Epidemic of Fear SARS and the Political Economy of Contagion in the Pacific

The SARS epidemic of 2002-03 provides another glimpse into the significance of emergent infectious disease as an agent of destabilization at both the domestic and international levels. During this outbreak, SARS generated significant levels of fear and psychological trauma in affected populations, impeded international trade and migration flows, and resulted in minor to moderate economic damage to the economies of affected Pacific Rim countries (particularly China and Canada). In this chapter, I argue that while the SARS epidemic may have generated moderate institutional change at the domestic level (particularly in China and Canada), it resulted in only ephemeral change at the level of global governance. In the domain of security, I argue that despite minor demographic effects, the epidemic generated moderate levels of fear-induced economic damage that constituted a direct threat to the material interests of affected states, particularly China, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Moreover, the epidemic possessed the potential to evolve into a global pandemic that might have generated much greater loss of life and economic damage, and thereby constituted a threat to international security.

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