Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

What happens when coronavirus travel bans hit the US?

Fresh from taking out the world's second-largest economy, coronavirus is going to play havoc when it hits the largest.

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At the time of writing, the United States ranks fifth in the World Health Organization (WHO) tally for coronavirus deaths behind China, Italy, Iran, and South Korea. This is despite having only 129 confirmed cases.

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Speaking from my perspective in Australia, Canberra was quick out of the gate to slap travel bans and 14-day quarantine exclusions on people who visited China and Iran, though it took well over 5,000 infections for South Korea to join the list, and it is still dithering on Italy, but it has said there are fewer travellers from there to Australia.

In situations such as these, being a densely developed country of 50 million has allowed a country like South Korea to respond quickly by creating facilities, such as drive-through testing clinics, and sending people SMS alerts when they enter an area with confirmed cases.

The situation is going to be a lot trickier in the United States, with its contiguous population of over 300 million and morass of state and local level governments responsible for different parts of its health system.

It's fast becoming a case of not if, but when, the rest of the world decides to put the United States into the Chinese, Iranian, and South Korean travel ban bag.

And it could already be too late, with a nurse in northern California stating not enough is being done to address the outbreak.

"I'm awaiting 'permission' from the federal government to allow for my testing, even after my physician and county health professional ordered it," the statement made on Thursday read.

It's one thing to push for remote working, cancel conferences, and impose domestic travel bans, but coronavirus is only getting started stateside.

One of the easiest ways to grasp how the virus can impact an entire economy is a chart produced by Capital Economics, which used Chinese coal consumption to tell a tale. The country is barely above the coal consumption levels it usually experiences over Lunar New Year despite it being almost six weeks or half a quarter later.

china-coronavirus-coal-capitaleconomics.png

On the consumer side, Apple has already warned it will miss its Q2 guidance, and the China Passenger Car Association said last week it saw car demand in the Middle Kingdom fall by 80% over February.

The International Air Transport Association has said a broader spread of coronavirus could see the airline industry miss out on over $100 billion in revenue. A 10% drop in passenger numbers across the United States and Canada would result in $21 billion in lost revenue, the association said, but bear in mind, the drop across Europe, East Asia, and Australia is expected to be worse with an anticipated drop of 25% in airline revenue. Clearly, the airlines are going to be the canary in this coronavirus coal mine.

It might be possible that the United States can avoid the worst of the impact, and as a tertiary economy it might not suffer as badly as the manufacturing heavy Chinese economy has, but on the other hand, the panic buying occurring in the United States and Australia does not bode well for those expecting a calm and rational response.

Warnings have already been sounded about a lack of proper supplies for medical workers, and the American President continues to hose down the seriousness of the virus.

The most pertinent question of last week was asked by Brian Karem: Can uninsured Americans get tested?

If you examine the cumulative cases per country on the WHO's coronavirus tracker, you'll see a J-curve trajectory in countries where the virus has taken hold. The question for the United States will be whether it tops out at around current levels, or if it will replicate the continuing spike that South Korea has undergone?

Should coronavirus truly hit, it is going to hit the economy hard and lurch it towards recession. The tech giants will be swept up in the hit, and among other things, it will be a test of whether the truly remote workforce can scale as a workable concept.

At the end of the day though, the decision to impose travel bans on the United States will be taken by individual jurisdictions in the rest of the world, and America will just have to cop it sweet.

ZDNET'S MONDAY MORNING OPENER:

The Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. Since we run a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet's global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America.