leading indicator for Chinese industry activity and productivity.”

Pressure on the global trade network could be alleviated if “China gets people moving around and factories open up, supply chains can deal with the inventories that are building up, and all the ships that are sailing there can discharge,” he said.

If not, warned Borgerson, “then we’re in uncharted territory.”

Read it all. 

Two things:

  1. If this is happening to China, what’s to prevent it from happening to every economy in the world, if this thing truly goes pandemic, and hits other countries with the ferocity with which it has hit China?
  2. Let’s say that by some miracle, the worst of it stays in China. We are still looking at the world’s second-most important economy grinding to a halt, for an indefinite period. How do we avoid a worldwide economic depression in that case?

Now, look at that exports chart. You know what is not being exported? Medications and medical supplies. From Axios:

About 150 prescription drugs — including antibiotics, generics and some branded drugs without alternatives — are at risk of shortage if the coronavirus outbreak in China worsens, according to two sources familiar with a list of at-risk drugs compiled by the Food and Drug Administration.

Why it matters: China is a huge supplier of the ingredients used to make drugs that are sold in the U.S. If the virus decreases China’s production capability, Americans who rely on the drugs made from these ingredients could be in trouble.

What they’re saying: The FDA declined to comment on the list, but said in a statement that it’s “keenly aware that the outbreak could impact the medical product supply chain,” and has devoted additional resources toward identifying potential vulnerabilities to U.S. medical products stemming specifically from the outbreak.

The Doctor, who has been providing readers of this blog with his analysis, writes of the Axios report:

The word is finally getting out…..and soon the run on meds will begin in earnest.  All I can say is this is not a joke. We have had shortages before — and I have received these pharmacy committee memos before — actually this has become rather commonplace since we shipped our industry to China – and India.  All that being said, in my 30 years of being a physician, I have not one time ever received a memo with more than 40 drugs listed out by name.  Always previously, there had just been one problem drug that was being addressed.  The word “ration” was not used in my memo this week,  but it was certainly implied.  And now I see this online today.

Again — be prepared. Any frail family members need to be getting 90 day supplies of their meds NOW.  Your entire family needs to be stocked up on Bandaids, gloves, masks, aspirin, Tylenol, non-steroidals, stomach pills – cough syrup whatever you routinely use — need to be getting supplied now.  I hate to be this way — and I know I sound like a kook — but this is as real as it has ever been.

Australian virologist Ian Mackay blogs that it is “past time to tell the public” that this thing is probably going to go pandemic, and that we should prepare now. Mackay quotes from a long memo that a crisis communication team wrote to guide officials and others in preparing the public for what’s coming. What I’m quoting here is from that team, Jody Lenard and Peter M. Sandman, quoted on Mackay’s blog.

Their advice is basically that we should stop saying “if it goes pandemic,” and accept that this is going to happen, and we need to get ready to be as resilient as possible under conditions of pandemic. More:

One horrible effect of this continued “stop the pandemic” daydream masquerading as a policy goal: It is driving counter-productive and outrage-inducing measures by many countries against travelers from other countries, even their own citizens back from other countries.  But possibly more horrible: The messaging is driving resources toward “stopping,” and away from the main potential benefit of containment – slowing the spread of the pandemic and thereby buying a little more time to prepare for what’s coming.

We hope that governments and healthcare institutions are using this time wisely.  We know that ordinary citizens are not being asked to do so.  In most countries – including our United States and your Australia – ordinary citizens have not been asked to prepare.  Instead, they have been led to expect that their governments will keep the virus from their doors.


Hardly any officials are telling civil society and the general public how to get ready for this pandemic.

Even officials who say very alarming things about the prospects of a pandemic mostly focus on how their agencies are preparing, not on how the people they misperceive as “audience” should prepare.  “Audience” is the wrong frame.  We are all stakeholders, and we don’t just want to hear what officials are doing.  We want to hear what we can do too.

We want – and need – to hear advice like this:

  • Try to get a few extra months’ worth of prescription meds, if possible.
  • Think through now how we will take care of sick family members while trying not to get infected.
  • Cross-train key staff at work so one person’s absence won’t derail our organization’s ability to function.
  • Practice touching our faces less. So how about a face-counter app like the step-counters so many of us use?
  • Replace handshakes with elbow-bumps (the “Ebola handshake”).
  • Start building harm-reduction habits like pushing elevator buttons with a knuckle instead of a fingertip.

There is so much for people to do, and to practice doing in advance.

Read the whole thing. Seriously, do — it’s full of practical information and advice.

I’ve not quoted from their section on “emotional preparedness,” which is also hugely important. This is about preparing yourself, your family, and your community for weeks of quarantine at home — not only with food and medicine, but with other plans for how you are all going to get through it, and help your neighbors. Lenard & Sandman say that if you can come to emotional grips now with the possibility — and increasingly, likelihood — that our lives are about to change in a radical way for a period of time, then when the virus hits, you won’t freak out. If it doesn’t hit — if we are spared — then you will have had the satisfaction of knowing you were ready. The risk of not preparing is too great.

In fact, I just saw that the CDC has at last adapted the “slowing, not stopping” line about the virus:

U.S. health officials are preparing for the COVID-19 coronavirus, which has killed at least 2,249 people and sickened more than 76,700 worldwide, to become a pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

“We’re not seeing community spread here in the United States, yet, but it’s very possible, even likely, that it may eventually happen,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters on a conference call. “Our goal continues to be slowing the introduction of the virus into the U.S. This buys us more time to prepare communities for more cases and possibly sustained spread.”

Messonnier said the CDC is working with state and local health departments “to ready our public health workforce to respond to local cases and the possibility this outbreak could become a pandemic.” The CDC is collaborating with supply chain partners, hospitals, pharmacies and manufacturers to understand what medical supplies are needed, she said.

Messonnier goes on to say that the day may come when the US will have to do the same thing China is now doing: shutting down business and schools indefinitely.

What would you do if it came to that? You had better be thinking it through right now, while there is time.

UPDATE: This just in: Venice has cancelled Carnevale because of regional coronavirus, and more:




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