More than 2,000 people dead, over 75,500 infected in at least 30 countries around the world, thousands of new cases every day, and three cases in India so far. The deadly Coronavirus epidemic in China has become a global healthcare crisis, and even though the number of new cases reported daily have reduced significantly this week, it has been hard to predict how long it will take to completely contain the disease.
The virus, officially named COVID-19 by the World Health Organisation, is believed to have originated in a live seafood market in Wuhan, a city in eastern China’s Hubei province. Since the outbreak in January, China has placed all of Wuhan in a state of lockdown, forcing residents to stay indoors while converting entire stadiums into makeshift quarantine camps.
While Chinese authorities work against time to battle the virus and travellers from China are being routinely screened and tested at airports around the world, a general panic has set in about Coronavirus among Indians. In Maharashtra’s Sindhudurg district, for instance, locals of the port town of Redi have been terrified by the docking of a Singaporean cargo ship carrying ten Chinese crew members. Even though the Chinese nationals tested negative for Coronavirus, fear among local residents forced the state health department to test them again.
Meanwhile, high-end Chinese restaurants in cities like Mumbai and Kolkata have been seeing a dip in orders for Chinese food. Even though many restaurateurs have stopped shipping ingredients from China, customers continue to be suspicious of locally-sourced ingredients in Chinese food.
Beyond panic over health, however, the Coronavirus has had a major impact on various sectors of Indian economy and industry. As India’s biggest trade partner, China accounted for 14% of Indian imports in 2019 – trade worth $61.3 billion. Additionally, 5% of India’s domestic goods exports go to China.
While India and China are widely known to trade in electronics, cotton, textiles, small plastic goods and auto parts, the two countries also share some lesser known connections. Scroll.in looks at some of the unexpected ways in which Coronavirus has impacted India and China.
Wuhan – a hub for medical students
Thousands of Indian students move to China and Hong Kong for higher studies every year, and the Chinese universities we hear of most frequently are in Beijing or Shanghai. But more than 700 Indians were studying in the city of Wuhan and its surrounding areas at the time of the Coronavirus outbreak, most of them medical students.
For several years, Wuhan has been a hub for medical education for Indians and Pakistanis, who claim the courses there are affordable and yet of international standards. For overseas students, the classes are held in English. Kerala is particularly drawn to medical colleges in the Hubei province. According to one student from Wuhan University’s School of Medicine, who managed to return to Kerala at the end of January, 50 out of the 70 international students in her batch are from Kerala.
According to recent reports, India has managed to evacuate 647 Indian nationals – both students and professionals – from Wuhan, but around 100 students still remain stranded in Hubei province, with limited food and other provisions.
School students in China
Besides college students studying in Chinese universities, there are also cases of Indian school children doing short stints in Chinese schools.
Nazia Vasi, the founder of Indo-China language and business consultancy Inchin Closer, says there are international schools from Mumbai and other Indian cities whose students had been learning Mandarin in China and had returned home to India for the lunar new year holidays towards the end of January.
“Now they cannot go back to their courses because their schools in China have shut down due to the virus,” said Vasi, who is also a Mandarin teacher. “They are now doing online classes to keep up with their Mandarin.”
Human hair exports from Bengal
Of all trade between India and China impacted by the Coronavirus, perhaps the least known was the export of human hair from one particular district in West Bengal. More than 50 exporters from Murshidabad district earn their living by cleaning and processing tonnes of human hair that is then sent to China’s wig-making industry. According to traders in the state, Chinese firms buy a kilo of hair for anything between Rs 500 to Rs 10,000, depending on the quality.
The hair makes its way to Murshidabad from landfill sites across India, and more than two lakh people directly and indirectly involved in the industry have seen a drop in their incomes since the outbreak of the virus. India has tightened visa rules for Chinese nationals, making it difficult for importers to travel to India for the hair trade.
Besides hair, coastal West Bengal’s crab exports to China – worth Rs 50 crore a year – have also been affected by the virus.
Jeera from Gujarat and Rajasthan
Jeera (cumin) farmers in Gujarat and Rajasthan were expecting a bumper yield and a profitable season this year, but the Coronavirus emergency has caused a sharp fall in wholesale jeera prices. This is because China happens to be the biggest importer of cumin from India.
Traders were expecting to sell at least 50,000 tonnes of jeera to Chinese importers this year, but there is now a dent in demand. At wholesale markets in Gujarat, the rate of jeera per quintal fell from Rs 16,062 in mid-January to Rs 14,500 in early February. However, since India is known to be the only supplier of jeera for China, Indian traders are expecting sales to bounce back once the threat of the virus has subsided.
Solar power dependent on Hubei
When China shut down various manufacturing units in Hubei province in January, the Indian solar power industry also took a hit. Several solar panel suppliers in India source their raw materials – such as steel, photovoltaic panels and other accessories – from factories in Hubei. Once an order is placed, these raw materials take at least six months to be delivered from China to India.
Since shipments expected in January have now been delayed, Indian buyers now have to either wait for the virus to be contained or purchase solar power raw materials at a higher cost from other countries.
Rise in price of generic drugs
India is a major supplier of generic pharmaceutical drugs for several countries around the world, but Indian companies depend on China for the supply of many of the drugs’ ingredients. Almost 70% of active pharmaceutical ingredients in India-made medicines are imported from China, and companies fear that there will be a shortage of drugs if the Coronavirus continues to disrupt ingredient supply past April. The fear of shortages has also led to exorbitant price rises for frequently-used drugs: the price of paracetamol pills – the most commonly used medicine in India – has shot up by 40% since the outbreak of the virus.