Investors are concerned that a new coronavirus, commonly known as NCoV, is sweeping the globe and may be implicated in the recent deaths of at least 23 people in Saudi Arabia. NCoV is similar to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, which originated in Asia and killed 1,335 people. The World Health Organization has been working to investigate the newest coronavirus but does not yet believe that NCoV is an emerging health threat.

Risk Factors

A mutated version of coronavirus has infected people since 2012, but it has only been detected in a few countries, namely, Saudi Arabia, Germany, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Pakistan, and Mali. In 2015, investigators from the WHO contacted about a thousand individuals who had attended hospitals in Saudi Arabia between 2012 and 2015, and tested their blood and tissue samples for viruses. The specimens from Saudi Arabia came back negative; the samples from the UAE and Pakistan came back negative; the samples from Jordan and Mali came back positive.

What Caused the Death of The Last Patient?

NCoV is a zoonotic respiratory disease: its likely cause is a bird. Researchers say the average age of the people who have died is 42, and that only a handful of them were newly infected with NCoV. This makes the WHO’s recent statement that the virus “does not pose a high risk to human health,” a bit cryptic, to say the least. So far, no additional cases have been detected.

Where to Investigate?

NCoV is an emerging disease. It has not been formally identified yet, and the WHO has only discussed the threat over the phone with the public. So far, the WHO has been sensitive to much of the public’s attention on the subject; but I expect to see a lot more public concern in the coming weeks and months.

What does this Have to Do With the Markets?

My anxiety over the situation is less a result of how the virus might affect global markets in the short term, and more a feeling that no one can easily tell what is coming next in the world of infectious diseases. I am of the opinion that the virus will be surrounded by uncertainties: How long is it likely to infect people? How much more transmission is there to occur? How long will people get sick? How much more time does it take for the virus to become widespread?

Health-care systems will inevitably need to adapt to the virus over time. But will that affect economic growth? Long-term research has been ongoing with the goal of genetically modifying more resistant strains of the virus, but that effort would be complicated by the virus. What does that mean for public perceptions?

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Far more SARS cases than previously known, but WHO says it is not an emerging risk