Today I should have been flying out to Italy for the launch of the new Honda SH125 in Rome. For reasons other than the obvious, I’d already cancelled that trip and Honda have postponed it for the time being.
Naturally, being in the scooter game means travelling to Italy (and other parts of Europe and the world) is quite a regular and ordinary occurrence (as it is for many business folk and holidaymakers). In fact, I was in Turin on the 13th of February for the Piaggio Medley launch.
That’s less than a month ago and things have moved on quickly since then. Italy hadn’t even been mentioned in relation to the coronavirus back then. Although we all had our temperature checked by masked health workers at the airport on the way in and out of Turin airport. A day or so later Italy was all over the news as the virus spread rapidly.
Two days after returning from Turin (15th February), I was on a plane to Thailand, via Hong Kong for the Scomadi factory opening. Naturally, there were plenty of people wearing face masks on the less than half full flight. It’s normal attire in many parts of Asia, even without the ‘new’ virus grabbing all the headlines. Once again, all passengers had their temperatures checked on entry to Hong Kong and on leaving for the connecting flight to Bangkok (or wherever else they were going). A sensible precaution.
Thailand had barely been mentioned on the news by this time. All the emphasis was still on China, the stranded cruise ship passengers and the odd few cases recorded in Great Britain, plus the emerging spread in Northern Italy.
The knock-on effect
Whilst at Scomadi it became evident that their supply chain was already being impacted by coronavirus in China. With vast areas closed, factories shut and workers off sick the knock-on effect was already being felt. Chinese built Bosch ABS units were just one of the components stuck in transit. I realised then that things were going to get tough and everybody would suffer.
It’s not just Scomadi, many brands are manufactured in China and every company uses parts or components that are made there. If parts aren’t available on time it holds up production. A factory closed for two months in China means it’s an extra eight weeks at least before your parts are despatched, then they have to be shipped. Six to eight weeks of travel time by sea, plus any delays for storms or customs issues and your schedule is a quarter of a year behind. In a world run on a ‘just in time’ basis, it doesn’t take long for things to grind to a halt.
Thailand started to get mentioned a bit more on the news whilst I was still there but Italy was still bearing the brunt of things. Even so, on the flight back to Hong Kong, Chinese passengers were seen wearing plastic protective bodysuits, some were using seat covers and only the European travellers were without a mask. Public awareness and fear had obviously moved up a notch in the six days I was over there.
Typical British lax approach
I arrived back in Manchester from Hong Kong on the 22nd of February. We were all given a Public Health England coronavirus info leaflet and told that when we landed we all had to remain seated with seat belts fastened until health screening had taken place on board. We sat on the plane for around 15 minutes but nobody boarded the plane, then we were allowed to leave. Maybe the screening would take place on the air bridge or at immigration? Nope. We were all allowed to enter the UK with nothing more than the usual passport check, no screening, no temperature checks, nothing. Remember, this is an eleven-hour flight coming from two coronavirus hotspots with passengers connecting from various regions of China and Thailand.
Closer to home
In those 17 days since I returned from Thailand, we’ve seen China and Asia dropping out of the news as the virus spreads throughout Northern Italy (the closer to home it is the more newspapers get sold). The Chinese have managed to contain coronavirus to a certain extent, thanks to their proactive and rapid response. Even so, as of today, they’ve recorded 3,136 deaths from 80,761 cases (26 new cases have been reported so far today and 17 deaths). 60,113 have recovered from the virus in China.
Top of the pops
Coronavirus is affecting 115 countries around the world and the top of the corona pops goes like this…
Not on our list, the Diamond Princess sneaks in between the USA and Japan with 696 cases on board. The stricken cruise ship is currently harboured off Yokohama in Japan.
Out of the top 10
The UK comes in at a cheeky number 11 with just 373 cases (up 54 in the last 24 hours), and six deaths so far. It’s hardly worth worrying about…
Italy now stands at number two (China are first) in the coronavirus charts, it’s not a top spot a country aims for. Northern Italy was put on lockdown last week, although many people fled to the south as the rules came into force, kissing each other on both cheeks as they fled (potentially spreading the virus further and quicker). Last night the Italian government announced the whole country was being put into special measures. Essential movement for work is still ok but tourists arriving into Italy today are being sent home. Visitors already there were advised to return home on the first available flight. BA and Ryan Air have stopped all flights to and from Italy…
Italy currently has 9,172 recorded cases, 463 deaths and 724 people have recovered.
Small wheels keep on turning
All Italian schools and universities are closed until at least April 3rd. Public gatherings and sporting events are suspended but Italy is still open for business, as we saw in our news item about Rimini Lambretta Centre earlier today. Piaggio are still working, although the museum in Pontedera is currently closed and an Italian Piaggio event planned for the end of March has been cancelled.
Although the UK is unlikely to get a gold disc this week and our cases per million are way off the mark (China has 56.1 cases per 1m population, Italy 151.7, UK just 4.7) we’re already seeing the effects on the high street.
Panic buying has already left many supermarket shelves empty, with hand sanitizer and toilet roll suppliers feeling the benefit of widespread media lead hysteria. I visited a local supermarket this afternoon though and they had full shelves in all departments, you could buy as much toilet roll as you liked and the fresh produce was plentiful.
Shares in healthcare products and pharmaceuticals are the only shares worth having at the moment. For those of you unlucky enough not to have a stash of Andrex in the cupboard you can wipe your backside on any share certificates you own. Your boxes of hand sanitizer are worth more on the black market. Yesterday saw the markets crash in the worst day since 2008. This virus will spark a global recession.
Dried foods, long-life milk, ready meals and other products with a long shelf life are being stockpiled – just in case. Just in case we end up in self-quarantine (the latest government advice is to self-isolate yourself for one week if you have a cough, cold or feel mildly unwell). For many people that’s a week without money, no sick pay and only the paltry statutory sick pay to fall back on (new coronavirus rules mean it can be claimed after the first day’s absence).
To add salt to the wounds, the chief medical officer for the UK, Dr Harries announced this morning that we will see…
Many thousands of people contract the virus”
She went on to say that of those contracting the virus, ‘99% of those will almost certainly get better.’ Phew, that’s good news.
Large scale events
Already we’re seeing football and rugby games being cancelled or played behind closed doors. Motorsport including F1 (Bahrain without spectators) and MotoGP – without spectators and the premier class (only Moto2, Moto3 ran in Qatar because the teams were already there for testing) have already been affected. As have tennis, horseracing and even the Olympic torch ceremony for the 2020 Tokyo games. The ceremony for that will be held behind closed doors later this week.
With the scooter season looming and the UK currently two weeks behind Italy in the corona pop charts we have to hope that the National Scooter Rally season isn’t affected. We’ve already seen scooter events cancelled overseas and Euro rally organisers are monitoring things closely.
What can we do to help?
Other than listen to the government advice to sing ‘happy birthday’ twice as we wash our hands, sneezing into a tissue (that we then destroy) and not touching our own faces, we can stop panic buying all consumables for starters. I’m sure most of us could survive for two weeks using the stuff we already have in the cupboards/fridge/freezer? Just buy what you need.
Aside from the obvious health implications – which are actually still very small in reality and not likely to kill us unless we have underlying health issues, it’s businesses that are going to suffer the most throughout this crisis and for many years to come.
If you’re waiting for a new scooter to arrive in your local showroom it may well be delayed. Spare parts may start to get a little harder to come by for a while, so you may need to be more patient with your supplier. Businesses that manufacture in China may well be well behind schedule.
Keep supporting those businesses though because they need you now more than ever. Put that deposit down on your new scooter, nip into your local scooter shop and get your oil. Order your new fancy engine, buy that exhaust you’ve been lusting after.
The real victim of coronavirus will undoubtedly be business in all forms. Many thousands (of companies) will die from it. Do your bit to support them and hopefully, they’ll survive this current situation…
Words and photos: Iggy
For the latest coronavirus statistics visit: Worldometers our statistics will be out of date by the time you read this sentence.
Buying online helps to stop the spread of coronavirus