While the newspapers are slowly becoming more alarmist and the Trump administration says the danger is a Democratic Hoax, four different things have happened on this trip are making me think that the impact of Covid 19, at least on the economy, will be quite serious.
On Friday, February 28th, I flew from Barcelona to New York on a 767-300 operated by Delta airlines and the plane had a total of 20 passengers instead of the 261 that it can carry. Up until now I have only seen reports about flights to and from China and the fate of Cathay Pacific but suspect this thing will hurt air travel in general based on my experience. My guess is that Delta and other airlines will start canceling flights because they can not make any money at 8% occupancy.
The second thing is that a friend was supposed to meet me for lunch today in the city and decided to stay home in rural Massachusetts as he is concerned that the virus is now spreading quietly through the United States. At first I thought he was overreacting but both he and his wife are over 70 and prime targets for Covid-19.
The third thing is that I had come to New York for a Custom Program for a large, international company. While I was flying the company decided to impose a global travel ban and our program has been postponed until after the crisis, whenever that will be. Interestingly enough, this program was scheduled for Shanghai a few weeks ago but was moved to New York as a precautionary measure.
The fourth, and most surprising thing is that my cousin has actually postponed his son’s birthday party because he and his family just came back from Italy! They had not been to the North but feel it is more prudent to stay out of circulation until a full two weeks goes by.
These simple stories are illustrative of what appears to be going on around the world as the implications of the virus begin to sink in. Experts are warning of a repeat of the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918/19 and while I am still convinced that such fears are overblown, individuals and companies are reacting with caution, a sense of responsibility in the face of uncertainty.
This will lead them to travel less or not at all, stay home rather than go out in general delay or postpone purchases and plans until things become clearer.
In a very clear, if somewhat alarmist, podcast on the daily, New York Times reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr, said that disease control experts were trying out essentially all of the anti-viral formulas that the world has to see if any of them happen to be effective against Covid-19. He also said that assuming they were not, a new cure or vaccine would be at lest a year away.
In these crazy times, it seems to me that we all need to take sensible precautions, such as washing our hands after going out in public, but that there is little reason to stop all activity unless you happen to be, like my friend in the country, particularly susceptible to this virus which can lead to a particularly violent form of pneumonia.