Coronavirus is Affecting More than Just Physical Health

The past few weeks have shown the intricate connection that access to transportation has with human health and the global economy. The outbreak of Coronavirus in Wuhan China, leading to mass international transportation restrictions, is a case study in the effects that transportation has on our daily lives and on the global economy.

Coronavirus Timeline

  • China first alerted the World Health Organization or several cases of pneumonia in Wuhan at the end of December 2019.
  • The first death in China, which occurred on January 9th,  wasn’t announced until January 11th.
  • The first WHO reported case outside of China, in Thailand, occurred on January 13th.
  • The United States announced it would start screening passengers arriving in airports from Wuhan, after a second death was announced on January 17th. Many European countries followed suit on January 22nd
  • On January 23rd, China quarantined Wuhan, suspending air and rail departures
  • On January 24th, China shut down 13 more cities, affecting 41 million people. Several entertainment venues, including Shanghai Disneyland and sections of the Great Wall, were also shut down.
  • On January 25th, five more cities were placed under travel restrictions, increasing the total number of persons affected to 56 million. Hong Kong canceled Lunar New Year celebrations and restricted travel to mainland China.

In less than 4 weeks, China went from reporting pneumonia-like symptoms to restricting the travel of over 50 million people. Wuhan, a city of more than 11 million people, was shut down right before the beginning of the Chinese New Year, one of the busiest travel weeks in the world. The travel restrictions are meant to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, a necessary tactic with more than 100 people dead, and more than 6,000 cases of infection.

The U.S., Europe, and Asia began enforcing new regulations to block visitors from China. At the same time, major airlines suspended flights to the country for the foreseeable future. The Chinese authorities shut down commercial flights and prohibited people from leaving Wuhan using buses, subways, or ferries. The restrictions also included blocking expressways. The reason for the shutdown: evidence suggests that the virus passes from person to person through close contact. One unintended consequence of the travel restrictions: stock market crashes.

The primary difficulty in shutting down Wuhan is that it is a central hub for industry and commerce in Central China. It is home to the region’s biggest airport and a deep-water port. Tens of thousands of travelers enter and depart Wuhan every day.

Access to hospitals is one of the most significant concerns about the outbreak. The power of the Chinese government to shut down transportation is perhaps most starkly seen in their goal to build a hospital in Wuhan in less than two weeks.

Restricting travel on the world’s second-largest economy on the eve of the busiest travel week in China caused the single largest day drop in U.S. stocks since September 2019. Millions of Chinese residents would typically make hundreds of millions of trips during the Chinese New Year to visit loved ones, celebrate the beginning of a new year, and enjoy time away from work. Last year, consumers in China spent $148 billion on retail and catering and generated $74 billion in domestic tourism on 415 million trips. China’s movie sector also brought in 10% of its annual revenue during the Chinese New Year. In response to the travel restrictions on January 25th, stocks like Disney, AMEX, and American Airlines all plummeted when markets opened Monday the 27th.

Limits on mobility and transportation affect things much more important than the U.S. stock market. The Chinese New Year is the most important celebration in the Chinese Calendar. It is a time to celebrate family, ancestors, and togetherness. Those affected by travel restrictions decided to forgo trips to see loved ones and visits to important cultural sites, as well as museums, galleries, and other sources of entertainment. The need to protect human health and prevent the spread of Coronavirus is paramount. But other than the Coronavirus affecting people’s physical health, the restrictions on mobility will prevent spiritual and familial connections that underpin Chinese society.

The impact transportation and mobility have on economics, and human health is clearly demonstrated in the Chinese travel restrictions. With 50 million citizens under “city-arrest” and the rest of the country reticent to travel, shockwaves have been felt across the globe. I hope the Coronavirus crisis can be solved quickly and efficiently, and that the Chinese can return to a sense of normalcy and free mobility.