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What is the coronavirus? Virologist Dr. Marylou Gibson talks infection rate, treatment options, travel precautions and Supply Chain Management delays from China

CNN WORLD NEWS LIVE UPDATE AS OF 2/7/2020: Coronavirus infected cases reached over 31,400

China’s outbreak of a new strain of viruses, the coronas, is having a rippling effect on luxury clothing and consumer product brands conducting strong business in China. Luxury brands, like the British fashion house Burberry, which rely heavily on China as their top sales channel, is already experiencing a financial loss of substantial proportions.

According to data by the World Trade Organization (WTO), China has been the world’s top exporter since 2009. With stronger global trade connections, the coronavirus outbreak poses a larger financial threat to all categories of businesses. But to what degree and in what ways?

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Plus, with many Q1 trade shows coming up—Chicago International Housewares Show, China Caton Fair 2020, and the 2020 National Hardware Show in Las Vegas, just to name a few—travel precautions are top of mind for business owners and supply chain managers as they rethink travel plans to China and experience manufacturing and shipment delays from an increasing number of closed factories.

To help make sense of the impact the coronavirus will have on supply chain management, Retail Band spoke to Virologist Marylou Gibson who has spent her entire career studying viruses. The following conversation with Gibson explains what the coronavirus is while also diving deep into how it was transmitted, what travel precautions to take, and what supply chain management delays businesses should expect as the effects of the outbreak continue to spread globally.

Q: What is the coronavirus and how was it transmitted from animals to humans?

“Well, coronavirus is one of probably five or six different common cold viruses. They’re really quite different from each other. We’re all familiar with influenza, which is not one of the common cold viruses, but those that are common cold viruses, maybe you’ve heard Rhinovirus or RSV, which stands for respiratory syncytial virus and there are a few others, and they’re all quite genetically different. Corona is one of these common cold viruses which belonged to a family of viruses, the coronas, that infect all sorts of animals on this planet. There are about 50 viruses that we have a full genomic sequence for where they’ve sequenced the actual virus nucleic acid. They range from infecting animals as wide from beluga whales to rats, to pigs, to turkeys. There are about six or seven viruses now that infect humans in this family of the coronaviruses.”

“They do have the ability to mutate and change and enter different animal populations as they mutate. That’s possibly what has happened in this instance where the virus, which was potentially in a bat population somehow just genetically mutated. Mutation is a common thing that happens with these viruses.”

“When a change happens by chance that then allows that virus to now be more infectious to humans, and if bats get really close to humans for some reason or another, like in the animal market in Hunan, then that virus has the opportunity to jump into a new population. These viruses are all about just replicating themselves and making more of themselves.”

Q: How is China mobilizing to protect worldwide spread to other countries?

“China is responding, I think in a very amazing and thorough way. The world health leaders said that there’s never in history been this sort of mobilization in China as they see with this virus. It’s costing China a lot of money to shut down this entire area too … it’s really a significant mobilization that they have put into effect and it is protecting the world really, what China’s doing is serving to protect the world because the people that potentially are infected aren’t being allowed, or at least most of them, aren’t being allowed to circulate to other regions or other countries.”

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“China has a record of doing a very similar thing for stars in the early two thousand where they did build a hospital in short order, which now has been abandoned. But essentially, what it is, is a whole bunch of military barrack style buildings I think that they are not designed for long term use, but they want to use it to assist the population and treat the population and isolate some people. China is known to be able to turn construction projects around very, very quickly.”

Q: Travel Tips: What are the best precautions to take when traveling on an airplane or attending a crowded trade show?

“Ideally, you want to stay out of small enclosed spaces. I’ve had friends in the last month on planes that have gotten sick from their seatmates. You want a place that has adequate ventilation and not circulating air. I don’t know if they recirculate air in planes, I don’t really know, but ideally, you wouldn’t want the air to be recirculated.”

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“…they’re [the corona strain viruses] surrounded by this lipid or fat membrane, that they’re sensitive to an activation with organic solvents like alcohol, PURELL type hand sanitizers. Certainly, soap and water is your first go-to for anything. So, if you can wash your hands frequently with warm water and soap, that’s great too.”

“I also think, keep yourself hydrated well especially on an airplane, keep your membranes, your mouth hydrated.”

Key Takeaways: The Coronavirus Outbreak From A Business Perspective

The Chicago International Housewares Show, which takes place in March of 2020, has around 60,000 attendees. The China Canton Fair 2020 begins in April, just two months from the initial coronavirus outbreak, which will host more than 200 countries and regions from all over the world (if it is still in line with previous years’ estimates).

Globalization has lead to a stronger network of trade amongst countries. Consumer product companies with factories and manufacturies in China should expect shipment delays if they haven’t already. Since the coronavirus has spread faster than its SARS-like counterpart, it’s likely that the outbreak has traveled farther and will take longer to control.

For more information on the coronavirus, listen to episode 27 of the Page 1 Podcast. Your host Luke Peters asks Dr. Marylou Gibson more deep-diving questions on the Coronavirus and its effect on Supply Chain Management.