This paper describes the economic implications of the SARS outbreak that hit many Asian economies in spring 2003. Without a workable diagnostic test and a treatment for the illness, surveillance and quarantine were the key weapons against SARS last year. In general, risks are greater in countries with poor public health care, poor sanitation systems, high mobility, or high population density. During the height of the SARS outbreak, we estimated that the total costs of the epidemic would be about 1.5 percent of GDP for China. Better-than-expected containment of the virus reduced the impact to only about 0.5 percent of GDP. The experiences of the SARS outbreak point to the strong need to improve both the public health system and the governance structure in Asia.
This is a revised version of a paper prepared for the Asian Economic Panel meeting on 11–12 May 2003 at Keio University, Tokyo. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Citigroup or any of its affiliated institutions.