Coronavirus Is a Data Time Bomb

It will be a long time before we understand what the outbreak did to the global economy

So far, less than 0.0008 percent of the humans on Earth have been diagnosed with the coronavirus known as COVID-19. But thanks to the circulation of disease and capital, the whole world has been affected.

Chinese manufacturing cities such as Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, are intimately entangled with the supply chains of the entire world. That means that both the disease and the containment measures enacted to control it (take, for example, the quarantine still in place for 70 million people) will have a dramatic effect on businesses across disparate industries.

Any company—including Apple and Walmart—that brings things in from China has to worry about production and distribution slowdowns. That’s partly because supply chains are less linear than they sound. Production networks often have complex interrelationships that go back and forth across borders. An American retailer might contract with only one Chinese company, but that entity in turn might act like a general contractor, pulling in components from many sources or farming out work to a changing list of factories. In 2018, for instance, more than 1,000 facilities were involved in some way with the making of Apple products.

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