Ebola and the Economy

Unless you’ve been under quarantine for the past few weeks, you know that Ebola has once again reared its ugly head, causing widespread concern – bordering on panic in some quarters – about the possibility of a global pandemic. How realistic a possibility is this?  Could it actually happen? Frankly, it’s still too early to say one way or the other. However, it’s not too soon to make some basic predictions about how some businesses will be affected should matters get much worse.

Dr. Bruce Aylward is the Assistant Director General for the World Health Organization (WHO). He recently announced that organization’s prediction that the number of cases is expected to top 9000 by the end of this week, and the fatality rate of the current outbreak has risen from just under 50% to over 70%. When asked how the situation might evolve over the next 60 days, he warned: “We anticipate the number of cases occurring per week by that time to be somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 per week.”

As in previous instances of global health scares, airlines, theaters, sports arenas, and other locations where large “fraternities of strangers” gather are sure to be the first to suffer the economic consequences of a population frightened into isolation. Participating in purely recreational activities will be weighed against the fear of contagion, and attendance is sure to plummet.  Schools, churches, and other venues where attendance is “less voluntary” will follow suit in very short order if the outbreak is not quickly reigned in.

The WHO announced yesterday that the Ebola epidemic had officially been halted in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country.  Sadly, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and other nations in the region remain mired in the misery of a highly-contagious, incurable, deadly viral outbreak, and new cases are popping up around the globe on a daily basis.  Should this situation continue, the global economy is sure to take a big hit.

From a business perspective, this could cause a loss of billions of dollars in revenue. On a more personal level, this could very likely fundamentally change the way we socialize. How big a change depends entirely on how long this outbreak takes to be subdued and how much damage it does in the meantime.

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