updated 11/3/2005 8:41:56 AM ET 2005-11-03T13:41:56

The Asian Development Bank on Thursday projected a bird flu pandemic in Asia could kill around 3 million people, cause economic losses of up to nearly $300 billion and possibly push the world into a recession.

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China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand would likely be hit hardest in the event of an outbreak, the report said.

The bank outlined two potential scenarios, both assuming that a pandemic would last about a year, causing 20 percent of the region’s population to fall ill and 0.5 percent of them — or 3 million people — dying.

In the first scenario, where an outbreak seriously affects economic demand for six months, Asia could suffer $99.2 billion in lost consumer spending, trade, services and investment — equivalent to a contraction of 2.3 percentage points in regional gross domestic product.

In a grimmer scenario, where a pandemic seriously affects economic demand for a year, losses could rise to $282.7 billion, or cut 6.5 percent from Asia’s collective GDP.

In both cases, another $14.2 billion, or 0.3 percentage points of regional GDP, would be lost due to reduction in labor because of workers’ incapacity and deaths, the report projected.

“A pandemic will likely slow or halt economic growth in Asia and lead to a significant reduction in trade, particularly of services,” the report said. “In the long run, potential economic growth will be lower and poverty will increase.”

Under the more severe scenario, “growth in Asia would virtually stop, with a regional GDP growth of 0.1 percent.”

A serious outbreak could also mean a 14 percent or $2.5 trillion contraction in the global trade of goods and services, the Manila-based development bank said.

The virulent H5N1 strain of bird flu has killed at least 62 people in Asia — 42 of them in Vietnam — since 2003. Most of the deaths have been linked to close contact with infected birds. China has had three outbreaks in birds in recent weeks but no human cases.

Experts fear the disease could mutate into a form easily spread from person to person and have called for increased prevention worldwide.

A World Bank report, also released Thursday, said the main economic impacts of the flu so far have occurred in the rural areas of several East Asian economies. Costs so far have been limited — on the order of 0.1 to 0.2 percent of gross domestic product in Vietnam — but could rise significantly.

Milan Brahmbhatt, author of the report, said a human pandemic caused by bird flu could cost the world economy as much as $800 billion, an estimate he said he made based on the effects of the severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, outbreak two years ago.

“That’s simply just extrapolating what took place during SARS, and perhaps there are reasons to think that during an influenza pandemic things could be more serious than that,” Brahmbhatt said at the launch of the report.

SARS emerged in Asia in 2003 and spread rapidly across the world via air travel, killing nearly 800 people and causing millions of dollars in economic losses.

The World Bank report said there are great uncertainties about the timing, virulence and general scope of a future pandemic but all experts agree it could lead to at least several million human deaths.

“The most immediate economic impacts of a pandemic might arise — as in SARS — not from actual death and sickness but from uncoordinated efforts of private individuals to avoid becoming infected, as well as public policy actions like quarantines and travel restrictions, leading to severe demand shocks for services sectors such as tourism, mass transport, retail, hotels and restaurants ... as well as workplace disruptions,” the report said.

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