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The COVID-19 Pandemic: Economic Impacts

Introduction

The world is strongly connected and integrated, thus, a disaster in one region significantly impacts other areas. Therefore, one infected person led to a global pandemic affecting more than four million people. Such is the case that the world is experiencing now with the Covid-19 outbreak. According to McKibbin and Fernando (2020), the first case of Covid-19 occurred on December 19 in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. SARS-CoV-2 caused the contagious virus. In that time, China became the epicenter of the virus, but it spread to other 19 countries through travelers and cargo shipped from the affected areas. Currently, the coronavirus cases worldwide are approaching 11 million and over 517, 984 recorded deaths (Worldometer, 2020). The number of infected people and subsequent deaths continue rising, mainly because there is no available cure.

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Countries around the world took some drastic measures to help prevent the transmission of the virus. Notably, the Covid-19 is an infectious disease that spreads when an individual comes in close contact with an infected person or touches a contaminated surface. Therefore, nations issued travel bans and international travel restrictions, especially in the areas that were identified as epicenters (Chinazzi et al., 2020). Countries such as Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, Japan, China, South Korea, and the United States were noted as hotspots because of the rapidly rising infection of Covid-19. China was the first nation to put in place lockdown and travel restrictions against people in Wuhan City in January 2020 (Chinazzi et al., 2020). These restrictions led to a drop in the infection rate, but it also corresponded with a decline in economic activities.

Therefore, this paper aims to find the economic impacts of the coronavirus by exploring current financial status in the United States and around the world. It also explores the measures companies had taken to safeguard themselves against such risks as well as steps taken to protect against future pandemics. To meet these objectives, data were collected from online sources that include scientific research and financial disclosures from countries and companies.

Current U.S. and Global Economy

China was the first country to adopt strict measures aimed at stopping the spread of the virus. However, after the World Health Organization (WHO) official declaration of the outbreak on January 30, 2020, many more countries imposed harsh strategies to prevent the virus from causing damage (de Bruin et al., 2020). Nonetheless, the disease had already spread to other parts of the world when these measures were being adopted. This led to nations imposing further travel bans, including the suspending of international and domestic flights, preventing the cross-border movements, and encouraging self-quarantine or self-isolation in houses. People and companies were also encouraged to work from home to minimize close contact and transmission rates, which effectively resulted in a decline in economic activities.

China is famous for its innovation and mass production of affordable commodities supplied in major parts of the world. Therefore, all companies, irrespective of the size, that rely on China for input, started scaling down production (McKibbin & Fernando, 2020). Limitation of transport and exports from China led to a decline in economic activities. For instance, the International Monetary Funds indicated that the economic growth rate in China declined by 0.4%, while global economic growth slowed down by 0.1 percentage points (McKibbin & Fernando, 2020). These figures were estimated in the initial stages when countries started adopting travel restriction measures. In China, for example, lockdown resulted in a 20% decline in retail sales as people were no longer allowed in malls and restaurants (Fernandes, 2020). The impact was expected to get worse as lockdown extended and new cases recorded, all while people respectfully observed the stay at home orders.

Overall, the United States and global economy was severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic. As staying at home in the U.S. were encouraged, and companies closed down operations, more than 26 million people filed for unemployment by March 2020 (BBC, 2020a). The decline in business activities also affected the GDP as it declined at a rate of 4.8% within the first quarter. The United States federal government adopted serious measures such as inputting $3 trillion in the economy in the form of direct payments to families and other benefits to companies. It also lowered the interest rates to cushion businesses and people during the pandemic. In China, which was first hit by the epidemic, the GDP shrank by 6.8%, while that of Germany declined by 6.3% (BBC, 2020a). The decline is considered worse compared to the global economic effects of the 2008 financial crisis. Duffin (2020) indicated that the global economy’s GDP declined by 3.0% or about $3.5 trillion lost in economic output. The global decline was caused by the decreased demand for products and services as consumers were trying to save for future expenses.

Nonetheless, when the economic impacts of Covid-19 are assessed on each financial sector and industry independently, it is evident that some companies benefited from strict measures adopted by governments. Therefore, this section analyzes both negative and positive impacts caused by the coronavirus in different sectors. However, it should be noted that most people around the world were negatively affected by the virus, as infections and mortality rates associated with Covid-19 increased.

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Negative Impacts in the U.S. and Globally

The virus had a significant impact on demand and consumption of products, including altering the purchase patterns. The fear and uncertainty surrounding Covid-19 led to multiple cases of panic buying or cancellations that affected stock exchange and profitability of firms. For instance, according to Ozili and Arun (2020), the S&P 500 ten largest companies witnessed a combined loss of $1.4 trillion within a week and $5 trillion for companies in the U.S. within the same period. Investors’ decisions also influenced these losses following the spread of the virus. Additionally, as the threats of pandemic grew, people began canceling hotels, air travel, and events bookings. The air travel, entertainment, and tourism industry bring billions of revenue to countries worldwide. As a result, Ozili and Arun (2020) noted that the total costs of cancellations amounted to over $200 billion in the tourism industry and $113 billion in air travel. People were worried about future sources of finance, and the stay-at-home policies enabled people to spend whatever they had for basic amenities.

Businesses in the United States and around the world began applying for financial bailouts because of the high number of booking cancellations. The hotel industry in the U.S. sought $150 billion bailout funds, whereas the airlines asked for $50 billion (Ozili & Arun, 2020). Furthermore, the statistics projected that the travel businesses would lose over $820 billion because of the restrictions imposed following coronavirus pandemic. The financial strain on the tourism and travel industry led to drastic measures that included the suspension of normal operations and subsequent losses of jobs. The authors observed that 24.3 million jobs globally as well as 3.9 million in the U.S., were lost as a result of declined hotel occupancy and travel. Countries such as Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Mexico that rely mainly on tourism as it accounts for more than 15% of GDP were much affected by the crisis (Fernandes, 2020). The situation was made worse because local travel was also restricted.

Globalization before the pandemic meant that companies could access raw materials easily in one country and supply to another for production. However, Covid-19 disrupted the supply chains resulting in increased costs of manufacturing operations or closing of businesses altogether. For instance, Hasbro, a toy manufacturer, obtains 70% of its product from China (Fernandes, 2020). As a result, such the production in Hasbro and many other companies significantly declined because it temporarily closed its offices globally. After all, the employees were encouraged to work from home. The author also indicated 75% of the companies in the U.S. reported disruptions in supply chains. As a result, companies who avoid incurring inventory costs are experiencing financial strain as they had to look for alternatives or halt production completely. Quantified data revealed that industrial output declined by 13.5% within January and February 2020 (Fernandes, 2020). As manufacturing declined, the investments in fixed assets collapsed by 25% as compared to the same period in other years. This decline was reflected in the stock exchange where countries like Brazil experienced 48%, the U.K.’s -38%, Spain’s -35%, and Germany’s -33% in performance (Fernandes, 2020). The volatility of the stock market serves as an indication of how severe the environment is and investors’ uncertainty about the future.

The pandemic also disrupted socio-economic life for people around the world. The self-distancing, self-isolation, and minimized group interaction measures adopted by countries reduced the workforce in all sectors. Over 100 countries around the world imposed total closure of all learning institutions. According to Li and Lalani (2020), over 1.2 billion learners were affected by the closure of learning facilities. As schools were no longer operational, teachers and support staff who rely on educational institutions for income lost their jobs. Additionally, students from low-income families who are dependent on free school meals suffered because of these measures. Furthermore, Nicola et al. (2020) study estimated that closure of schools in New York City alone resulted in the economic cost of $1.1 billion for 12 weeks, translating to 1% of the GDP. The loss encountered was in the form of lost workforce hours. In the U.K., the cost of schools’ lockdown cost 3% of the GDP. Learning institutions adopted other means of teaching, such as the use of eLearning sites and distance learning tools. However, the use of online education created disparities between the rich and the poor because many students could not access learning tools.

Despite the growth in streaming services, the movie and music industry will experience losses. Due to the directives on social distancing, production houses halted shooting videos. The pushback in that resulted in losses for actors, directors, artists, and support staff who work in those industries. According to Beech (2020), the losses in the movie industry are estimated at $11 billion because it declined by 25%, whereas there was a 15% decline in T.V. advertising. Following the outbreak, companies also designed new strategies to reduce the operating costs that led to the cancellation of ads and promotions that accompany the release of movies and music, as well as general products. Additionally, the viewership in mainstream media declined as more people were choosing to watch shows and movies in paid networks like Netflix.

Finally, the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry experienced some of the most difficult and unprecedented challenges. The rapid rise of the infected individuals overwhelmed hospitals and healthcare workers in the areas identified as epicenters. The risk of infections from asymptomatic care providers to other patients also increased, primarily because healthcare workers cannot work remotely. The cost of hospital services increased, mainly because there was a significant shortage of protective equipment such as N95 face masks that were essential in limiting the transmission of the virus (Nicola et al., 2020). Additionally, hospitals across the United States and other parts of the world reported a shortage of ventilators and ICU beds. There was also a shortage experienced in the pharmaceutical industry in the U.S. According to Nicola et al. (2020), the ingredients used in pharmaceuticals in the United States are 26% imported from E.U., 18% from India, and 13% from China. Additionally, China exports about 39.3% of medical devices to the United States. Therefore, limited transportation and supply of products exposed the healthcare that leads to loss of lives and revenue.

Sectors that Grew during Covid-19 Pandemic in the U.S. and Globally

As in with everything, there are people who lose and those that gain, which the world experienced in this pandemic. In the education sector, the adoption of online learning facilities led to economic growth in some companies offering the learning tools. Li and Lalani (2020) noted that there was a high adoption rate of education and learning technology that reached $18.66 billion in 2019 and was expected to reach $350 billion by 2025. This technology includes online learning software, video conferencing tools, language applications, as well as virtual tutoring. The governments instructed learners to resume studying using these tools. As a result, in Wuhan City, a total of 730,000 K-12 students were attending online classes. Companies such as Zoom and Cisco WebEx gained millions of users within a short period. According to Iqbal (2020), the daily users of Zoom increased from 10 million in December 2019 to over 300 million users by March 2020. The rapid rate of adoption was because Zoom offers free services to the users, which is why it was adopted for use in learning institutions and organizations in over 20 countries. The growth of subscription resulted in increased profits. For instance, Zoom by October 2019 was valued at $20.7 billion, a figure that rose to $400.5 billion in March 2020. Additionally, the shares increased $75.81 to $146.12 within the same period (Iqbal, 2020). Therefore, the rise in Zoom’s revenue shows that the effects of lockdown were unevenly distributed and felt by people and organizations.

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Some companies seemed to benefit from travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders. Because of limited movements, people looked for ways in which to make their stay at home enjoyable. As a result, individuals started making purchases that would boost social connections and interactions like games. For instance, despite scaling down operations, Hasbro’s revenue rose from $732.5 million to $1.11 billion (Whitten, 2020). The increase in revenue occurred due to the growth in sales in preschool, adults, kids, and family games. Whitten (2020) noted that Monopoly, the Gathering, and Hasbro Gaming increased by 40%. These games enabled families to bond and kids to play in the comfort of their homes.

The social isolation and quarantine led to an increase in streaming services. As lockdown orders were effected in the U.S. and other parts of the world, people turned to television for entertainment. As a result, the popular streaming service, Netflix, saw an increase in the number of subscribers in the first three months of the year. According to BBC (2020b), 16 million new subscribers created accounts with Netflix, which was almost double in the last months of 2019. Seven million of the new subscribers were from the Middle East and Africa regions. At the same time, 2.3 million accounts came from Canada and the United States. The new subscribers increased the number of worldwide users enjoying Netflix to 182 million. The rise in subscribers significantly increased the revenue by 27% to $5.7 billion in comparison to the same period in 2019. The company’s profit also increased to $709 million in the first quarter. Additionally, the firm hired more than 2,000 customer support staff due to increased demand from clients (BBC, 2020b). Other services, such as Disney+, music streaming services, and YouTube, gained new users and subscribers. The surge in the number of users forced companies like Facebook and YouTube to lower the quality of streaming services all over the world to reduce network strains.

The social distancing rules and fear of contracting the Covid-19 disease forced people to look into other ways of shopping. As a result, there was also an apparent growth in revenue for e-commerce businesses such as Amazon and Walmart. According to Ali (2020), the traffic in 57 online marketplaces in the U.S. grew by 17%, and 36% of the retailers noted they had to adjust sites to accommodate increased customers. As people were afraid of long queues in stores due to panic purchases and fear of contracting the virus, many people used digital channels for shopping. For instance, Walmart’s online sales in the United States alone grew by 74%. People purchased different types of products that would help them cope behind locked doors. Lopienski (2020) noted that toys and games purchases increased by 66.51%, beauty products by 64.5%, and fitness products grew by 112.23% month over month. The increase in fitness products was exceptionally high because medical experts argued that the survival rates for healthy people were higher compared to unfit individuals. Increased sales in food and beverages, entertainment products, office supplies, animals and pet products, software, and health products were witnessed as people prepared to work from home.

Protecting Companies against Future Pandemics

Several lessons can be taken from how countries responded to the Covid-19 pandemic. In the initial stage following the virus outbreak, China moved to lockdown and restricted movements in and out of Wuhan City. This strategy declined the rate of transmission. Additionally, over 59 airlines and countries, including Australia, Russia, United States, and Italy, issued travel restrictions to mainland China, which significantly reduced the rate of transmissibility by 25% (Chinazzi et al., 2020). The countries also focused on reducing internal transmissions by limiting interstate movements. These measures are an example of crisis management. According to Kuckertz et al. (2020), crisis management skills are essential in controlling the damages caused by a crisis, and if done well, they help in quick restoration of business functionalities. Crisis management activities taken by companies to reduce the potential negative consequences of a crisis include marketing, sales, and other employment practices. Organizations around the world also engaged in corporate social responsibility activities that not only strengthened the society but also increased brand awareness. Some of the measures adopted by companies to minimize the effects of Covid-19 are as noted in this section.

The approaches adopted by governments and organizations aimed at preventing spread of the virus and subsequently preserving human life. Therefore, this should be the first step taken by organizations as a way of avoiding immediate failure. Protecting the employees would help in boosting innovations and finding a way to help the companies survive. As Kuckertz et al. (2020) note, companies experiencing a decline in sales and are operating at high costs that would lead to illiquidity have certain measures to take. The authors noted that such companies could use the resources at hand to offer flexible payment options. These options could include flexible staff rotation schedules, payment delays, and wage subsidies. Such strategies help the company continue its operations through the reduction of costs of services.

Organizations could also adopt technology and creative ways to stay active. For instance, South Korea utilized information technology systems to help in tracking the individuals suspected to be Covid-19 positive. The country adopted the trace, test, and treat strategy that significantly helped in reducing the spread of the virus (Park et al., 2020). Similarly, companies combined existing technological tools and human capital to continue delivering services from home. Most of the organizations, including learning institutions, benefited from freely available tools such as Zoom and Cisco WebEx that facilitate collaboration. The work from home policies also enabled the companies to downsize certain activities during the pandemic, which would be upsized later when everything settles.

As witnessed during the coronavirus, companies cannot prevent pandemics, but they can have plans in place to ensure business continuity. For instance, a report published by Marsh and McLennan Companies revealed how it would respond in case of a pandemic (Marsh, 2018). The first step described is employee wellbeing. In this case, a business should effectively protect its people by developing and creating relevant procedures intended to minimize the potential for transmission. The organizations should be at the forefront in informing and educating the employees about outbreaks and the appropriate healthcare precautions to take. In such an aspect, all companies should have health and wellness programs that would help in educating the employees. Additionally, should a patient appear sick with a disease, the company should encourage them to visit hospitals or work remotely to limit the spread of the virus.

Furthermore, firms should insure against a pandemic. There are several forms of insurance coverage that are essential for a business. They include employees and their family member(s) and property insurance. Marsh (2018) notes that insurance companies had designed policies that can be triggered even when there is no direct damage to properties. Such policies would be essential in times of pandemic like the world is experiencing. For instance, workers’ compensation and exposure to occupational disease covers would help the companies and employees bear the cost of medical expenses as well as reimbursement for lost wages arising because of an infectious disease. Companies and entrepreneurs might also seek insurance covers that would provide coverage for broken contractual agreements caused by an infectious disease. For instance, there were notable cases of absenteeism and lack of product delivery as provided in contracts, which is a form of violation and can be fined. However, people would argue that these cases were beyond their abilities, which insurance companies can insure if there is evidence that a pandemic caused it.

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Companies should also regularly perform risk assessments to identify possible strengths and weaknesses. Part of the evaluation should include business impact analysis that would explore the preparedness of the company in overcoming difficulties. For instance, companies in the future should assess their employees’ level of skills and ability to work remotely. As a result, it would examine the employees’ capabilities in using laptops and other relevant tools that would facilitate working from home smoothly. The analysis would also help identify areas that would lag in case of business interruptions. Identifying such information would help businesses adopt strategies that would significantly reduce losses and improve transitioning caused by a pandemic.

Businesses should have communication plans and collaboration strategies to help mitigate pandemic impacts. According to Madhav et al. (2017), risk communication is essential in controlling the spread of a pandemic. The relevant stakeholders should provide accurate information that would ensure preventive and protective actions are taken. Companies should provide regular and engaging communications. However, it should be noted that organizations should not offer communication unless they have relevant and accurate information regarding a pandemic. Additionally, companies should set aside a budget that would help in advertisements and campaigns that would help in building a reputation as well as improving the brand image. Some of these funds could also be used to help employees and society heavily affected by the pandemic.

A business should also focus on external collaborations with experts in different fields to help identify ways of safeguarding the company’s interests. For instance, a company should involve outside risk management consultants who would help in identifying, analyzing, evaluating, and proposing solutions to specific problems (Ferdinand-Hodkin, 2020). These solutions could be offered in phases such as what to do in the pre-pandemic, during a pandemic, and post-pandemic to ensure business continuity. Companies can engage expert legal counsel who would help in writing business policies related to health and safety measures, insurance, contractual, employee, and regulatory issues, among others. More importantly, management should seek the help of insurance brokers and financial advisors who would offer expert advice on cases like appropriate insurance policies and available financial incentive programs that can safeguard a business. Finally, a pandemic could add a considerable amount of pressure and stress on people. Therefore, organizations should have accessible mental health professionals who would support employees during a pandemic (Ferdinand-Hodkin, 2020). These experts are essential in terms of offering appropriate advice that can help businesses get back to operations quicker during or after a pandemic.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Covid-19 pandemic has effectively changed the way governments and businesses conduct their activities. The virus introduced uncertainties that continued to grow by the day, mainly because months have passed by without the development of preventative measures or cure. However, the swift measures adopted by some countries such as imposing travel restrictions, reducing interstate movements, encouraging stay-at-home, and enforcing lockdown in epicenters helped curb the spread. However, all these measures heavily impacted business because they rely on human resources for production. Restrictions of movements prevented people from accessing offices, markets, and plants, and other areas where people work. As a result, countries began experiencing economic strain as there was no revenue.

The global GDP and that of the U.S. experienced a significant drop as a high number of people filed for unemployment. Companies were closed, and production decreased as the virus interrupted the supply and distribution chains. Raw materials could not reach processing plants, which increased the costs of production. People due to uncertainty and fear of coronavirus also adopted purchasing habits that only focused on essential products. The decreased demand for certain products has driven some companies out of business. For example, schools, music and movies industry, stock and trading market, retail, as well as the real estate market, encountered significant losses.

On the other hand, streaming services like Netflix, videoconferencing, health and fitness products, and e-commerce marketplaces experienced considerable growth as the demand for them increased. Finally, this study identified measures that companies should take to protect businesses in the future in case of a pandemic. These measures include regularly conducting business risk analysis and collaborating with experts to develop crisis management plans. Common of all, companies should communicate early enough when a sign of an infectious disease is identified to help in preventing the spread of the virus.

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