In 2003, an outbreak of an infection-causing respiratory disease swept through Asia. People battled symptoms like muscle pain, headache, and fever. About two to 14 days after the initial symptoms appeared, respiratory symptoms took hold, sometimes resulting in pneumonia. A coronavirus was later discovered to be the causative agent, and the infection was called severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The infection had a high mortality rate, and nine percent of patients died. This type of coronavirus was later found in a number of other mammals, including domestic cats, ferret badgers, and tanuki.
Saudi Arabia struggled with a similar outbreak in 2012, and the infection spread to other Middle Eastern countries. The disease was named the Middle East respiratory syndrome, and the culprit behind this outbreak was, once again, a coronavirus. The virus was later traced back to bats, who seem to be a reservoir for the virus.
Last year, mid-December, a new outbreak struck, this time in the city of Wuhan, in China. A lot of people started getting pneumonia from an unknown cause. Most of the patients worked at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market. This market offers not only seafood, but meat from other animals — like bats, poultry, snakes, deer, and rabbits — as well.
This caused Chinese scientists to suspect that the culprit was a zoonosis, an infection shared between humans and other animals. Soon, a coronavirus was isolated, and it shares at least 70 percent of its genome with the SARS virus. This virus hasn't been officially named yet, but the name Wuhan coronavirus is currently being used.
February 20, 2020
Coronavirus daily update, Feb 20th
- Number of confirmed cases drastically dropped due a new regulation on how the cases are counted.
- Day-by-Day: Death toll 116, including two deaths (people in their '80s) from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, and 2 cases reported in Iran (no additional info)
- More than 1,100 confirmed cases of COVID-19 outside China so far, reported in 29 countries world wide, where 624 were connected with the virus spread on the Diamond Princess cruise ship alone
- China media reports that the worst is behind us, while the WHO asks for caution, and US government still asks for more transparency with published data.
January 30, 2020
WHO declared Global Health Emergency due Coronavirus outbreak
Coronaviruses are single-strained RNA viruses that cause infections in mammals and birds, and that are believed to have the largest genome of all RNA viruses. Their name comes from the Greek and Latin words for "crown", as this is what they look like when seen under an electronic microscope. The infections they cause can be mild, but they can also be deadly.
In animals, the most important diseases these viruses cause are feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), a serious and often deadly infection in cats, and intestinal infections resulting in diarrhea in pigs and cattle. In humans, four plus three different coronaviruses are known to cause infections. The first four viruses (229E, NL63, OC43, and HKU1) are the "common human coronaviruses". They usually cause common colds, but can, in rare cases, also lead to bronchitis and pneumonia.
Sometimes, coronaviruses that cause infections in animals can evolve to infect humans as well. Three coronaviruses evolved in such manner:
- 2019 novel Coronavirus
We are not quite sure yet, but when the cases reported from the seafood market are taken into consideration, it is safe to assume that the first people to fall victim got the infection from animals. Later, human-to-human transmission was confirmed in Guangdong, China.
It’s been confirmed that the virus spreads through droplets caused by coughing or sneezing. Though it’s not scientifically verified, there are also some indications that the virus can spread through contaminated feces. However, there’s no evidence that the virus is airborne, which means it cannot be transported by air in larger closed spaces.
Who is at risk?
Coronavirus pandemic shows that all age groups are affected, even recently a one-month-old baby. However, chronic patients are always more vulnerable to infections because of an impaired immune system, as well as older people and infants, who are more vulnerable to complications caused by the virus.
A coronavirus infection isn't marked by any unique signs, and rather shares symptoms with other respiratory infections. They include:
- Shortness of breath.
Unfortunately, no treatment has been developed for the new coronavirus pneumonia yet. The current treatment strategy is focused on relieving symptoms. There is no vaccine for this disease either. The only way we can avoid this infection is by taking preventative measures:
- Wash your hands with water and soap for at least 20 seconds as often as possible.
- If you're unable to wash your hands, use alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
- Avoid contact with infected people.
- Try your very best to avoid touching your eyes, mouth, and nose.
- Stay at home if you're sick to protect others in your community. Call a doctor.
- If you cough, or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue, and then throw it away. If no tissue is available, cough into your elbow rather than your hands.
- Frequently sanitize objects and surfaces you and others often touch.
However, the risk of contracting the coronavirus is low for most people, and there's no need to panic. For more information about your risk, read: Yes, you're dying. But probably not right now, and probably not from the Wuhan coronavirus.
Shortage of surgical and small particle filtering masks worldwide
Some reports from mainland China and Hong Kong show the formation of enormous queues among people waiting to buy face protection masks in the hope of protecting themselves against the coronavirus outbreak. The global situation is not much better. While people rush to purchase stock of anti-virus masks, sellers either charge exorbitant prices or are totally out of stock. The fact that China is the main mask manufacturer and world-wide distributor doesn’t help. Amazon shops have cleared their stocks of the cheapest n95 models, and viral contamination hasn’t even reached peak yet, so we can expect the craze to continue — and worsen.
There’s a global ongoing discussion on how well China is handling this outbreak. While some countries heavily criticize China's government for cover-up and untimely delayed quarantine measures, some clearly support and encourage their decisions and actions, even the WHO.
At first, the government blamed and even sanctioned some of the main officials in Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak, for downplaying and ignoring evidence that the virus spreads from person to person. Now, some speculate that even Chinese president Xi Jinping was already informed about possible consequences three weeks earlier, but didn’t take the warning seriously until the virus started to spread, the central government understood the true ramifications, and ordered to take immediate drastic action to stop the virus' spread. However, regardless of whether provincial officials are to blame for failing to implement central government measures, the government is admitting that ultimate responsibility for the outbreak lies with the president itself as a central figure.
Besides political consequences, health care workers, the people on the front lines of the battle against the coronavirus, are the most vulnerable. The latest statistics from China’s government show that more than 1,700 health workers were infected so far, resulting in more than 60 deaths. However, the government got another hit with the death of whistleblower Dr Li Weinliang, who recently died of coronavirus pneumonia. He was one of the bravest who openly reported the spread of an unknown pneumonia virus in Wuhan hospital in late December already, which resulted in jailing him for spreading rumors.
Now, the WHO is trying to get into “real” numbers by inspecting the scale of the epidemic in the very epicenter, the city of Wuhan. Major WHO officials are already there, working together with local authorities to make the data transparent to all scientists world-wide, which would help stop the spread and provide best possible treatment, as well as speed up the creation of a vaccine.
However, frontline medical workers are suffering shortages of staff as well as medical supplies. Physical and psychological exhaustion contribute to their risk of infection. The WHO highlights that the world needs to unite against this illness more than ever before, and people across the globe need to help each other.
China is trying to handle this crisis as best as they can, and the fight has only just started. Now, since the issue is becoming more global, increased transparency and collaboration are necessary to deal with the outbreak. The experts are concerned mainly about the places where the vast majority of the population do not even have basic health care, like parts of Africa, where weak diagnostic procedures could mean the first case may be confirmed even months later.
China's central bank has implemented a set of new measures to contain the coronavirus by disinfecting their cash with ultraviolet light and high temperatures, and even destroying potentially infected banknotes. Disinfected cash will be stored for up to 14 days before it is released to the customers.
CDC officials respond to this craze recommending against wearing masks in public in non-active virus zones. The possibility of catching the coronavirus remains low in the US.
In highly-viral areas, like hospitals and public spaces in Wuhan (China), surgical masks do not help much, but are better than nothing. The N95 masks help filter 95 percent of particles, smaller and bigger ones. However, the masks need to be used properly and are mainly utilized by hospital personnel directly exposed to potential viruses. To explain the difference, the CDC published this piece a year ago.
China warns for hard punishments in case of virus control disobedience
CNN reports that China’s government is taking extreme measures to prevent the spread of the virus, threatening people who disrupt virus control procedures that include the following 7 medical-related crimes with even the death penalty:
Beatings, intentional injuries, and intentional killing of medical personnel.
Illegally restricting medical personnel's personal freedom using violence, threats, or blatantly insulting, intimidating, or slandering medical personnel.
Tearing protective gear off of and spitting on medical personnel, which may cause them to be infected with the new coronavirus.
Refusing to accept checks, quarantine, and treatment measures of medical and health institutions using violence, threats, or other methods, or obstructing medical and health institutions’ lawful disposal of corpses of infectious disease patients according to law.
Forcibly or intentionally destroying or occupying properties of medical and health institutions, or causing disturbances in medical and health institutions, illegally placing dead bodies, setting up mourning halls without permission, causing disorder and disrupting the normal conduct of epidemic prevention and control.
Illegally carrying guns, ammunition, tightly regulated instruments or explosive, radioactive, poisonous and corrosive materials while entering medical and health institutions.
Other situations that violate the safety of medical personnel and disrupt medical order.
The arrests, trials and prosecutions will be fast-tracked and even the death penalty won’t be ruled out in severe cases!
Pets are one of the first collaterals of this outbreak
While some news outlets report that Chinese pet owners are rushing to buy respiratory masks for their dogs, there have also been tragic reports of people throwing their cats and dogs out of windows, killing them, due to (unfounded) concerns that these pets may be able to spread the coronavirus. With Wuhan still under quarantine, it’s also said that many pets are left alone and starving, with their owners powerless to do anything.
On January 30, the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency, after around 150 cases of the novel coronavirus codenamed 2019-nCoV spread beyond China to 20 countries. The US even confirmed the first person-to-person transmission. Italy, Russia, and the UK also confirmed their first cases, as the virus spread to all Chinese provinces, including Tibet. The central Chinese province of Hubei still remains the hottest zone, and the city of Wuhan, where the plague started, is home to almost 80 percent of total coronavirus infections.
Over 60 million people have been quarantined in China for more than a week now, but we still don’t know how many people are infected since the data coming out of China remains sparse. Now that a global emergency was declared, The Chinese government opened doors for WHO experts to help track, analyze, and work closely with Chinese authorities to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
This declaration means that the health emergency is serious and now becoming an international concern. This will encourage nations to cooperate by coordinating global resources under the WHO’s leadership .
The WHO is most focused on developing countries with weak healthcare systems — where the virus could spread like wildfire, and causing increased damage due to a lack of prevention and poor hygiene.
Many countries currently recommend against travel to China. At this point, most international airlines suspended their flights to mainland China, mainly to Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak. Many countries even evacuated their citizens back to their home countries.
On the other hand, traveling out of Hubei province and China became very difficult. Some countries even prohibited entry from China. China accused the US of panic-mongering and overreacting to the outbreak, but other countries also confirm bans on foreign citizens entering their nations from China.
However, there is still no place for panic, and all neighbouring countries are safe. The virus has spread to 26 countries so far, but no epidemic is confirmed — just in some isolated cases.
Coronavirus-related xenophobia spreads faster than the virus
Harmful stereotypes are spreading much faster than the virus itself. Many chinese communities outside China reported racist incidents, even with violent outcomes. Inspired by that, in France the social media hashtag #JeNeSuisPasUnVirus has been widely used, and the Chinese community in Spain chinese launched the campaign by the same name — “I am not a Virus”.
Even inside China, discrimination against people from Wuhan and Hubei province have increased to the point where basic human rights have been violated.
This kind of social stigma was already seen in previous outbreaks. During the Swine Flu outbreak in 2009, many Latin Americans were exposed to discrimination. During the Ebola outbreak in 2014, people of African descent were the targets. This phenomenon goes even further back through history, where even an entire country was blamed through the name of a pandemic (Spanish Flu).
The WHO and UN clearly urged against discrimination and rascism, as well as other international and national agencies.
The virus’ impact has already hit stock markets around the globe. Due to the lockdown of China’s biggest megalopolises, the manufacturing and distribution business was hardest-hit. The scale of the economic impact remains unknown since the virus hasn’t yet reached its peak, which is expected in mid February, during which more precise analysis and consequences are going to emerge.
Celebrations of the Chinese New Year were cancelled in most of the country, and some of the biggest centers once packed with people now look like ghost cities. Most shops are closed, while huge distribution centers and companies shut their doors due to the lockdown. It is very questionable if the manufacturing business could find any alternative if the lockdown spreads to other industrial centers like Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou. Some reports even raise the possible danger of complete manufacturing line stops for outsourcing productions like Apple iPhones and other electronic products.
After the prolonged Lunar New Year break, the coronavirus lockdown takes on stock markets which plunged drastically. Some reports claimed Feb 3 was the worst day of China’s stock markets in decades, where the losses of the current market value are around $500 billions.
Coronavirus already hurts the world's economy. What will happen next?
The coronavirus outbreak forced car plants across China to remain closed after the Lunar New Year break. Some of the biggest car industry companies like VW, Toyota, General Motors, Renault, and Hyundai are prevented from resuming car production. Most factories will remain closed until the end of February, which could slash production by over 15 percent.
At this point no industry is untouched. Global supply chains like Qualcomm, the world's biggest chip maker, already reported shortages in supply, as well as car part suppliers for Hyundai and Fiat. Even globally, some of the most prestigious summits and conferences were cancelled, and even the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona got cancellations from some of the biggest participants like LG.
The travel and accommodation industry is suffering from global cancellations. Almost all air travel companies suspended their flights to and from China, and some even cut personnel until the end of February.
According to economic experts, the economic outcome is still uncertain. Many factors should be considered, but most important — as long as the factory closures do not lead to job loss, the economic situation will remain stable.
Top annual trade and sporting events continue to be canceled over coronavirus panic
The number of cancelled top annual events in China, but also world-wide, continues to rise with serious economical impacts. China already closed top venues and annual gatherings across the country, including postponing the Chinese F1 Grand Prix 2020, and even considering delaying the main political event of the year — the Annual Meeting of the National People’s Congress.
After the cancellation of the world’s biggest mobile congress (WMC) in Barcelona this month, Facebook also announced the cancellation of the global event in San Francisco, and Cisco did the same for their Live conference in Melbourne. Coronavirus-related panic triggered concerns over the Tokyo Olympics 2020, but the recent IOC declaration that confirmed the games will go on calmed fears. Since spring is “rush hour” for global conferences, organizers fear that if the virus continues to spread, the number of new cancelations and postponements will rise in the coming weeks.
What could happen next and what can be done?
China’s government and National Bank already introduced measures to pump cash into the market to help banks and borrowers. The Chinese government will announce new measures in the coming days. Since the outbreak still does not have a pandemic character, the impact to the global economy is still weak, but the World Bank and Central banks in surrounding countries are preparing for the possibility of a global impact to be able to respond in a timely manner.