In a promotional video featuring Japanese tennis superstar Naomi Osaka, as well as fans of different nationalities, the organizing committee for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games revealed on Feb. 17 the event’s official motto: United by Emotion.
Yet if there’s one emotion linking the world today, it might be fear. The COVID-19 outbreak shows little sign of weakening. As of Feb. 19, the disease has infected more than 75,000, killed 2,014 and prompted over 50 countries and territories to close their borders to arrivals from China. The “devil” virus, as Chinese President Xi Jinping has called it, has already surpassed the combined death toll of SARS and MERS and lies on the cusp of becoming a pandemic that spreads around the globe. The next few weeks will determine whether containment efforts can prevent COVID-19 becoming the “black swan event” that Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang has warned may derail the global economy.
The economic repercussions already look severe. According to analysis by research firm Capital Economics, COVID-19 will cost the world economy over $280 billion in the first quarter of this year, meaning that global GDP will not grow from one quarter to the next for the first time since 2009. China’s growth is expected to slow to 4.5% over the same period. Some 5 million companies have Chinese suppliers, according to data company Dun & Bradstreet, and all are under threat from slashed manufacturing capacity.
Korean automaker Hyundai has shut its huge factory in Ulsan due to a shortage of parts. Apple has told investors it will fail to meet quarterly revenue targets and warned of global “iPhone supply shortages” from the shutting of Chinese factories. The slowdown may also undermine U.S. plans to massively boost exports of agricultural goods, energy and services to China, hampering any potential recovery in farming communities and the Rust Belt.
Travel in and around the region has ebbed significantly. Some 21 airlines have cancelled all flights to mainland China. Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific has cut 40% of network capacity and asked 27,000 employees to take unpaid leave to help it stay afloat. Events from the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens to K-Pop concerts have been cancelled or postponed.
Now, speculation is mounting about one of the year’s biggest events due to take place directly in the orbit of the outbreak—the 2020 Olympic Games, which are to be held in Tokyo beginning July 24. Japan has the second highest rate of COVID-19 infections after China, with 695 people testing positive for the virus, most of them on a cruise ship docked at the city of Yokohama. Yet the Olympics torch relay is due to begin next month and traverse to all of Japan’s 47 prefectures over 121 days, coinciding with its popular cherry blossom bloom.
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SOURCE: TIME, Charlie Campbell