The coronavirus epidemic appeared at a very volatile moment in world history. In a new post-2008-recession world ruled by authoritarian types in Russia, China, India, Brazil and even the supposedly freedom-loving United States, the politics of the coronavirus threaten massive economic, social and political disruption. The world could be a very different place politically after the virus.
And the outbreak will require the cooperation of regions and countries at all levels of society in order to beat what threatens to become a horrible pandemic. That global cohesion is missing today as the West diverges, with the US and a wobbly European Union increasingly going separate ways and looking inwards.
The thing about the coronavirus is that it seemingly appeared out of nowhere. Talk of the virus emanating from wildlife and spreading to humans in China appears to be the present explanation for an illness that has infected thousands and killed hundreds and is spreading rapidly across the globe from East Asia.
Last Thursday, a possible case of coronavirus was observed in the Virgin Islands of a traveller who had been to China. Thankfully, officials believe it was not the real deal. But the incident showed just how easily the coronavirus matter can spread panic and mayhem.
Part of the reason this virus appears to have exploded onto the scene is that there were efforts by China to understate the threat of the virus at the very beginning. This is a feature of authoritarian rule: The need for coverup to protect the myth of the invincibility of the regime. However, this virus has no respect for dictators and coverups.
President Donald Trump appears to be following the Chinese script. The US leader is on the defensive in placing the coronavirus on a backburner. Mr. Trump believes that understating the hugely negative impact is politically expedient. This approach — as in China — could also backfire.
In China, key medical officers have been infected, and some have died. Iran’s vice president has contracted the virus. Even the pope started to cough and splutter very suspiciously last week, though the Vatican insists that he only had a cold.
In the US, Mr. Trump appears to have been caught flatfooted. He has appointed Vice President Mike Pence — a man who allegedly does not believe in science — as his virus tsar. Mr. Trump has done this after cutting funds and resources to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over his first term as president.
The stock market
But a US president who is betting on an economy that is “good to great” for his re-election cannot ignore the fact that the virus has tanked US stocks. The Dow opened down more than 500 points last Thursday and 2,500 points on the week. US stocks have fallen into a correction that is the worst fall in stock prices since the financial crisis of 2008. As of Friday, $5 trillion has been wiped off US stocks.
The world’s stock and commodity markets have also taken a hit, and coronavirus may unleash a global recession as bad as the 2008 recession.
What is even more ludicrous is that Mr. Trump’s angry base sees a “coronavirus conspiracy” driven by Mr. Trump’s enemies to take him down.
In any event, the world is waking up to the threat of this virus.
Here in the Caribbean, governments have been turning away cruise ships that are suspected of harbouring the virus. This is a further pointer to a hit against Caribbean tourism. The cruise industry is a critical component of the Caribbean tourism industry.
Elsewhere, cargo ships from Asia have been stopped from entering a number of western ports. In Japan and elsewhere, schools have been closed.
In a highly interconnected world, the coronavirus is a joker in the global pack of cards that has the power to unleash economic and social mayhem as never seen before.
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