A sales representative offers her product to an arriving passenger wearing a face mask at Ezeiza international airport in Buenos Aires.
A sales representative offers her product to an arriving passenger wearing a face mask at Ezeiza international airport in Buenos Aires. - 
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Correction


Eric Norgaarden of Minneapolis is working on a project to install drinking water systems in Chiapas, Mexico. Delivery of those systems, rather than payment for them, may be delayed due to the swine flu epidemic.

(5/5/09)

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: This afternoon the World Health Organization raised its alert level for swine flu to five out of a possible six. That is one step short of a full pandemic, although WHO officials said they believe it's only a matter of time before there is a global outbreak of this disease. There are still a lot of unknowns about how this whole thing is going to play out. But as Mitchell Hartman reports, it couldn't have come at a worse time for the global economy.

MITCHELL HARTMAN: Environmental consultant Eric Norgaarden should be in Mexico next week.

ERIC NORGAARDEN: We're halting all travel right now because of the epidemic.

Norgaarden, who is based in Minneapolis, is knee-deep in a project to install waste-water treatment systems across the Mexican state of Chiapas.

NORGAARDEN: It's better to do business face to face in countries like Mexico, but I can get a certain amount of things done. The manufacturing partner that I'm working with on this is in Nevada.

And now you can quickly see where this is going. The Nevada manufacturer may have to push off delivery and payment until the epidemic runs its course. So trade will slow. So will travel. Nancy Parrott of the Azumano Travel Agency in Portland is bracing for that.

NANCY PARROTT: People right now are just being a little cautious and taking a wait and see attitude.

Parrott says there haven't been many cancellations of business or vacation travel, yet. Though cruise bookings might fall off as ships are re-routed away from Mexico.

The bigger impact, she says, will be if swine flu spreads and Japanese tourism falls off this summer. That's what happened with SARS.

Fariborz Ghadar is director of the Center for Global Business Studies at Penn State. He says things could get really rough if people other than travelers start staying home.

FARIBORZ GHADAR: If it continues to expand in the economy and the factory workers get sick or the factory workers get scared and don't go to work, then production goes down.

Ghadar says a global production slowdown might not make that much difference, with the world economy already so weak. That's as long as the epidemic doesn't last too long.

I'm Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.