China Virus Spreads, Fanning Fears of an Epidemic
What is happening?
A virus outbreak in China which began at the end of December, has spread quickly this week, claiming the lives of at least 26 people in China, and infecting hundreds more. The virus, named 2019-nCov, is a type of coronavirus that has not been previously identified by humans (video explaining the virus). The virus originated in Wuhan, China, at an outdoor fish and livestock market that "conducted illegal transactions of wild animals,” according to the Chinese director of disease control and prevention.
Most coronaviruses cause cold-like symptoms but are not dangerous. However, 2019-nCov virus is causing pneumonia in its victims, and drawing comparisons to the SARS virus outbreak in 2002-2003, which also originated in China and claimed some 775 lives around the world.
There are at least 880 confirmed cases of the virus as of Friday morning, although the number could be much higher. While almost all cases are in China, cases of the virus have been confirmed in the U.S. (Washington State), Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, and South Korea. Major international transportation hubs are screening arriving passengers to try and prevent the virus’ spread.
China Restricts Travel
As of Friday, China has placed thirteen cities on travel restrictions, blocking most transportation into and out of the cities (affecting some 35 million people). In the past, such large-scale quarantines have not been used to contain outbreaks, making it unclear if the strategy will be effective.
What to watch moving forward
China’s Lunar New Year holiday starts on Saturday and lasts for a week. The holiday is China’s busiest travel season, which could severely complicate containment efforts.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has decided not to declare the virus a global health emergency at this point, although that decision could change in the coming days. Such a declaration would provide significant resources to fight the virus.