How long will India remain safe Fear spikes after new coronavirus data

Coronavirus wrecks havoc in 70 countries around the world with over 3,000 deaths reported worldwide, India has stayed relatively unscathed.

Two new cases reported today, one in the nation’s capital and the other in Telangana, the total count of Indian patients has now gone up to five — a trivial tally when one considers our proximity and close business ties with China, the hotbed of the epidemic.

Robert Subbaraman, chief economist at Nomura, said there could indeed be one factor that has kept India largely untouched by the scourge. While almost all of Asia could be a sitting duck, India’s exposure levels to the virus’ economic fallouts could be lower, he noted. According to Subbaraman, the reason is India’s unwillingness to join the China-led Asian supply chain that may have played a role in keeping India’s exposure to a minimum.

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It’s long been one step forward, two steps back when it comes to India joining the Great Asian supply chain where China is the epicentre. This has helped India keep the damage from coronavirus limited even as it has brought industry to a standstill in many countries across the continent.

“India does not have a strong links with China in terms of visitor arrivals and so forth in some of these other Asian countries but also the economic spill-overs from China on to India are not severe,” Subbaraman said.

But this could be just one side of the story. Will this defence continue to work if the impact of coronavirus ends up being more protracted than expected? One is not so sure where the situation will head if the virus refuses to go away soon.

The Chinese virus has so far affected India’s manufacturing and exports sectors — notably medicines, electronics, textiles and chemicals. The govt said it was taking all necessary steps to protect Indian industry from the threat, especially in the area of intermediate goods where $30 billion worth of bilateral trade happens every year.

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FM Nirmala Sitharaman said her government would soon come out with steps to help industry limit coronavirus impact. After today’s two new cases, Health minister Harsh Vardhan also reiterated Modi govt’s commitment to countering the emerging threat.

But that may not be enough in case of a prolonged siege. Last week, Moody’s forecast the virus to put added pressures on Asia growth rates. The impact will be seen primarily in trade and tourism & through supply-chain disruptions.

India’s growth slowed to a near 7-year low of 4.7% in October-December 2019 on continued slump in manufacturing, and now faces the next big challenge of coronavirus outbreak stifling global growth.

The business impact of the virus is already being felt in many parts. While the world scrambles to control its spread, the world’s most China-reliant economy, Australia, is reeling from shockwaves. The faltering of Australian trade has now fueled questions over whether the nation is too reliant on the Asian behemoth.

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And the economy of China — the epicentre of the infection — now faces much weaker growth as the spread of the virus has hit both production and exports.

Coronavirus has now affected over 88,000 people worldwide, and caused more than 3,000 deaths, with infections on every continent except Antarctica.

According to Nomura economist Sonal Verma, two things need to be keenly watched now from India’s viewpoint: (a) The segments where India depends on China for imports — like electronics, chemicals, pharmaceutical, solar — are likely to see supply-side shocks, and (b) A negative demand impact could be just a matter of time for India in case the world economy slows down because of China.

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