Ideas & Debate

Coronavirus is the stuff that thrillers are made of

The coronavirus seen under an electron miscroscope. AFP PHOTO  

Last week, I had to travel to Rwanda for a work assignment. Two days before departure, we called the client to confirm that they were still good to go, in light of the numerous flight cancellations that many corporates were undertaking due to coronavirus fears. They had absolutely no issues.

You see, by the time of writing this, the insidious coronavirus pandemic was still miraculously skipping most of our blessed African soils. Another client had just cancelled an assignment in another neighbouring country for that very reason and we were not sure which client could be next. The last virus I recall affecting the world with such vigour and mad panic was the turn of the century concerns around the virtual Y2K bug that was feared would infect computer systems globally as computers moved from 1999 to 2000. Software companies and consultants made millions of dollars with fixes that would ensure blank screens wouldn’t emerge come January 1, 2000.

In every cloud there’s a silver lining and this pandemic sure has its winners. From supermarket stocks, movies to on demand shares like Netflix in Western economies that are anticipated to have unprecedented sales as people shop for food provisions and line up on entertainment in expectation of being on total domestic lockdown.

Closer home, I went to my local supermarket and found that hand sanitisers were completely sold out. If anything positive comes out of this, is that it should now be safer to shake hands of strangers (assuming they were one of the sanitiser buyers).

A close relative currently undertaking a graduate programme in the United States was due to come home for a brief visit next week. She had booked her ticket last month and two weeks ago the United States government issued a travel advisory that they were issuing travel entry bans to passengers landing from certain countries except US citizens. Not sure if Kenya might suddenly appear on the list, she has tried to change ticket numerous times, but the airline’s website has crashed due to overloading from thousands of passengers doing the exact same thing. Hotels, cruise shipping lines and tourist attractions in Europe are already feeling the impact of cancelled business and leisure clients.


CNN reports that the airline industry is projected to lose up to $116 billion this year.

Not since the 9/11 terrorist attacks has there been such a massive impact on the airline industry. Flybe, which is the United Kingdom’s regional airline responsible for about 40percent of the UK’s domestic flights, had been flirting with bankruptcy over the last two years but finally collapsed last week grounding its airplanes and sending over 2,400 employees home.

According to an article in the UK newspaper The Guardian, the impact of the coronavirus on flight bookings proved to be the last straw for the airline as the UK government stalled on a controversial £100 million bailout loan. Flybe is privately owned by Connect Airways which is a consortium of Virgin Atlantic, Stobart Air and hedge fund Cyrus Capital. The Guardian reports that Flybe was the fourth UK airline to go bust in the last two years, following just months after the demise of travel group Thomas Cook.

This is the stuff movies are made of. Actually, the 2011 medical thriller movie Contagion depicts this very situation. In the movie, that was highly acclaimed by scientists as to its accuracy, a virus rapidly spreads around the globe. Medical researchers and public health officials make frantic attempts to identify and contain the disease amid complete loss of global social order as a pandemic emerges. The nail biting movie comes to a grateful end when scientists eventually get a vaccine. I watched this movie many years ago thinking that it provided entertainment value and that such an event could never happen in my lifetime.

As we speak, there has been an upswing in demand for the movie on subscription only streaming services. But even more significant is the surging interest in the 1981 thriller The Eyes of Darkness by Dean Koontz. The book, that is currently ranking third on Amazon’s book sales by March 1st, describes a killer virus named “Wuhan-400” after the Chinese city it fictionally originated from.

Fictional predictions aside, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic will be felt globally, including in Africa that has been largely unaffected. Cancelled conferences, reduced business and leisure travel and disruption of consumer goods supply chains from China will impact Kenya which is home to several regional offices of international organisations and a leading African tourist destination.

Hopefully we will all be alive to see the movies that will be made once this corona-pandemic is behind us.