Fears grow that new Chinese virus may be more widespread

There have been several reports of disease outbreaks which have surfaced since late December last year, mainly from central China. 

A never seen variation of Coronavirus started plaguing Wuhan, in Hubei province. So far, authorities have confirmed at least 2000 close contacts with more than 200 confirmed infections and at least 17 fatalities. While the disease seems to have originated from Wuhan, there have now been cases from at least 13 Chinese locations including Shanghai and Beijing. The virus has made its way overseas with reports of infection coming from Thailand, Japan and even the USA. 

As a strain of Coronavirus, experts so far believe the virus originated from live animals or seafood. The virus is reported to initially cause coughs, fever and breathing difficulties culminating in Viral Pneumonia. Experts have confirmed the ability of the virus to transmit human-to-human via the respiratory system. So far, the main suspect is the Wuhan seafood market which often contained live animals.

While 217 cases have been acknowledged by Chinese authorities, the government is known to downplay infection numbers and so the figures must be taken with a grain of salt. This was the case in their previous Coronavirus outbreaks such as the 2003 Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) which infected more than 8000 people and killed around 750. In fact, some residents have been prohibited from speaking to the media and Wuhan police are dealing with Weibo users spreading so-called misinformation. 

Li Bin, deputy director of China’s National Health Commission, has expressed his concerns about the spread of virus, especially in light of upcoming celebrations and tourism that will see hundreds of thousands of people entering and leaving the city. Additionally, the World Health Organization met on Wednesday and temporarily delayed a decision to label the outbreak as a global health emergency and will continue the meeting on Thursday. 

So far Chinese authorities have taken measures to limit the amount of people at risk of being infected. Wuhan residents and tour groups have been prohibited from leaving the city and no outsiders are allowed in. The outbreak is being treated as a Class A disease, a categorization that allows authorities to put entire areas on lockdown and quarantine patients. The WHO has advised people to completely avoid contact with live animals, be more careful when cooking animal products and stop close contact with people affected by cold symptoms. The response from foreign nations has varied: Countries like Taiwan have discouraged nationals from travelling to central China while North Korea has announced a temporary closing of the border for foreign tourists. Countries such as Australia, Japan and Singapore have increased screenings for air passengers coming from Wuhan.


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Marco Rizzo