Not to sound sensationalist, but we have to start taking coronavirus very seriously. As each day passes, and industry and the rest of the world begins to know more about the virus, where its spreading and the disruption its causing, the real-world ramifications are beginning to hit home. UK fenestration is not going to be spared from the upheaval.

Global spread gets quicker

If stats is your thing and you want a real-time feed as to the spread of COVID-19 and the countries it is hitting, click here. Its a great website which breaks down the numbers that matter by country. Its spreading faster around the world than it is in China. So whilst some were getting excited that things seemed to be calming down in China, the fact its gathering pace around the rest of the planet is no comfort at all.

It was also announced today by China that 14% of people who had coronavirus in the Guangdong province that were declared recovered from the virus were diagnosed with the disease a second time. That creates problems. Usually with colds and flu when you catch one strain and recover from it you won’t get it again. This news today suggests that either you can catch it for a second time, or if you recover you can still carry the infection and it can hit you for a second round. Either way, thats bad luck for you if you’re in that 14%.

Cases are rising rapidly in South Korea, Iran and Italy. New cases have appeared in coutries across Europe. Germany has warned that its on the cusp of an epidemic. Iran is a country to watch. Many believe that they are not reporting the true level of cases and deaths in the country. If this is the case, they may well not have a grip on the situation there, and in a country where millions of people pass through all the time, this would be bad news.

To add to the concerns, authorities in Italy say they cannot trace the original outbreak which has spread across the country and the rest of Europe. It makes tracking down the original patients very hard and the chances of a wider spread outbreak much bigger.

You get the picture. Its spreading fast and we’re on the back foot. At this point it would be safer to assume that its going to spread further before we get a true grip on the situation.

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Why the hype?

People are dying from this, and the disruption to the global supply chains, including fenestration supply chains, are going to be upended. But I’ll come to that later.

Some of you will be wondering why there is such a massive deal being made from the media about this particular virus. Many have said that the regular flu kills hundreds of thousands around the world every year. This is true, and in all honesty the fact it still kills that many people, when flu shots exist to keep it at bay is terrible. The only reason why that many still die from regular flu is that in a lot of places access to flu shots isn’t possible, either through lack of affordability or availability. But, the fact is, drugs exist to prevent it. With COVID-19, there isn’t.

This is different because this is a brand new mutation of flu with no known cure or drugs to beat it. A vaccine is about a year away at best. This new strain does kill people. Its also easy to transmit. Symptoms can show up to two weeks after contracting it, meaning detection is very difficult. Patients can suffer up to a fortnight with symptoms. Whilst healthy people will recover from it, for the elderly and vulnerable this is a more serious matter and could cause further health problems afterwards. That is why this is different and why there is so much hype around it. If there was a vaccine available now it wouldn’t even be much of a story, as it is, we don’t, which means this poses a risk to the population.

The hype is also focused around domestic and global economies. You may well have noticed that the stock markets have been battered every day this week and at the end of last week. The Dow Jones in the US has lost a mammoth 3200 points just this week, with tomorrow (Friday 28th Feb) still to come.

Supply chains upended

The disruption to supply chains is already starting to take effect. China closed most of its manufacturing a long while ago in an attempt to curb the spread of the disease. Much of the working population are still not back to work properly and many factories across China are either still closed or working at much lower capacities.

This is a problem for UK fenestration, as a great deal of our products are made in China. I also know from private conversations that some companies in certain parts of our industry are already warning about panic buying stock. I have seen a number of emails from companies conditioning customers about the availability of products.

No one could have predicted this, but when something like this does happen, it highlights massively the fragility of global supply chains. We tend to think of them as this massive infrastructure that spans the globe, almost invincible against most of what is thrown at it. Chuck in a new disease and its a stark reminder that nature is still in charge on this planet.

Window and door hardware, IGUs, machinery, door slabs and more are made in China and are shipped to the UK. I’m already seeing information which tells me there is going to be problems with supply before long. Its not just products made in China. Factories in northern Italy are closed and will affect the supply of certain integral blind component to the UK.

I think we need to understand a couple of realities here. This isn’t going to be over in a few weeks. The hype may die down as the media gets bored and finds something else to focus on, but dealing with coronavirus and preventing a pandemic is going to be a fight for months, which will mean disruption to the supply chain for months and for a period after the worst is over. The other reality is that when something like this happens, as an industry we need to start looking at domestic production and supply chains. For a lot of companies in our sector, they simply cannot wait for China or other parts of the world to come back online. It might now be time for those who can, to look at setting up production in the UK. Yes that means expenditure, and higher prices for their goods, but its either that, or risk massive disruption which ultimately would be more expensive than production in the UK.

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