EDITOR’S NOTE, 5/20/2020: This article has been updated to reflect the current status of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Late last year, a previously unidentified viral outbreak in Wuhan, China caused international concern; the coronavirus has since taken over 1,000 lives and infected nearly 60,00 people. The full impacts of this epidemic are still yet unknown, but already the effects are showing up in the tech industry. Here’s what we know so far:
Current State of the Outbreak
Wuhan was put on lockdown shortly after the news of the virus hit international airwaves, and the Chinese government extended their holiday season as an encouragement for families to stay home, rather than risk spreading disease further by traveling. After weeks of rigorous testing and isolation, the city opened back up, and is dealing with a second wave of infections. At this point, the Chinese government has mandated that everyone in the city be tested within a 10 day period in order to quickly contain the virus again.
In order to facilitate international response to preventing the spread of the virus, the WHO designated the outbreak a Global Health Emergency. COVID-19 has proven to be a highly contagious virus with varied symptoms in its victims. Scientists have discovered that the virus can spread, even if the carrier has no symptoms at all. It also remains to be seen whether or not the antibodies created by those who have recovered will protect them against reinfection.
What started with limited cases outside of china has quickly grown to a disease that has infected parts of every country on earth, including the United States, at unprecedented rates. Even now, deaths in the United States have reached over 90,000, and are still rising.
But hovering over these reports is a sense of doubt. Due to sparse testing and lack of centralized response, some believe the government is covering up the true impact of the virus, and that there are still opportunities for the disease to spread within the US, even as some states reopen. Some fear that the virus has yet to reach its peak.
Coronavirus Impacts to Production
Wuhan is one of the largest hubs for technology production, and a lot of tech is shipped to the US from there. Due to the initial quarantine, factories in Wuhan and some other parts of China were either running on skeleton crews or were shut down completely, limiting supply of components and halting manufacture of finished goods.
Naturally, this has delayed product launches, and caused shortages in available products. Major brands have shut down corporate offices, retail locations, and factories all over the world to prevent further spread of the virus. Every industry from retail to travel has been severely affected, and even as restrictions lift, there is little cohesive enforcement to protect the general public from spreading the virus further.
All over the globe, businesses are being impacted. Unemployment in the US has reached new heights, and the economic strain has caused major concern for what recovery might look like. Those that can work from home are doing so, and many companies have had to scramble to outfit their business infrastructure to support remote teams. This bodes well for the tech industry, but with increased virus-tracing software and cybersecurity threats, privacy is a concern now more than ever.
In addition to manufacturing concerns, companies have been backing out of tech conferences over concern for the health of their representatives. Conferences and large gatherings the world over have been postponed or reformatted into streamed productions in order to accommodate social distancing protocols. Every major sports league, and even the olympics, were canceled or moved to next year. Esports tournaments for LoL, PUBG, and Overwatch were also canceled, creating delays for both the sports industry and their sponsors.
Chiefly, it remains to be seen if the coronavirus will be contained over the long term, and if a vaccine or treatments will emerge any time soon. in the meantime, many states are reopening and
Depending on the spread of the virus, impacts across multiple industries could impact the global economy in lasting ways. For now, business leaders should hope for the best, and plan for the worst.