In the days after a new virus was identified in China on December 31, global central bankers fell back on past experience for a comforting early analysis, according to Reuters.
The SARS epidemic in 2003, they noted, had come and gone with little economic impact.
Weeks later, that parallel has failed.
A disease that has sickened around 75,000 in China and ground its economy to a near halt continues to spread outside its epicenter. The latest blow to hopes for a successful containment came Thursday when confirmed cases in South Korea topped 100 and it reported its first death. The streets of that country’s fourth-largest city stood abandoned as residents holed up indoors.
Now, as global finance officials gather in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for the latest Group of 20 summit, they will do so having intensified both their level of concern and the breadth of their detective work to understand the economic implications of the outbreak.
That has meant watching measures of coal use and local travel in China for any independent evidence the world’s second largest economy is returning to normal. They are watching disease counts outside China as the best indicator of whether the virus has been contained.
In Japan officials are surveying the empty streets of the Ginza shopping district and tallying airline and cruise ship cancellations, and pondering if an economic rebound they had counted on for later this year will fizzle.
In the United States, Fed officials are quizzing local business contacts and hearing from entrepreneurs blindsided by vulnerabilities in their supply networks.
Businesses “have supply chains that are intimately involved in China sometimes in ways they did not know,” Richmond Federal Reserve Bank President Thomas Barkin said in an interview Wednesday, recalling a conversation with one medical manufacturer that “had a supplier who had a supplier who had a part in China.”
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