Now that the coronavirus has broken out of China and established a foothold in Europe and the Middle East, many are on edge. This week, the stock market, for one, jumped off a cliff—something it is wont to do when faced with global uncertainty.
While nothing about this global health emergency is certain, we can predict with a high degree of confidence some outcomes—good and bad—that will emerge in the weeks ahead.
Take the markets. Once they get jittery, they tend to stay jittery—until they don’t.
The coronavirus is sure to break out in different parts of the world in the weeks ahead. This will lead to new restrictive measures that will disrupt trade, supply chains, and travel.
New rumors will fly on the internet and elsewhere. Public concern will spike alongside them. And politicians will burst forth lots of suggestions about what to do—and what not to do—because, well, they always feel they have to “do something” whenever a big problem is afoot.
What is also likely is that concerns may ebb as flu season comes to end. Respiratory diseases like the flu tend to wax and wane with the weather. This one will probably do the same.
Of course, the coronavirus will probably be back next flu season. But that’s the next round. We’ll have to see how well the world is prepared for that. Who knows? Perhaps a vaccine will have been developed by then.
It is understandable that the latest outbreaks in Italy and Iran have sent ripples of concern around the world.
In the case of Italy, we’re seeing a rapid spread of the disease close to the heart of Europe. That’s bound to create more disruptions.
Iran presents problems of another kind. Its health infrastructure is fragile and inadequate. Compounding that liability is its government. Corrupt, incompetent, and authoritarian, the Iranian regime is unlikely to deal responsibly with the outbreak.
Moreover, the virus is unlikely to respect boundaries in this region. There are already cases in Iraq, and the disease could easily spread to refugee camps in Syria and Jordan. War, privation, and disease often travel together. And that’s very bad news for the Middle East.
So what’s the good-news prediction? The money lost in the stock market can be made back when the markets bounce back.
But the lives lost to the disease will never be restored.
For now, every country needs to prepare—to be ready to respond if the coronavirus rears its head on its turf. And there should be an extra sense of urgency in the Middle East.
The regime in Tehran should make its public health responsibilities job No. 1—not just for the sake of the Iranian people, but for the whole region.
Unfortunately, putting the interests of others first is not something that Iran’s leaders have ever done before. So there is little reason to think that they will race to adopt the kind of responsible public health practices needed to corral the outbreak. Iran’s neighbors then will have to prepare for the worst.