For the past two months, the Coronavirus has swept the globe, leaving thousands of victims in its wake. As of Feb. 8, the death toll rose to over 800, with over 34,000 confirmed cases. The World Health Organization reported that over 24 countries have confirmed cases.
The outbreak, which is comparable to the SARS outbreak of 2003 that also began in China, is not showing signs of stopping. “It always worries me when things like this start in China. The population is so dense that when something pops up, it spreads like wildfire,” Jane Beers, associate professor of biology at John Brown University, said.
Researchers believe that the virus originated from a wild animal sold at Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market. The virus was originally believed to have originated from a bat, but now scientists believe that it came from a pangolin, an endangered animal similar to an armadillo. The virus can be transmitted from animals to humans as well as between humans.
As the virus continues to spread, Chinese government’s main priority is safety. City-wide quarantines have resulted in over 55 million people being put on lockdown, and airlines have canceled over 50,000 flights. The US is also requiring that everyone flying in from Hubei province—where the virus started—to undergo a 14-day quarantine. Sporting events have been impacted as well, such as tennis, golf, motor racing, basketball, boxing and many other events. Even Olympic level events have been canceled, moved or postponed to as far as April.
Aminta Arrington, associate professor of intercultural studies who lived in China for eight years, said, “I think that the Chinese government has responded very well to this issue. Compared to SARS, when there was lots of hiding and cover-ups, I think they have been pretty open and have sought international help, and pretty quickly they saw that there was an issue arising and they let local agencies know. They have the ability, due to the nature of their government, to put some draconian measures in place to close down an entire city or province in a way that the United States couldn’t.”
While some remain optimistic, many believe that China is covering up the impact of the disease, and that there could be thousands of unreported deaths. Videos have recently surfaced of mass graves being filled as well as police imprisoning people in their own homes as a way to prevent contamination.
“Myself and other public health experts, based on what the World Health Organization and China were saying, reassured the public that this was not serious, that we could bring this under control,” Lawrence Gostin, professor of global health law at Georgetown University, said. “We were giving a false sense of assurance.”
“I’m optimistic,” Arrington said. “I think it’s going to blow over, but I think it’s going to get worse first. Clearly it hasn’t peaked yet, and so I think it will get worse just because of the natural progression of things like this. There is so much communication and people are watching this so carefully that prevention measures have gone way farther than I expected. The fact that major airlines no longer fly to China is unbelievable. Eventually, cases outside of the country will stop, and China will deal with it internally.”
The World Health Organization still has China listed as “Very High Risk,” while putting a “High Risk” tag on the regional and global scales. As of Feb. 8, no new countries have reported cases.
Photo courtesy of S.J. Objio