Recession and flu show borderless world
The flow of capital and travelers across international borders has accelerated in recent years, presenting new challenges.
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In some ways, the world is more prepared for a viral contagion than it was for a financial one. Past crises, such as the Asian severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) near-pandemic of 2003, caused many countries to produce contingency plans, which they are now dusting off.Skip to next paragraph
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Concern about pandemics
"The international community has been very concerned about the potential for pandemics," says Katherine Bliss, deputy director and senior fellow in the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.
As of Thursday, the World Health Organization had raised its pandemic alert to its second highest level, Phase 5. This means the WHO believes a global outbreak of the disease is imminent.
If WHO were to raise its alert to Phase 6, that would mean it has determined that a global pandemic has begun. Among other things, WHO experts would then advise countries on whether to close schools, workplaces, or other gathering places.
So far, the number of confirmed H1N1 cases is relatively small.
There are only about 250 worldwide at time of writing, though the vast majority are in the US and Mexico. Nine other countries have reported confirmed cases, including Canada, Spain, Germany, and New Zealand.
Some travel is banned
Some nations are trying to shut their borders. Ecuador, Cuba, and Argentina have banned travel to or from Mexico. The US, European Union, and many other nations have discouraged nonessential travel to Mexico.
At an Wednesday Senate hearing, lawmakers closely questioned Secretary Napolitano as to why the US hadn't shut its Mexico border.
She replied that the virus has already entered the US, so it is too late for such an action to have an effect.. The point now is to limit its spread.
"The [issue of] the border is a real diversion," said Napolitano.
Another reason to keep world borders open is the possible effect of closures on a fragile world economy, say experts. Mexico, for instance, is already suffering from loss of trade and remittances. Further isolation will only make things worse.
"Tourism is important for Mexico, and that's going to be way down," says Kathering Bliss of CSIS.
A mild pandemic, by itself, could cost the world economy about 1 percent of its total output, or some $330 billion, according to an estimate by Brookings Institution fellows Warwick McKibbin and Alexandra Sidorenko.
A severe outbreak could cost the world up to 13 percent of output, or some $4.4 trillion, according to the Brookings estimate.
"The integrated nature of the global economy means that international finance offers little resistance to the economic shocks that accompany pandemics," write Mr. McKibbin and Ms. Sidorenko.