Coronavirus News Asia

Coronavirus: An ice-nine moment for the world

On February 12, the Dow Jones reached its highest close, followed by the S&P 500 and Nasdaq, which hit all-time highs a week later. It was the mother of all bull markets. There was a notion among the investors that the trade war initiated by US President Donald Trump was adding value to their investments. But the last week of February saw a complete reversal of mood when stock markets across the world reported their biggest weekly loss since the 2008 crisis as the number of Covid-19 cases increased outside China.

Adding salt to the injury, the price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia forced crude oil to tumble as much as 33% on March 9, making investors jittery. In response to this crisis, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell more than 2,000 points. It was the largest plunge in its history, followed by two more record-setting falls through mid-March. In total, global stock markets lost about US$16 trillion in less than a month. Even the most aggressive responses from central banks such as cutting interest rates and launching huge stimulus packages were not able to cheer the market mood. 

In two weeks, the world has gone upside down, sparking fears of a global recession. Billions of people across the world are now isolating themselves, nations are in lockdown position, only emergency services are in operation. Still, the death count and the number of Covid-19 cases increase each day.

Even the most proactive responses from governments, institutions and think-tanks across the world were not able to reduce the impact as infections rose exponentially. Does a virus have the potential to bring the world’s most powerful governments, markets, and institutions to their knees? Does a small virus have so much power to dictate its terms to the world, or is it an “ice-nine” moment?

 An ice-nine event 

“Ice-nine” is a term coined by author Kurt Vonnegut in his book Cat’s Cradle. It’s a fictional substance that is supposedly a polymorph of water that freezes at 45.8 degrees Celsius, rather than zero degrees. One of its peculiar properties is that any regular molecule of water that comes into contact with this unusual water would turn into solid ice-nine.

It is a perfect doomsday machine: If any amount of ice-nine were exposed to natural water bodies such as lakes or seas, then all the world’s water would freeze into solid ice-nine.

Currently, Covid-19 is behaving much like an ice-nine molecule. Much like water, humans are acting as asymptomatic carriers. As one man or woman comes into contact with the virus, so rises the risk for the rest of humanity. 

But what’s really surprising is the sudden emergence of the virus and mystery surrounding it. From the start of the outbreak, China suppressed information about the virus and its nature, which left fertile ground for speculation about the Chinese regime’s intentions.

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