The 'Year of the Rat' is starting not with a bang, but with a whimper. Thanks to the rapid spread of a deadly coronavirus that has confounded China's public health officials and triggered massive quarantine operations intended to seal off at least three cities from the rest of the country (and world), Beijing has joined three other Chinese cities in cancelling Lunar New Year celebrations.
CNBC's Eunice Yoon reports that all public gatherings and activities have been cancelled, citing officials from Beijing's tourism bureau.
Beijing joins Wuhan, Zhejiang, Macau in canceling #LunarNewYear celebrations. #China capital’s culture & tourism bureau says all public gathering activities, incl. traditional temple fairs, are off. (Holiday is normally major consumer spending time. #WuhanCoronavirus) @TheDomino— Eunice Yoon (@onlyyoontv) January 23, 2020
Yoon tweeted that she was surprised when Wuhan cancelled its New Year's festivities, even though it's the epicenter of the virus. The fact that Beijing has followed suit is nothing short of extraordinary, and serves to underscore just how out-of-hand things have gotten with this virus.
China's state railway operator is offering full refunds to any Chinese impacted by cancellations.
#China State Railway Group, country’s train operator, says it is now offering full refunds for all trip cancellations nationwide 🚂. #LunarNewYear is the biggest travel period as Chinese go home for the traditional holiday. But #WuhanCoronavirus making travelers nervous.😬— Eunice Yoon (@onlyyoontv) January 23, 2020
Film industry executives have postponed the release of all seven Chinese films that were set to debut during the New Year holiday.
All 7 films set to release during #LunarNewYear postpone due to #WuhanCoronavirus scare. Original times below:— Eunice Yoon (@onlyyoontv) January 23, 2020
Jan 25: Boonie Bears: The Wild Life
Jan 25: Detective Chinatown 3
Jan 25: Leap
Jan 25: Legend of Deification
Jan 25: Lost in Russia
Jan 25: The Rescue
Jan 25: Vanguard
Meanwhile, Beijing is tightening its quarantine restrictions for Wuhan and the other affected cities.
Tighter lockdown for Wuhan. #China Transport Ministry announced: suspension of road and water routes to Wuhan, of inter-provincial and inter-city car-hiring, bus services to Wuhan, strict control of vehicles, ships departing Wuhan, strict checks, control for highways, waterways— Eunice Yoon (@onlyyoontv) January 23, 2020
#China aviation authority calls on airlines to reduce Wuhan flights. Forbids price gouging. Says 566 flights were scheduled to/from Wuhan Jan23 & as of 11:30am, 288 cancelled. Reminds foreign, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan airlines with Wuhan flights to adjust. https://t.co/EyF4OK3oNa— Eunice Yoon (@onlyyoontv) January 23, 2020
#China locks down more cities due to #WuhanCoronavirus. Huanggang (7.5mln pop.) will suspend public bus, railway from midnight (11a ET). Internet cafes, movie theaters, tourist sites, entertainment venues temporarily closed. Ezhou (1mln pop.) said it shut train stations.— Eunice Yoon (@onlyyoontv) January 23, 2020
Initially, many declined to speculate about the impact of the coronavirus on global GDP. But the quarantines and cancellations have virtually guaranteed that China's already-slowing economic growth is about to take another hit.
Analysts at SocGen write "Markets have become concerned about the outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan. Clearly, there is still considerable uncertainty as to how the situation will evolve. However, the SARS epidemic in 2003, which lasted for nine months and infected over 5,000 people in China, should be a useful reference for the potential economic impact this time. Drawing from the SARS lesson, if the situation has failed to stabilise by March, 1Q GDP growth will likely fall below 6%, compared with our current forecast of 6.1%. Undoubtedly, consumption and tourism-related sectors would be most affected."
Elsewhere, the bar for coronavirus-related panic has apparently been set pretty low: The Global Times tweeted that the Chinese embassy in France had called for help after one official complained on social media about having a fever and cough after entering France from China.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsein Loong told reporters that the coronavirus has clearly spread faster than officials in Beijing expected. And with US stocks set to open in the red, it's clear investors are beginning to worry about the possibility of a global pandemic.
Of course, before anybody gets too bent out of shape about the cancellations, there's reason to take the news with a grain of salt: Despite plans to shut down all plane traffic in and out of Wuhan, flight tracker FlightAware shows that dozens of flights are scheduled for Thursday in spite of the ban. Earlier media reports claimed that "some" flights would still be taking off.
Are you still confident that Beijing has this under control?