Scanning electron microscope image of SARS-CoV-2 (yellow)
With the total number of cases globally topping 90,000 (as at March 3), including more than 3,000 deaths, the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and its associated disease, Covid-19, is testing healthcare systems, administrations, economies, and business. China, where the virus first emerged in December 2019, has been most severely impacted, shouldering some 80,000-plus cases, but its the economic fallout that is being felt across the globe, as manufacturing in the country suffered a record decline in February.
The disruption to Chinese manufacturing has triggered a global meltdown of the stock markets, with big companies like Apple already forecasting that they will miss earnings estimates. Players in the photography industry are also being affected. Perhaps most significant of all is Sony, which produces sensors for companies like Nikon, Fujifilm, Olympus and Phase One—around half of all camera sensors. “We are concerned about the spread of the coronavirus,” said Hiroki Totoki, Sony’s chief financial officer, back in early February (as reported by Nikkei). “Depending on the future progress of the virus, we cannot deny that our production and sales supply chain for the image sensor and electronics business could be affected enormously.”
Canon—which makes its own sensors—is the latest company to warn that supply shortages from China are affecting production. The company has been forced to suspend operations at five of its Japanese manufacturing plants. According to Nikkei, the plants on Kyushu Island, which produce cameras and other imaging gear, will be shut down from March 2 to 13. For its part, Fujifilm reopened its China plant after a period of closure, only to continue operating at a reduced capacity—enough to disrupt production of its X-T30 and X-T3 models as well as delaying the shipping of the new X-T4.
Interestingly, despite the pessimism from its camera division, Fujifilm’s stock saw an almost 9% rise last week. Fujifilm Holdings derives 43% of its total revenue from healthcare and material solution sales, compared to just 16% from photography and imaging, and as Bloomberg reported, its pharamaceutical unit is the creator of Avigan, an anti-flu drug that has been showing promise in the treatment of mild and asymptomatic cases of Covid-19.
Meanwhile, as the coronavirus sickens more people around the world—from South Korea to Singapore, Italy to the U.S.—trade and consumer shows are being postponed or canceled altogether. As we reported last week, the Asia Dive Expo (ADEX) in Singapore has announced new dates at the end of May. While this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in early January went ahead without issue, Photokina in Cologne, Germany at the end of May has announced that the show will go on but with precautions such as the distribution of disinfectants, more frequent cleaning of busy areas, and doctors and paramedics in medical stations “prepared for possible suspicious cases.”
For now, much uncertainty remains, but the next few months will be critical. Especially if you’re traveling or attending large events, do take extra precautions, be vigilant and stay safe.
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