WASHINGTON - With scores of Chinese factories now sitting idle because of the spread of the novel coronavirus, now named COVID-19, American officials and experts are warning the economic shock could be felt in the U.S. in the months to come.
For now, U.S. President Donald Trump’s national security adviser hinted at a limited economic impact.
Speaking at an event at the Atlantic Council in Washington this week, Robert O’Brien said, “there will be some effect on the U.S. GDP growth” but added, “we’ll have to wait and see.”
While acknowledging China’s critical role in the global supply chain, O’Brien said he is watching whether alternative suppliers can be found or Chinese workers will return to their factories.
He said he did expect China to reduce the imports of American agricultural products under the Phase 1 trade deal.
“We expect the phase 1 deal will allow China to import more food and open those markets to American farmers, but certainly as we watch this coronavirus outbreak unfold in China it could have an impact on how big, at least in this current year, the purchases are,” O’Brien noted.
The U.S. medical sector also is expected to register an impact from the coronavirus outbreak.
In a Senate hearing Wednesday on global pandemics, experts cautioned the U.S. relies heavily on imports of medical devices and drugs, and will soon feel the blow from the factory stoppage in China.
“If this extends in China another month or two, I think we’re going to start to see some shortages of critical components, not just the protective equipment, but also sophisticated electronics that go into medical devices,” said Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. Gottlieb explained a lot of manufacturers have one to three months inventory on hand.
And there are some 400 drug manufacturers in China, noted Nikki Clowers, managing director of the Health Care Team at the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Clowers said continued factory closures will affect the supplies of equipment to handle the Coronavirus outbreak and medicines for other chronic diseases.
Julie Gerberding, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said she is most concerned about the possible shortage in antibiotics. She explained many Coronavirus patients are prone to develop additional drug-resistant bacterial infections. But Gerberding stressed that the U.S. currently has a sufficient amount of medical stockpiles.
“I think it’s important to remember that we have a Strategic National Stockpile, which is an enormous reservoir of medical equipment, supplies, medicines, vaccines, etc., strategically situated around our country. So that is our first line of defense that would have come into play if we were experiencing a major surge in requirements,” Gerberding said while admitting stockpile is not limitless.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday it is planning for increased demand of medical supplies as it anticipates the coronavirus to “take a foothold in the U.S.”
Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease, told reporters on a conference call, CDC is regularly talking with manufacturers of personal protective gear, such as masks and gloves, to assess availability.
“At this time, some partners are reporting higher than usual demand for select N95 respirators and face masks,” she said, while reminding CDC currently does not recommend the use of face masks by the general public.
Messonnier also reiterated that the CDC stands ready to send staff to the affected areas in China to work on Coronavirus investigation, although China hasn’t extended its invitation yet.
National Security Adviser O’Brien also confirmed American experts are not included in the World Health Organization’s 3-member advance team of international experts who arrived Monday in China.