THE NEW LUNAR year has begun, but China is barely getting back to work as widespread measures to contain the Wuhan coronavirus remain in place, and if anything tighten.
Many factories remain closed with reopenings further delayed by lack of returning workers and the planned regional scheduling of reopenings across the rest of this month. White-collar workers are being encouraged to work from home wherever possible.
Supply-chain disruption will add further uncertainty to production levels as transport and travel restrictions remain extensive, especially in and around Hubei province the epicentre of the outbreak. The region is noted for its laser and optical production. Thus the ripple effects will be felt far afield by carmakers and manufacturers of medical devices, aircraft and machine tools among several industries. Nissan, for example, is closing a plant in Japan because of shortages of parts from China. Hyundai has already done the same in South Korea.
However, barring any sudden worsening of the outbreak, it is unlikely to be before the end of next month before commercial China will be back to anything resembling normal.
Meanwhile, municipal governments, including Shanghai and Beijing, are taking fiscal measures of support to bolster national macro ones, such as refunding enterprise unemployment insurance premiums and extending the collection deadline for social insurance premiums due in January and February. They are particularly concerned to ease the burden of the outbreak on small and medium-sized private-sector employers who may otherwise be at risk of having to lay off workers as part of cost-saving measures in the face of the downturn in business.
Smart-phone sales are forecast to halve in the first quarter with many retail outlets, such as Apple stores, still closed and Foxconn nowhere near able to get back to full production at its plants.
Meanwhile, the death toll from the coronavirus, at 910, officially surpassed that of Sars on February 9, after the National Health Commission reported a further 97 deaths, the deadliest day so far. All but two of the 910 deaths have been in China. The total number of confirmed cases has passed 40,000, three-quarters of which are in Hubei.
Although the rate of increase in the number of new cases reported daily is levelling off, the World Health Organization says it is still too soon to say the outbreak has peaked. It is monitoring Zhejiang, Guangdong and Henan as potential new hot spots.