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Living in Interesting Times

In a world of uncertainty, addressing supply chain problems becomes vital for everyone.
By Rich Handley
Mar 17, 2020

There's a common phrase you've no doubt heard: "May you live in interesting times." It's often cited as a traditional Chinese curse, even though no credible Chinese source for that ironically worded quote has surfaced and no equivalent expression exists in the Chinese language. In fact, there's good reason to believe the phrase actually has its roots in an 1898 speech from British statesmen Joseph Chamberlain, with no connection at all to China. Unfortunately, the public mindset is often a game of telephone, interwoven with whatever societal preconceptions are trending at that time.

Well, it's 122 years later, we do indeed live in interesting times, and (whether fairly or not) a lot of people are blaming China for it since the COVID-19 virus was first identified in the city of Wuhan, in that nation's Hubei province. How and why the coronavirus is here, however, really doesn't matter much anymore, because it is here and it has infected many and affected all. Now is the time for everyone to come together and address the situation rather than play the blame game.

The number of known coronavirus cases is rising daily across the globe. Cities, states, and entire countries are shutting down. Quarantines are in effect, while schools, stores, airports, restaurants, bars, malls, and even churches are closing their doors, and everyone is being urged to practice responsible social distancing. Fear and paranoia are taking hold as politicians and health-care experts offer grim (and frequently contradictory) outcome predictions; celebrities post social-media announcements of their having contracted the disease; and store shelves remain bare due to hoarding, panic, and growing supply chain problems as manufacturers, retailers, and health-care facilities try to keep their collective heads above water.

A recent article published by CNBC reported: "The virus has since spread into the U.S., Canada, Italy, Spain, France, South Korea, Iran and Germany, among other countries. There have been more than 179,000 cases confirmed globally, and at least 7,057 deaths, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University." Those numbers have risen since the article's publication only yesterday—at press-time, we're up to nearly 198,000 cases and 8,000 deaths—and that's expected to continue at a rather alarming rate.

While it's undeniable that influenza has infected and killed people in far greater numbers than COVID-19, the situation is not one to take lightly. The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak a pandemic, and prominent immunologist Anthony Fauci has repeatedly advised that businesses and individuals should prepare for the worst.

When the crisis began, many U.S. retailers were worried that Chinese manufacturing plants would be severely disrupted by the outbreak, limiting American access to the products to which we've become accustomed. Since then, the pandemic has brought many companies to a standstill and supply chains have suffered across the board. The ironic phrase about living in interesting times might not be of Chinese origin, but there's a certain irony in the fact that China's manufacturing facilities are the ones starting to come back online, thanks to that nation's effective efforts to halt the disease's spread, whereas other countries, including the United States, have not been as successful.

Meanwhile, the stock market has been cliff-diving this past week, and those paying attention to what is going on are nervous. In the coming weeks and months, we are sure to see large-scale changes in many sectors. Small businesses are being hard hit, particularly those that were already not doing well before this crisis began, and it's pretty much a certainty that some will not survive.

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