Coronavirus 'could cost global economy $1.1tn in lost income'

Phillip Inman
Photograph: Ng Han Guan/AP

The coronavirus could cost the global economy more than $1tn in lost output if it turns into a pandemic, according to a leading economic forecaster.

Oxford Economics warned that the spread of the virus to regions outside Asia would knock 1.3% off global growth this year, the equivalent of $1.1tn in lost income.

The consultancy said its model of the global economy showed the virus was already having a “chilling effect” as factory closures in China spilled over to neighbouring countries and major companies struggled to source components and finished goods from the far east.

Related: Dissent becomes the next victim of coronavirus as China cracks down

Apple told investors earlier this week that it would fail to meet its quarterly revenue target because of the “temporarily constrained” supply of iPhones and a dramatic drop in Chinese spending during the virus crisis.

Carmaker Jaguar Land Rover, adding its voice to a chorus of companies complaining about supply problems, said it could run out of car parts at its British factories by the end of next week if the coronavirus continued to prevent parts arriving from China.

Oxford Economics said it expected China’s GDP growth to fall from 6% last year to 5.4% in 2020 following the spread of the virus so far. But if it spreads more widely in Asia, world GDP would fall by $400bn in 2020, or 0.5%.

If the virus spreads beyond Asia and becomes a global pandemic, world GDP would drop $1.1tn, or 1.3% compared to the current projection. A $1.1tn decline would be the same as losing the entire annual output of Indonesia, the world’s 16th largest economy.

“Our scenarios see world GDP hit as a result of declines in discretionary consumption and travel and tourism, with some knock-on financial market effects and weaker investment,” it said.

What is Covid-19 - the illness that started in Wuhan?


It is caused by a member of the coronavirus family that has never been encountered before. Like other coronaviruses, it has come from animals. Many of those initially infected either worked or frequently shopped in the Huanan seafood wholesale market in the centre of the Chinese city.


Have there been other coronaviruses?


Severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (Mers) are both caused by coronaviruses that came from animals. In 2002, Sars spread virtually unchecked to 37 countries, causing global panic, infecting more than 8,000 people and killing more than 750. Mers appears to be less easily passed from human to human, but has greater lethality, killing 35% of about 2,500 people who have been infected.


What are the symptoms caused by the new coronavirus?


The virus can cause pneumonia. Those who have fallen ill are reported to suffer coughs, fever and breathing difficulties. In severe cases there can be organ failure. As this is viral pneumonia, antibiotics are of no use. The antiviral drugs we have against flu will not work. Recovery depends on the strength of the immune system. Many of those who have died were already in poor health.


Should I go to the doctor if I have a cough?


UK Chief Medical Officers are advising anyone who has travelled to the UK from mainland China, Thailand, Japan, Republic of Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia or Macau in the last 14 days and who is experiencing a cough or fever or shortness of breath to stay indoors and call NHS 111, even if symptoms are mild.


Is the virus being transmitted from one person to another?


China’s national health commission has confirmed human-to-human transmission, and there have been such transmissions elsewhere.


How many people have been affected?


As of 18 Februrary, China has recorded 1,868 deaths from the Covid-19 outbreak. Health officials have confirmed 72,436 cases in mainland China in total. More than 12,000 have recovered.

The coronavirus has spread to at least 28 other countries. Japan has 607 cases, including 542 from a cruise ship docked in Yokohama, and has recorded one death. There have also been deaths in Hong Kong, Taiwan, France and the Philippines.

There have been nine recorded cases and no fatalities to date in the UK. As of 17 February, a total of 4,501 people have been tested in the UK, of which 4,492 were confirmed negative.


Why is this worse than normal influenza, and how worried are the experts?


We don’t yet know how dangerous the new coronavirus is, and we won’t know until more data comes in. The mortality rate is around 2% in the epicentre of the outbreak, Hubei province, and less than that elsewhere. For comparison, seasonal flu typically has a mortality rate below 1% and is thought to cause about 400,000 deaths each year globally. Sars had a death rate of more than 10%.

Another key unknown is how contagious the coronavirus is. A crucial difference is that unlike flu, there is no vaccine for the new coronavirus, which means it is more difficult for vulnerable members of the population – elderly people or those with existing respiratory or immune problems – to protect themselves. Hand-washing and avoiding other people if you feel unwell are important. One sensible step is to get the flu vaccine, which will reduce the burden on health services if the outbreak turns into a wider epidemic.


Is the outbreak a pandemic?


A pandemic, in WHO terms, is “the worldwide spread of a disease”. Coronavirus cases have been confirmed outside China, but by no means in all 195 countries on the WHO’s list. It is also not spreading within those countries at the moment, except in a very few cases. By far the majority of cases are travellers who picked up the virus in China.


Should we panic?


No. The spread of the virus outside China is worrying but not an unexpected development. The WHO has declared the outbreak to be a public health emergency of international concern. The key issues are how transmissible this new coronavirus is between people, and what proportion become severely ill and end up in hospital. Often viruses that spread easily tend to have a milder impact. Generally, the coronavirus appears to be hitting older people hardest, with few cases in children.

Sarah BoseleyHannah Devlin and Martin Belam


Rival consultancy Capital Economics said the situation in China was still developing and it remained unclear how long before the quarantine rules across much of China’s central belt would lead to mass job layoffs and wage cuts becoming more widespread.

It said 85% of larger stock market-listed firms had enough funds to meet their liabilities and wage bills formore than six months without any further revenue.

But thousands of small and medium-sized businesses, which are responsible for half of urban jobs, “may not heed government orders not to shed jobs”.

A survey of 1,000 SMEs conducted by two Chinese universities found that unless conditions improved, one-third of the firms would run out of cash within a month, the consultancy said.

Another survey of 700 companies found that 40% of private firms would run out of cash within three months.

The firm’s Asia analyst, Julian Evans Pritchard, said: “Our best guess is that there is still a window of another week or so during which, if economic activity rebounds, the bulk of employees including at vulnerable SMEs would probably keep their jobs.

“And with large-scale layoffs avoided, consumer spending would bounce back quickly due to pent-up demand, which in turn would help the self-employed and family-run businesses to recoup much of their recent loss of income.

“But with each day that the disruption drags on, the risk of a protracted slump in output rises. If activity is not clearly rebounding by the end of next week, we will revisit our annual growth forecasts.

Oxford Economics said it still expected the impact of the virus to be limited to China and have a significant, but short-term impact, bringing world GDP growth just 0.2% lower than January at 2.3%.

But a pandemic would cause a deeper and more profound shock over the next six months, possibly equal to a $1.1tn loss, followed by a recovery that would make up some of the ground lost earlier in the year.