A Bigger Impact in a Smaller World: The China Situation

People wear face masks in the waiting area at China's Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport. Credit: UN News/Jing Zhang
  • Opinion by Fairuz Ahmed (new york)
  • Monday, February 03, 2020
  • Inter Press Service

China's population reached 1 billion in 1982. As of November 2019, China's population stands at 1.435 billion, the largest of any country in the world. And Chinese nationalities are avid travelers. In less than two decades China has grown to the world's most powerful outbound market. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Chinese tourists overseas spent $277.3 bn in 2018, up from around $10 bn in the year 2000. (1)

In February 2020, China has reported an outbreak of a highly pathogenic strain of the H5N1 virus which is a subtype of the influenza A virus which can cause illness in humans and many other animal species when affected. The flu has been detected at a farm in Shaoyang city of the southern province of Hunan in China. The case occurred on a farm with 7,850 chickens, 4,500 of which have died of the bird flu. The authorities have culled 17,828 poultry following the outbreak. (2) No human cases of the Hunan H5N1 virus have been reported yet.

The pandemic influenza virus has its origins in avian influenza viruses. The highly pathogenic avian influenza virus subtype H5N1 is already panzootic in poultry, with attendant economic consequences. It continues to cross species barriers to infect humans and other mammals, often with fatal outcomes.

A study published in the open-access journal Respiratory Research reveals that, in human cells, the virus can trigger levels of inflammatory proteins more than 10 times higher than the common human flu virus H1N1. This might contribute to the unusual severity of the disease caused by H5N1 in humans, which can escalate into life-threatening pneumonia and acute respiratory distress. (3)

The outbreak of the H5N1 virus has a severe impact on the global economy and health. The virus was first detected in 1996 in geese in China. Asian H5N1 was first detected in humans in 1997 during a poultry outbreak in Hong Kong and has since been detected in poultry and wild birds in more than 50 countries around the world.

However, bird flu is highly deadly to humans who contract it, with a mortality rate of more than 50 percent in cases over the last 15 years, which is much deadlier to humans than either SARS (a 10 percent mortality rate) or the novel coronavirus (a 2 percent mortality rate in the outbreak so far). From 2003 to 2019, WHO reported a total of 861 confirmed human cases of H5N1 worldwide, of whom 455 have died. In China, 53 human cases of bird flu infections have been reported in the past 16 years, with 31 having died. (4)

This outbreak of H5N1 is following the outbreak of the Wuhan coronavirus, which is believed to have originated from a bat in the Hubei province, which is North of Hunan, continues to spread throughout the country. The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus worldwide is now 14,557, most of which are in China, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) data. The death toll has risen to at least 304. A 44-year-old man in the Philippines died of the virus on Saturday, making him the first reported death outside of China. All territories and provinces in China have now been impacted by the virus. (6)

The rise in new coronavirus cases outside China now constitutes a global health emergency, the World Health Organization's Emergency Committee declared on all countries to take urgent measures to contain the respiratory disease. (5)

Coronaviruses are a large family of respiratory viruses that can cause diseases ranging from the common cold to the Middle-East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) (7).

The Novel Coronavirus has now spread to 16 countries. While this represents only one percent of the total, the geographic spread is wide, with patients diagnosed in Australia, Europe, and North America as well as several countries in Southeast Asia. At a press briefing in Geneva, Michael Ryan, the head of the World Health Organization health emergency program, said that "the whole world needs to be on alert now. The whole world needs to take action and be ready for any cases that come from the epicenter of another epicenter that becomes established". (8)

Chinese authorities have announced a temporary ban on outbound group travel. Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and the Philippines have stopped accepting visitors from China's Hubei province, and Russia and Mongolia have closed their borders with China. The latest numbers of cases detected so far internationally according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control of Coronavirus outside China till February 3rd, 2020 are: 20 cases in Japan, 19 in Thailand, 15 in South Korea, 12 in Australia, 11 in Taiwan there, 8 cases in Malaysia, Singapore, the United States, Germany, and & in Vietnam. UAE, Canada, Italy, The United Kingdom, Russia, Cambodia, Finland, Nepal, Spain, SriLanka, and Sweden have also reported the detection of cases. (9).

Across the world, from United Airlines to British Airways have cut flights to and from China or suspended them altogether. The chief economist at SMBC Nikko Securities estimates that if the Chinese government banned travel overseas for six months—an extreme scenario—spending by Chinese group tourists would decline $83.1 billion and take 0.1 percentage points off global economic growth. (10)

China is planning to push a net 150 billion yuan into its economy to help protect it from the impact of the coronavirus outbreak. China's central bank said the move would ensure there was enough liquidity in the banking system and help provide a stable currency market. Analysts say the impact of the virus - which has left major cities in full or partial lockdown, could harm growth if it lasts for a prolonged period. Global markets have been also been shaken by the epidemic. (11)

The Chinese authorities have established massive efforts and helped to slow down the spread of the virus, but it has not been halted. There is a continuous increase in the number of cases and the evidence of human to human transmission outside China is deeply concerning. The inbound and outbound travel occurring before the cases were detected have created a massive impact on spreading the virus.


1. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/comment/rise-of-the-chinese-tourist/
3. https://www.news-medical.net/news/2005/11/14/14469.aspx
4. https://www.thestar.com.my/news/regional/2020/02/02/china-reports-h5n1-bird-flu-outbreak-in-hunan-province
5. https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/01/1056372
6. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/02/02/coronavirus-live-updates-white-house-studying-economic-impact.html
7. https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/01/1056112
8. https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/01/1056222
9. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-51345855
10. https://time.com/5775027/wuhan-coronavirus-global-economy/
11. https://www.bbc.com/news/business-5134749710

© Inter Press Service (2020) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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