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Situation Update - Coronavirus Outbreak

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TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS INTENSIFY AMID INTERNATIONAL SPREAD OF COVID-19

  • Coronavirus (COVID-19) affecting 94 countries and territories globally.

  • World Health Organization (WHO) upgrades estimated mortality rate to 3.4%.

  • Daily global cases start to exceed numbers in mainland China.

  • South Korea experiences largest number of confirmed cases outside of mainland China.

  • Italy and Iran report largest outbreaks outside of Asia.

  • Globally, more than 95,000 people diagnosed.

  • Global economy experiences negative effects of outbreak.

  • International flight capacity reduces over outbreak.

  • Governmental travel restrictions intensify over internal spread.

Pandemic - resized

Situation

As of 6 March, the latest provisional data states there have been 100,242 confirmed cases of coronavirus globally, with 94 countries and territories impacted. These statistics indicate there are 40,848 active cases of coronavirus globally, for which 34,568 (85%) of patients are experiencing mild conditions, with 6,280 (15%) in serious or critical care. Of these confirmed cases, there has been 3,408 (6%) connected fatalities, while 55,986 (94%) patients are said to have recovered.

Outside of China, South Korea, Iran and Italy have experienced the largest outbreaks, respectively, with international travel restrictions heightening for these locations among others. For example, the British Foreign Office is advising against all but essential travel to mainland China, two cities in South Korea and the 11 towns in northern Italy that have been placed under lockdown, where there are ongoing outbreaks. Travel advice issued by the US is more wide-ranging, with travellers told to avoid the whole of mainland China, South Korea, Italy and Iran unless travel is essential.

The coronavirus outbreak has also resulted in lower international travel demand, which has prompted multiple airlines to reduce capacity. The latest data from flight analyser OAG shows that global scheduled airline seat capacity from January to April 2020 has fallen by 40.8 million, compared to the same period last year.

Although domestic demand has increased in China since the initial outbreak, with Chinese carriers adding 2.9 million scheduled seats (18,200 flights) back into the mainland market, capacity to and from South Korea and Hong Kong continues to decline. South Korea has seen a 21% reduction in capacity and Hong Kong (SAR) a 22% decline; since 20 January, capacity has fallen by 71% in the Hong Kong market alone.

In Europe, airline capacity has fallen to northern Italy, and airlines are continuing to adjust their schedules. Carriers such as Scandinavian airline SAS, as well as Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, EasyJet, Wizz Air, Ryanair, Turkish Airlines, Brussels Airlines and British Airways are all amending their flights to the country due to the outbreak.

Amid the disruptions, companies are cancelling major conferences and global sport bodies are cancelling, postponing or relocating key tournaments. However, as of Wednesday, 4 March, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, due to be held from 24 to 9 August, will still go ahead as planned.

Emergency interest rate cuts have occurred in the United States and Canada in response to the outbreak, while stock markets have fallen. On 6 March, the FTSE 100 lost 3.1% and S&P 500 futures are down by 2.2%. Paris slumped 3.9 %, Frankfurt and Milan each dropped 3.7 %, and Madrid shed 3.4%.

In light of evidence showing that the spread of COVID-19 is now occurring at a faster rate than within China, World Health Organization (WHO) Chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has called for governments to unleash their full power to combat the outbreak, stating “This is not a time for excuses. This is a time for pulling out all the stops. Now is the time to act.” The WHO has declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern and has recently upgraded its mortality rate estimate to 3.4%, revised up from an initial estimate of 2% in January.

Analysis

A coronavirus is a type of virus. As a group, coronaviruses are common across the world. Typical symptoms of coronavirus include fever and a cough that may progress to a severe pneumonia causing shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. There is currently no vaccine available at this time, however researchers are working to develop vaccines, with human trials possible by the end of the year.

Generally, coronavirus can cause more severe symptoms in people with weakened immune systems, older people, and those with long-term conditions like diabetes, cancer and chronic lung disease. 

The consensus among the international medical community is that the illness takes approximately 14 days for symptoms to present; however, there have been reports of mild initial symptoms occurring sooner. This incubation period has therefore driven the majority of governmental measures, requiring 14-day quarantines. Although in certain locations, such as in some states in India, authorities have imposed longer isolation periods. 

As countries seek to delay the spread of the virus in their own territories, the WHO has identified local transmission in the following regions: across Asia, China, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia. European countries with such transmission include Italy, France, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, Greece and Romania. Three countries in the Middle East are listed: Iran, the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon. In the Americas, the United States, Canada and Ecuador have reported transmission of COVID-19 infections. Algeria is the only African country, to date, to report local transmission. Australia is also listed from the Oceania region. 

The relative risk of internationally imported cases remains greatest in Asia, especially in Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, and Vietnam. Elsewhere, the United States ranks fifth overall, while the UK is placed 13th and Germany 16th. 

Where initial cases are reported in a country or region, there is a strong likelihood for additional cases to subsequently be reported, especially among close contacts of the initial patient. However, depending on the time taken to identify an infected individual, tracing those who have been in close contact can be difficult.

Implications

If the decision is to still travel, even if this is to destinations that are not reporting a major outbreak, clients and travellers should consider their own risk factors and the quality of healthcare available in the region they are visiting. Another factor for consideration is that travellers could be quarantined if an outbreak occurs. Countries with fragile health care provisions are at a greater risk of significant spread.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has reported an increasing number of airlines reporting 50% "no-shows" across a number of markets. Should an existing flight or hotel booking need to be cancelled, there is a risk that the booker will bear the cost. However, there is a rising trend in travel companies showing flexibility. Some airlines, including American Airlines, are agreeing to waive cancellation fees for new bookings. Cheaper fares may not allow you to cancel free of charge, therefore more expensive fares may be of greater value, due to greater flexibility within the tariff’s terms and conditions. Travellers are also advised to purchase travel insurance.

Several countries have started restricting the export of protective clothing (gloves and facial masks), including Germany and Russia, for which other countries may follow suit. Individual governments have also implemented their own travel warnings, varying from country to country. Governmental action plans are expected to align with the prevailing spread of the virus, domestically and internationally.

Health screening at ports of entry will likely expand to the majority of arrivals. This could involve temperature checks and the requirement to fill out health questionnaires. Self-quarantine requirements may also become the norm. In Israel, for example, nationals returning from Italy, China, Singapore, Germany, France, Austria, Spain and Switzerland must undertake a 14-day home quarantine. Non-Israeli nationals arriving by air to the country must prove they can also undertake a 14-day home quarantine, otherwise they will be denied entry.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has urged citizens and other residents to avoid travelling abroad because of concerns over coronavirus. In addition, authorities in the Gulf state may order medical checks on returning travellers and ask them to stay in isolation at home, pending the outcome.

Where persons within organisations are suspected or confirmed to have contracted the virus, precautionary decontamination of offices and factories have started taking place. In London’s Canary Wharf, several offices have undergone this process. Individual sick policies will also likely be amended at least within specific government advice; this could involve greater levels of remote working.

School and university closures are also likely to be implemented, while a reduction in social gatherings is also a possibility. In Italy, all schools and universities are closed until 15 March, while in France; indoor gatherings of more than 5,000 people have been banned. Furthermore, non-urgent medical operations could be cut by public health providers in order to conserve supplies and resources.

Providing an exact estimation of when the spread of the virus will peak remains extremely difficult; however latest indications, based on current data, concludes a peak may occur in May or June. However, it should be noted that this will vary on a country by country basis.