With the belated ban on travelers from China, businesses in the Philippines got their projected earnings during what is traditionally the peak travel season for the Chinese, in celebration of the Lunar New Year. And now the Philippines has the dubious honor of recording the first death from the novel coronavirus outside the Chinese mainland.
Both the fatality and the first case of 2019-nCoV in the Philippines are Chinese visitors. Warnings against panic make sense, but it can be difficult to draw the line between prudence and overreaction to a disease that still remains mysterious, and for which a vaccine is still at least a year away.
It is also a disease that is looking to be far more contagious than previous coronavirus outbreaks, with the number of infected people within just over a month in China alone overtaking the 8,000 recorded from 2002 to 2003 for SARS or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.
Over 14,000 confirmed nCoV infections have been recorded as of yesterday, with deaths surpassing 300. In China alone, thousands are being added by the day to the number of infected. The epidemic is certain to slow down economic activity as all regions of China are now affected, with the worst hit areas on lockdown and looking like ghost towns.
When the world’s second largest economy slows down, the rest of the planet feels it. The Philippines must grapple not only with a rapidly growing public health threat but also with the economic impact of nCoV. Tourism and its downstream industries – already affected in the Calabarzon by Taal Volcano’s continuing unrest – are taking a serious hit.
Both the threats posed by nCoV and Taal could persist for several months, with the possibility that the country has yet to see the worst. People can only pray that the 2019-nCoV does not become as unmanageable as African swine fever, which has now jumped from Luzon to Mindanao, with 1,000 pigs in Davao Occidental infected.
Panic is never advisable, but the government and the rest of the country must prepare for the economic impact of the novel coronavirus.