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Industry Fears Intensify as Another Case of Coronavirus Is Confirmed in US

Another case of the deadly coronavirus has been confirmed in the United States, further heightening fears among industry leaders and sending markets into the red.

The Chicago Department of Public Health announced today that a 60-year-old woman who returned to the city on Jan. 13 from Wuhan — the Chinese city where the infection originated — had contracted the virus. Apparel and footwear executives continued to express worries about the outbreak’s impact on trade and sourcing in the region.

The coronavirus also comes during a hectic travel season with tomorrow’s Lunar New Year holiday — its potential spread a concern of Pendleton Footwear, which does business with factories based in China.

“Of course we are concerned for the health and wellbeing of our team in Asia. It comes at a terrible time, as we all know, with Chinese New Year [coming up],” said Matt Martin, VP of product creation at Pendleton Footwear. “On a larger scale, the factories employ people from all over China, so there is a risk at the factory level of it affecting those workers… Luckily we do not have any trips planned in the near future, so we hope for everyone it is contained by the time we have to travel over again.”

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Factories that work with Therafit Shoe have not only shipped all of the company’s spring products, but have also been closed for several weeks ahead of the annual celebrations, CEO Moises Egozi told FN. However, the exec warned of the virus’ ability to hinder business in the coming months.

“This situation can certainly become a disruption next month for the shoe industry — and all China goods and services — once the millions of workers begin to leave their respective hometowns throughout the country and start heading back to the key industrial centers of the country,” Egozi said. “Because of this, we fully expect that factories will take longer than normal to gear up after the long Chinese New Year break and that shipments for March and April will be delayed to some degree.”

Frank Cammarata, CEO of Camtrade Footwear, echoed the same sentiment. Most of his firm’s spring merchandise have already shipped, and while partner factories are closed through Feb. 9, the exec said that the uncertainty of the virus’ impact on the industry hangs in the balance.

“It’s too early to tell what, if any, effect the virus will have on the shoe business,” Cammarata said. “Our agents and factory people are just commencing their New Year celebrations, so it is quite chaotic at the present time… We wish all the people affected by this very unpredictable situation our prayers and best wishes.”

As U.S. health officials monitor dozens of potential coronavirus cases across the country, industry leaders are also keeping a close eye on other developments stemming from China, including the ongoing protests in neighboring Hong Kong and the trade relationship between the two economic superpowers.

Accessories Council president and CEO Karen Giberson stressed the importance of developing a diverse supply chain and urged companies to either continue or begin looking beyond China for sourcing. (Many shoe firms have already relocated their factories from China to Vietnam, for example, amid President Donald Trump’s punitive tariffs on the country’s exports to the U.S.)

“In recent years, we’ve seen natural disasters, political unrest, tariffs and health issues,” Giberson said. “A single destination supply chain leaves companies very vulnerable; working with the new factory can take a lot of time and effort. We suggest our companies explore options before there is a crisis.”

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