by Christian Duque
The respiratory corona virus is making headlines as the Chinese city of Wuhan is currently being quarantined and countless Americans are being evacuated. At the weekend, three other cases of possible infection were cited in the United States, while 63 were tested and 100 others were closely monitored at the national level. Concerns are growing. All five infected people in the United States had traveled to Wuhan. One of the infected is a gentleman in his fifties in Orange County, California. He was taken to a local hospital and is said to be isolated. Another patient reported to LAX after reporting symptoms.
Airports carry out screenings that prove effective, but will only be one of many factors to successfully stop the spread. For many, the corona virus evokes memories of the SARS outbreak that killed 800 people worldwide. While U.S. health officials, particularly California, have said that daily life should not be affected, their Chinese counterparts are far more concerned that the number in the third largest country in the world will rise to 2,000. Indeed, NBC cited Chinese officials who have shown that the coronavirus "is accelerating and is more contagious than previously thought and could spread during the incubation period." Total fatalities to 56 (80 according to Chinese estimates). So what is the corona virus, should we be worried or not, and what's next?
According to WebMD, "Coronavirus is a type of common virus that causes infection in the nose, sinuses, or upper throat." Most types of coronoviruses are not dangerous. However, this is a new type of virus. What makes this guy so dangerous is the long incubation period and the speed with which it can be spread. Health officials recommend that people wash their hands frequently and avoid crowded areas where they cough and sneeze. This is hardly a measure most companies can take, especially in populous cities that require local transportation. Subway, buses, elevators and even planes are becoming a problem. What if someone coughs and sneezes in one of these places? Even in a country of over 300 million, what is the probability that someone who coughs could have the virus? Even in China, a country with 1.4 billion inhabitants, what are the chances there? I think people would be more concerned about being hit by an asteroid. However, precautions must be taken. No wonder that surgical masks are sold out worldwide!
Governments also take immediate action. For example, Hong Kong has prevented Hubei residents from entering the city. Hubei is the center of the corona outbreak. "The ban includes those who have been in the province in the past 14 days, but excludes Hong Kong citizens," the US news and world report said.
Interestingly, the U.S. embassy is currently evacuating around 1,500 U.S. citizens from Wuhan. An earlier statement by the US State Department said that only US consular officials were evacuated from Wuhan to San Francisco. Are they evacuated in their entirety and sent to the California city and screened there? I hope they have been extensively examined considering that they were in the outbreak zone. I can imagine that every 1,500 will be quarantined for at least fifteen days after they have gained a foothold in the United States – at least that's my hope. And that's the terrible thing about this virus, it's the incubation period. Imagine you are exposed and only know that you are sick after 14 days.
The virus is currently said to have spread to 15 countries, while government officials do not want their constituencies to lose control. The main difference between this outbreak and that of SARS (also a coronoavirus) about seventeen years ago is simple – there was no social media at the time.
Governments have a very serious interest in keeping calm and taking steps to prevent panic. When this is said, there is calm and then denial. Ignorance is bliss, but it comes with a price. If people start to believe that the virus is not a problem and consciously ignore symptoms, they can harm themselves and society as a whole.
If this outbreak spreads faster, I will see coast-to-coast health agencies in the United States alone who are abandoning their campaign for calm and campaigning for containment instead. I think that anyone, especially those who have traveled to Wuhan and / or have come into contact with someone who has recently traveled to Wuhan and has symptoms, should consider getting an exam if symptoms such as fever, dry cough suddenly appear and shortness of breath occur from breath. Health authorities need to stop making people feel hypochondriacal, encourage more self-monitoring, and of course discourage any kind of self-diagnosis. Quiet is the key, but it shouldn't be trumped when it comes to legitimate health problems.
Overall, health officials around the world have done a great job, but like any outbreak of this kind, no one is ever fully ready. Some have described Chinese measures as draconian that quarantine an area of over 35 million people. All trips, entries and exits are non-existent. The city of Wuhan and neighboring districts are completely cut off from the world.
After the Chinese New Year (January 25th), when many celebrations were canceled, there are other concerns, such as the fact that the region is running out of food. What is being done for the residents of Wuhan?
Yet Beijing is not taking any chances. However, will other countries follow their tough leadership or will civil liberties prevent them from depriving some citizens of their rights in order to protect society as a whole? This is a debate that has to be repeated from country to country. I cannot imagine that Washington will follow Beijing's approach in the United States, especially given that the governments of the states could decide this matter in 50 different ways.
How governments will deal with this disease is a big part of the next steps. Avoiding public gatherings, washing your hands, and even wearing a surgical mask are great ways to reduce the spread of this virus. However, they are not permanent solutions. It is also not possible to expect entire population groups to live in this way.
I fear this outbreak will only get worse, especially since we have limited knowledge about it. I definitely hope that all governments share and work together what they know to find and / or develop a type of treatment, from a vaccine to prevent future cases to a cure to those already infected rescue.
So far we have not seen any infected children. We also don't know how the immune system would react. I think it is very important that schools, from elementary schools to secondary schools and post-secondary institutions, are trained and that resources are immediately available to deal with possible situations. I think schools should at least consider following the model airports. Prevention is as important as education. I cannot stress enough that keeping calm is important to prevent panic, but it shouldn't be the ultimate goal.