Trade and pandemics: their historical links

The World Trade Organization (WTO) highlighted cases of history related to trade and pandemics at a global level, as it is now happening.

In this regard, in a report, the WTO begins by narrating that trade-related mobility can contribute to the spread of an epidemic, the reasons why humans move are irrelevant to the fact that this movement can spread disease.

For example, international migration (that is, the movement of people who change residence from their country of origin to a country of destination) can contribute to the spread of infectious diseases across borders, as demonstrated for Covid-19.

The same goes for the movement of workers in the logistics sector, such as truckers.

In addition there are several other instances in human history of trade-related human mobility that allows the spread of communicable diseases.

For example, the bubonic plague reached Europe in October 1347 after 12 commercial ships from the Black Sea docked in the port of Messina, Italy, resulting in the 1347-51 “Black Death” pandemic.

Likewise, the last major outbreak of plague in Europe occurred in 1720, when crew members of a Lebanese freighter carrying textiles spread the plague to the city of Marseille in France.

Trade and pandemics

According to the WTO, it is believed that the first human-to-human infections of Covid-19 in Europe may have taken place in January 2020 in Starnberg, Germany, when a local supplier of auto parts organized a training session with a Chinese colleague from his operation in Wuhan, China.

In the Covid-19 pandemic, more internationally connected countries registered their first cases of Covid-19 infections significantly earlier than less connected countries.

However, in the interplay between trade and pandemics, the link between trade-related human mobility and the spread of communicable diseases is ambiguous.

Less exposure to international mobility may be associated with greater damage during pandemics, through various mechanisms.

First, more isolated countries with less frequent exposure to a variety of pathogens may develop less cross-immunity to reduce the damage of new communicable diseases.

Second, the isolation of a country can complicate coordinated surveillance at the global level.

Third, exposure to international mobility is likely to enable countries to develop higher incomes, stronger health systems, and greater capacity for innovation.

These, in turn, can reduce pandemic-related damage.


Redacción Opportimes

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