• The last time China's economy saw negative growth was during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution
  • Nearly 81,000 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in China, with at least 3,123 deaths
  • The virus has changed Chinese hygiene practices

The coronavirus outbreak has raised the possibility China will face first quarter growth of zero, or even, negative growth for the first time since the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution as the disease disrupts manufacturing and commerce, and changes the behavior of its citizens.

China, which has reported nearly 81,000 confirmed cases of the virus and at least 3,123 deaths from COVID-19, was forced to lock down 1 billion of its citizens to try to contain the contagion, shutting down factories and other operations for weeks.

Worldwide, nearly 118,000 cases have been confirmed, with at least 4,259 deaths. The World Health Organization has yet to declare a pandemic but warned the global risk is very high.

Chinese President Xi Jingping on Tuesday visited Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, amid government efforts to get the economy going again. Even if China is recovering, some of its biggest trading partners still are seeing their outbreaks growing rapidly, tamping down demand for Chinese products.

Bert Hofman, director of the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore said China’s gross domestic product could contract as much as 6.5%. If the downturn continues beyond the first quarter, job creation targets along with consumption levels could be imperiled.

Steve Tsang told the Financial Times Xi’s efforts to concentrate control in the party contributed to the rapid spread of the disease as efforts by doctors to get the word out were suppressed.

“The changes Xi has made to the operation of the party-state have not strengthened its capacity to act in order to preempt a crisis. [Instead]it has made it easier for a crisis to emerge as it all depends on Xi understanding the situation properly and making the right call at critical moments,” Tsang said.

The outbreak cost the Chinese economy more than $1 billion in revenue during the Lunar New Year period in just box office revenue. The February purchasing managers index hit a record low, 15 points lower than January’s reading of 50, the border between expansion and contraction, the National Bureau of Statistics announced during the weekend.

A study by Kantar, a data insights consulting firm, indicated Chinese citizens seized on self-protection measures as a result of the outbreak, with the proportion wearing face masks soaring from 19% to 72% as news of the virus spread. Use of disinfectants increased from 10% to 54%, and frequent handwashing increased from 30% to 47%. If a vaccine is developed, 94% of the more than 1,700 people queried on WeChat said they would take it.

The study also found people spent about two hours a day trying to find information on the outbreak, increasing to 2.7 hours for those in areas where the outbreak was concentrated.

As cases in Europe started mushrooming and stringent restrictions were imposed on Italians, a survey of some 2,000 people in the United Kingdom, where 373 cases have been reported but no deaths, a third indicated they would lie to doctors about their symptoms. The survey by CensusWide for found the propensity to lie was fairly even among age groups with those 55 and older only marginally less likely to prevaricate.

In the U.S. where the number of cases topped 800 with more than two dozen deaths, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called out the National Guard to New Rochelle, just north of New York City, imposing a one-mile containment zone around a synagogue believed the center of the more than 100 cases in the community. Schools, houses of worship and other large gathering facilities are to be closed through March 25.

Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, contradicted President Trump’s assertion that the border wall kept the number of U.S. cases down. Redfield’s comments came during a hearing before the House Appropriations committee.

Health Secretary Alex Azar agreed, saying, “It was never going to be possible to hermetically seal us off from this outbreak.”

House Republicans, however, have asked Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., not to present a bill that would overturn Trump’s travel ban, saying it could hurt the administration’s effort to limit the entry of people from countries where the outbreak is more pronounced.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle also have started postponing foreign travel in the face of the virus.

Fewer than 5,000 people had been tested for the virus in the U.S. as of Monday.