UK manufacturers and YouTube medics see coronavirus surge

Medics on YouTube, British manufacturers, and sellers of face masks are among those experiencing an unexpected surge in interest as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

While chaos caused by the virus has resulted in stock prices falling, there has been an upswing for some products and companies.

Kate Hills, of the UK manufacturing platform Make It British, said a survey of its members showed 50% of fashion and textile manufacturers had had an increase in inquiries.

“Customers are inquiring about delays in getting these products from China so they are looking to the UK instead,” she said.

“I think – because of this situation – it’s making people realise how fragile the global supply chains are and that we need an option of local manufactured goods so we can mitigate the risks if something like this happens.”

Sam Bramah, the director of Specialised Canvas in Chesterfield, said a lot of people did not want to risk shipments for certain goods being held, so were turning to UK suppliers.

His company is one of the only manufacturers in the UK of pathogen isolation chambers, used to transport and treat people with severe infection and health problems. It made chambers that were used for Ebola patients.

He said: “We have a small fashion division but it is mainly industrial sewing – so items for the fire service, police military, lorry sheets, and if it’s made out of textiles we can do it. A lot of people are realising that they may end up with their cash wrapped up on a ship somewhere which may get quarantined, so shipping is becoming an issue.”

UK tourism boards suspect there could be an increase in staycations this year, as holidaymakers might think twice about travelling abroad. Malcolm Bell, the chief executive of Visit Cornwall, said since the number of coronavirus cases in Italy exploded in recent weeks, there had been a 10% increase in traffic to the Cornish tourism board’s website.

“It’s still too early to tell if this will translate into an increase in bookings at this stage, but that is a significant increase in traffic and very unusual for this time of year,” he said. “It’s a very good indication that we could see a rise in staycations being booked from the end of March onwards.”

YouTube doctors offering advice on how to cope have also had a surge in interest. The coronavirus is the first novel outbreak of the hyper-digital age. With the proliferation of misinformation, false reports and conspiracy theories online creating an “infodemic”, a number of doctors and scientists have taken to social media to offer expert advice to alleviate panic.

Some videos have been watched millions of times, including one posted by NYC celebrity doctor and YouTuber Dr Mikhail Varshavski – Dr Mike. A 10-minute video he uploaded in January entitled The Truth About the Coronavirus has had more than 5.2m views and more than 33,000 comments.

Meanwhile in Carlisle, Cumbria, a semi-retired medical teacher, John Campbell, has seen subscribers to his YouTube channel surge by more than 129,000 after posting near-daily videos providing evidence-based updates on Covid-19.

His channel has gone from averaging 500,000 views a month to 9.6m views in the last 28 days, with the vast majority of views coming from the US (3.6m) and the UK (916,000).

“I wanted to inform and educate people to allow them to make informed decisions, like a textbook,” he said. “There are a lot of people spreading absolutely bonkers – and sometimes dangerous – information, then there’s a minority like me trying to demystify the scientific evidence.

“I try to take things from the medical literature and make it easier for people to understand. It’s no good to be reactive all the time; we need to be proactive if we’re going to stop it from spreading. As long as I feel it’s doing something useful I’m going to carry on making the videos.”

Matt Navarra, a social media consultant, said given that coronavirus as a topic was ubiquitous, it was unsurprising to find people or organisations leveraging it.

“There’s been a lot of misinformation and scare stories, and then people trying to sell products that are benefiting from the crisis around the world,” he said.

“Qualified medical practitioners providing relevant, timely, accurate information – and not profiteering in any way – to raise awareness with people not engaged in other forms of media and to help them understand, generally, can only be a good thing.”

In tandem, there has been a surge in people seeking out products associated with fending off the virus. Boots ran out of face masks in stores and online last week due to high demand.

And data from Kantar Worldpanel showed sales of hand sanitisers in supermarkets soared by 255% last month – more than triple – as worried customers cleared the shelves. Sales of liquid soap also increased by 7% and household cleaning products rose 10%.

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