March 2020

Corona virus – it’s kicking off, but we can only wait it out

It would be wrong to say nothing about the Corona Virus, or COVID-19 as it’s officially known (now that would be a great name for a rock band, although nobody would turn up to their gigs). So, the Corona Virus. There used to be a drinks brand going by the name Corona. When I was a kid my mum used to warn me not to be standing in the road when the Corona van roared into town. Even back then the word filled me with dread and now they’ve named a pandemic after it. Don’t stand in the road when the Corona virus passes through. I’ll probably be run over by an ambulance taking the unlucky few to hospital. Officials say most people will only experience mild symptoms and should ‘self-isolate’ until they’re better, and that just one in 20 people will find themselves on ventilators. But try telling that to a world distorted by social media and, indeed, the mainstream media, who have taken the virus under their wing and are busy cranking up the panic levels. As I write this, President Donald Trump has banned all flights (of people, not goods) into the USA from continental Europe; Italy, as we all know, is on lockdown and various other countries in Europe have banned gatherings of more than 100 people. Exhibitions and conferences globally are being postponed or cancelled  – and for good reason. Who wants to be shaking hands with strangers or locked up in quarantine for a fortnight in a foreign hotel?

For a lot of businesses running conferences and exhibitions, the decision (to cancel or postpone events) is no longer in their hands; they will have to fall in line with whatever foreign governments decide is best for the health of their citizens.

But life goes on. At the time of writing, the steel industry doesn’t seem overly concerned. EUROFER told me that the virus (so far) has had ‘no significant impact’ and likewise, the AISI in the USA has claimed that domestic mills have not been adversely affected. But there are issues in China (of all places!). Baowu Steel reports a 5% month-on-month drop in orders, and with 97% of raw materials for steel being supplied by or refined in China, prices for manganese, silicon and other key raw materials are likely to rise. Things are changing by the second and it's only because this leader is digitally produced that I can update it, unlike the print edition, which is now published. If you check out the news section of this website you will notice that Austrian steelmaker voestalpine has switched to a short-time working model as it faces up to the devastating economic consequences of the virus.

There's little anyone can do other than wait it out and hope for the best. I'm sure things will get worse before they get better and you can rest assured that circumstances will change by the second. Keep safe everybody.

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March 2020 highlights

2 Leader by Matthew Moggridge, editor, Steel Times International

4 News round-up – the latest global news

8 USA Update – Tariff price hike uncertainty

11 Latin America update – Argentina's steel drama

14 Innovations – the latest contracts and new products

Tube & Wire

20 Drawing ahead with stainless steel

24 Keeping wire rod coils in shape

27 The quest for excellence

30 Stainless and special steels – Meeting the modern engineering challenge

33 Environment – Emissions for BF-BOF versus DR-EAF

38 Special feature – The cause and effect of steel tariffs

42 Perspectives Q&A: Lechler Group

44 History – The British Iron Industry 1490-1815