With the current coronavirus situation looming large in headlines, it seems to be at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Along with this latest wave of COVID-19 related panic, you may have heard of the mass-panic induced toilet paper shortages in Japan and Australia, or even seen the mad rush for supplies yourself at your local Costco. But what is really going on? Will civilization devolve into a lawless wasteland where raiders fight over boxes of tissues?
Well no. Probably not. The good news is that the Chinese factories that closed during Chinese New Year in order to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, have since begun to reopen as the new cases slow and the general public continues to recover. The potential bad news is that if production in America also begins to close due to COVID-19, we may still experience up to weeks of shortage.
Chinese factories were officially supposed to reopen on February 9th, but most remained closed until at least around February 24th. This presents a problem for US manufacturers as while they normally stock up in preparation for closures during Chinese New Year, many were not prepared for the ensuing additional two weeks of closures. In addition to this, while now even that a significant amount of Chinese manufacturing plants have resumed operation, they are operating below capacity due to labor shortages. The additional strain of panic-buying eating up manufacturer inventories and the time-lag caused by the 30-40 day ocean shipping time means that we may experience shortages for the next few weeks, until fresh supplies finally arrive and global supply lines are restored.
However, in comparison to past years, supply chains have become more resilient to unexpected complications, and as such this most likely won’t become a substantial issue for consumers when it comes to acquiring household essentials and food. Rather instead of mass shortages, consumers are most likely to face price increases in supplies such as food.
While mass shortages of supplies for an extended period of time may not be a serious concern for consumers, the effect that COVID-19 will have on global supply chains in mid-March should be a concern as a majority of companies rely on Chinese factories for parts which make up a great deal of their supply chain, and the capacity of suppliers at present is continuing to dwindle with factories operating way below capacity.
In light of the shortages, especially regarding masks; it’s important to not panic buy, but to still establish a small stockpile of essential products. US mask stockpiles are already strained and further panic buying may prevent key medical personnel from getting the supplies they need to work. Constant media coverage of the disease and its effects may inadvertently create panic and a sense of urgency to hoard, but it’s still best to keep calm and allow medical and official organizations to do their jobs. Even if masks and other supplies are hard to find, it’s important to follow manufacturer instructions and avoid reuse. Masks are most effective on those who are already ill or showing symptoms, as they effectively contain coughs and sneezes, protecting others from exposure.
Equally important, however, is the practice of proper sanitation techniques. Wash hands and avoid touching your face, as even though masks will help against the direct inhalation of respiratory droplets, you can still be infected if droplets on your hands reach your face after you remove your mask.
Contrary to circulating rumors, the virus is mainly spread through respiratory droplets and has very poor survivability on surfaces and there is no evidence to support that coronavirus can spread on packages from China that have spent days or weeks in transit.
To prepare for the virus, it’s important to stay calm and avoid rumors, listen to official messages and follow health guidelines. In any case, try to avoid big crowds and avoid panic. In order to stay informed, global infection data can be seen here and CDC guidelines here.
We hope this information is helpful and that everyone stays safe!
Edward is a sophomore studying Industrial Engineering and Operations Research with a minor in public health and a planned second major/minor in Data Science. He wrote for the Financial Literacy column for two semesters before becoming Finance Director and loves the explorative nature and collaborative atmosphere of Business at Berkeley. His interests include geopolitics, history and investment. In his down time, Edward can be found taking naps, sampling local restaurants or playing chess (poorly).