Wuhan Coronavirus/2019-nCoV Update: January 31st, 2020

Illustration of a 2019-nCoV virion (source: Wikipedia)

Today I bring you some up-to-date information about the Wuhan coronavirus, courtesy of The New York Times newspaper and the British Columbia (Canada) Centre for Disease Control.

I have extracted some key information from The New York Times article published today: How Bad Will the Coronavirus Outbreak Get? Here Are 6 Key Factors (Please note: the NYT is one of those irritating news websites which only offers you a few free articles per month before a paywall comes up, which is why I have quoted more than I usually do):

1. How contagious is the virus?

It seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS. The scale of an outbreak depends on how quickly and easily a virus is transmitted from person to person. While research has just begun, scientists have estimated that each person with the Wuhan coronavirus could infect somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.

2. How deadly is the virus?

It’s hard to know yet. But the mortality rate is probably less than 3 percent, much less than SARS… Early indications suggest the mortality rate for this virus is considerably less than another coronavirus, MERS, which kills about one in three people who become infected, and SARS, which kills about one in 10. All of the diseases appear to latch on to proteins on the surface of lung cells, but MERS and SARS seem to be more destructive to lung tissue. As of Jan. 31, fewer than one in 40 of the people with confirmed infections had died. Many of those who died were older men with underlying health problems.

3. How long does it take to show symptoms?

Possibly between 2 to 14 days, allowing the illness to go undetected… Officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that the Wuhan coronavirus has an incubation period of 2 to 14 days. But it is still not clear whether a person can spread the virus before symptoms develop, or whether the severity of the illness affects how easily a patient can spread the virus.

4. How much have infected people traveled?

The virus spread quickly because it started in a transportation hub. Wuhan is a difficult place to contain an outbreak. It has 11 million people, more than New York City. On an average day, 3,500 passengers take direct flights from Wuhan to cities in other countries. These cities were among the first to report cases of the virus outside China.

5. How effective will the response be?

The W.H.O. has praised China’s efforts, but critics fear lockdown measures may not be enough.

6. How long will it take to develop a vaccine?

A vaccine is still a year away — at minimum.

A coronavirus vaccine could prevent infections and stop the spread of the disease. But vaccines take time.

After the SARS outbreak in 2003, it took researchers about 20 months to get a vaccine ready for human trials. (The vaccine was never needed, because the disease was eventually contained.) By the Zika outbreak in 2015, researchers had brought the vaccine development timeline down to six months.

Now, they hope that work from past outbreaks will help cut the timeline even further. Researchers have already studied the genome of the new coronavirus and found the proteins that are crucial for infection. Scientists from the National Institutes of Health, in Australia and at least three companies are working on vaccine candidates.

“If we don’t run into any unforeseen obstacles, we’ll be able to get a Phase 1 trial going within the next three months,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Dr. Fauci cautioned that it could still take months, and even years, after initial trials to conduct extensive testing that can prove a vaccine is safe and effective. In the best case, a vaccine may become available to the public a year from now.

This last point is important to grasp: there will not be a quick-fix vaccine for the Wuhan coronavirus anytime soon.

The British Columbia Centre for Disease Control issued a series of tweets addressing misconceptions being spread on social media about how the Wuhan coronavirus is transmitted:

The receptors for coronavirus are deep in a person’s lungs – a person must inhale enough of the virus that it can actually bind to those receptors deep in the lungs. Coronavirus is transmitted via larger droplets that fall quickly out of the air (for example, after a sneeze). This virus is not airborne.

Coronavirus is not something that people can get from casual contact. A person must be in close contact (within 2 metres) with somebody to be able to inhale those droplets if a person coughs or sneezes without cover, in front of them.

The droplets can fall to the ground after a sneeze and a person can touch them with their hands. The risk of transmission is low in this case, as those droplets must be of significant enough quantity to make it to the receptors in a person’s lungs. If a person has touched something that has droplets on it with coronavirus in it, as long as they clean their hands before touching their face or your mouth, they are not at risk of getting that virus in their body. Coronavirus is not something that comes in through the skin. This virus is remitted through large droplets that are breathed deep into a person’s lungs.

How Can I Prepare for 2019-nCoV?

Again, your best, most common-sense prevention strategy is to wash your hands, well and often, and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with your unwashed hands, since you could potentially pick up 2019-nCoV from surfaces on which other people have coughed or sneezed.

If you haven’t yet, please watch this short, one-minute video from WHO which explains the best technique to wash your hands to ensure that they are free from the virus. You might think you already know how to wash your hands, but you might be surprised at what you don’t know:

There is a great deal of debate among experts as to whether or not face masks will be helpful to prevent 2019-nCoV infection. Some Chinese cities are asking their citizens not to venture outside without wearing a mask. And stocks of face masks have been selling out in stores around the world, as well as via online retailers, so they could be difficult to obtain for many people. The B.C. Centre for Disease Control says:

Regarding wearing masks – masks should be used by sick people to prevent transmission to other people. A mask will help keep a person’s droplets in. It may be less effective to wear a mask in the community when a person is not sick themselves. Masks may give a person a false sense of security, and are likely to increase the number of times a person will touch their own face – to adjust the mask, etc. The most important thing that a person can do to prevent themselves from getting coronavirus is to wash their hands regularly and avoid touching their face.

My advice is, that if you can obtain personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks, gloves, and eye protection, and if you learn how to put them on and take them off properly, then they might make you feel less anxious if you do have to go outside and interact with other people if/when a wave of the 2019-nCoV is sweeping through your community.

At the present moment, there is absolutely no need for such precautions here in North America, and it is unlikely that the situation will change drastically over the next few weeks. However, you should probably go and stock up on soap and hand sanitizer, of which you will probably be using a lot more! Use this time to practice how to wash your hands 😉


Good Sources of Information on 2019-nCoV

Here is my updated list of good, authoritative resources to learn more about the Wuhan coronoavirus (more formally known as 2019-nCoV):

If you want a quick, up-to-date overview of the current situation, here are two good places to check:


Sources of Fast-Breaking News on 2019-nCoV (WARNING: News You Read Here May Not Be 100% Credible!)

PLEASE READ: In addition to the sources listed in the previous section, there are other places you can check, which might have reports (including translated links to local social media in China) that have not yet made the mainstream news media. Please keep in mind that the situation in China is chaotic, and that some of the information you find in the sources I list below might be gossip, rumours, hoaxes, conspiracy theories, misinformation, or disinformation! Please review the information and videos I posted in my blogpost about How to Spot Fake News, BEFORE you using any of these links.

Stay healthy!

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Editorial: Welcome to the New Normal

A man lies dead in the street in Wuhan, China (source: The Guardian)

Between Australian bush fires, presidential impeachment hearings in the U.S. Senate, and the Wuhan coronavirus, 2020 is shaping up as a year to remember (not in a good way)—and January isn’t even over yet! This could be a long, long year.

Over the course of one week, I have switched from being a social VR/virtual worlds blogger to a Wuhan coronavirus blogger! Welcome to the new normal, folks. Expect me to flip back and forth between these two completely separate topics for the next little while.

It’s a good thing that I branded this blog with my own name, rather than a preset topic like “Social VR Blog”. It means I can be flexible as needed. So, I have updated the tagline for my blog accordingly:

I will be continuing my daily news update on 2019-nCoV, with links to the best, most credible information resources, so you can stay up-to-date on what’s going on as this virus continues its spread around the world.

And (to get my often-anxious mind off the topic), I will continue my blogposts about Sinespace, Second Life, and other virtual worlds and social VR platforms. It’s still my passion, it still engages me, and I will certainly be continuing that coverage.

I also need to work on my presentation at the upcoming Educators in VR conference which, unlike conferences which take place in real-world locations, is very unlikely to be affected by the flight cancellations and other logistical problems imposed by the Wuhan coronavirus!

So, as you can see, I’ve got lots to keep me busy over the next little while. Stay tuned, and stay healthy!

Wuhan Coronavirus/2019-nCoV Update: January 30th, 2020 (Including Some Tips on How to Spot Fake News Reports)

UPDATE Jan. 31st, 2020: You can view my latest daily update here.

At this moment, the World Health Organization’s emergency committee has reconvened to discuss the current situation and to decide whether or not to officially declare the Wuhan coronavirus/2019-nCoV a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. Overnight, there’s been another sizable jump in new infections and new deaths in mainland China, with new cases popping up in places like the United Arab Emirates, India, the Philippines, and Finland.

UPDATE 2:14 p.m.: The WHO has indeed declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), citing, among other reasons, a concern that those countries with weaker healthcare systems could be severely impacted by the 2019-nCoV virus (please see the Forbes infographic I shared with you in yesterday’s blogpost).


The World Health Organization (WHO) has posted a couple of videos which you might find useful. First is a quick question-and-answer session about the Wuhan coronavirus with Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove:

Second, did you know that the most effective way to stay healthy and avoid getting the virus is to wash your hands, properly and often? Proper hand hygiene, either with soap and water or with an alcohol-based sanitizer, is one of the best ways to avoid getting sick and spreading infections to others.

This one-minute video from the WHO demonstrates how to wash your hands in the most effective way to ensure that they are virus-free:


Beware of Fake News About 2019-nCoV

Unfortunately, social media has become a breeding ground for gossip, rumours, hoaxes, conspiracy theories, misinformation, and disinformation about the Wuhan coronavirus. Read the following articles to better understand the different kinds of “fake news” that are currently being disseminated via social media.

Politifact (U.S.): Fact-checking hoaxes and conspiracies about the coronavirus

Global News (Canada): Fact check: A look at common coronavirus misconceptions

The Independent (U.K.): Coronavirus: The truth about the conspiracy theories and fake news on China’s outbreak

BuzzFeed News: Here’s A Running List Of Disinformation Spreading About The Coronavirus (this article is updated as new ones come out)

Bloomberg: Coronavirus Misinformation Is Spreading All Over Social Media

UPDATE Jan. 31st: The Guardian: Bat soup, dodgy cures and ‘diseasology’: the spread of coronavirus misinformation

Remember to be a discriminating information consumer, and double check and verify any news you hear via social media channels before you accept it as fact, or pass it on to others. (The next section will give you some tips on how to do that.)

Some Tips on How to Spot Fake News

Media Smarts, an education and public awareness program launched by Canada’s Centre for Digital and Media Literacy, has a website, BreaktheFake.ca, with an excellent set of one-minute videos which provide some helpful consumer tips which you can use to quickly determine whether the information you are reading online is true or not:

Tip 1: Use Fact-Checking Tools

Tip 2: Find the Source

Tip 3: Verify the Source

Tip 4: Check Other Sources

Another useful resource with some tips, written specifically for the current situation, is:

Huffington Post: Coronavirus Hoaxes: How To Separate Fact From Fiction


Good Sources of Information on 2019-nCoV

Here is my updated list of good, authoritative resources to learn more about the Wuhan coronoavirus (more formally known as 2019-nCoV):

If you want a quick, up-to-date overview of the current situation, here are two good places to check:

Sources of Fast-Breaking News on 2019-nCoV (WARNING: News You Read Here May Not Be 100% Credible!)

PLEASE READ: In addition to the sources listed in the previous section, there are other places you can check, which might have reports (including translated links to local social media in China) that have not yet made the mainstream news media. Please keep in mind that the situation in China is chaotic, and that some of the information you find in the sources I list below might be gossip, rumours, hoaxes, conspiracy theories, misinformation, or disinformation! Please review the information and videos I posted in the How to Spot Fake News section above, before you dive in here.

Stay healthy!

Wuhan Coronavirus/2019-nCoV Update: January 29th, 2020

UPDATE Jan. 30th, 2020: You can view my latest daily update here.

(Source: BBC)

The World Health Organization (WHO) held a press conference on the growing crisis today.

The Globe and Mail reports:

“The whole world needs to be on alert now,” Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, said during a news conference in Geneva. “The whole world needs to take action.”

Dr. Ryan and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, spoke publicly for the first time after returning from Beijing earlier this week, where they were meeting with Chinese health officials about the situation in China.

And the World Health Organization’s emergency committee is meeting again on Thursday, January 30th, where infectious disease experts from around the world will determine whether to officially declare the Wuhan coronavirus situation a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC for short). The Evening Standard reports:

Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director at the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, said the decision to reconvene was due to the increasing number of cases and evidence of person-to-person transmission of the virus.

Dr. Ryan said multiple countries implementing measures at different times based on their individual risk assessments was a “potential recipe for disaster, at least politically, economically and socially”.

The WHO said person-to-person transmission had been confirmed in three countries outside China – Japan, Vietnam and Germany.

The official WHO declaration of a PHEIC will help manage global, coordinated efforts between countries to stem the spread of 2019-nCoV.

Forbes published an infographic on January 27th that answers the question: which countries are best and worst prepared to deal with an epidemic? The article explains:

Last October, the Global Health Security Index was released, exploring that very issue. It was the first comprehensive assessment of global health security capabilities in 195 countries. The index analyzed preparation levels by focusing on whether countries have the proper tools in place to deal with large scale outbreaks of disease, with scores measured on a scale of 0 to 100 where 100 is the highest level of preparedness.

As you can see, most of Africa is ill-prepared to deal with a potential pandemic. If cases of 2019-nCoV begin to pop up here, it will be very difficult to contain human-to-human transmission in these countries.

What Happens Next?

All travel, including tourism, will be severely impacted. Many airlines around the world announced today that they were suspending flights into and out of mainland China, and we can expect that trend to continue as other outbreaks of 2019-nCoV occur. Many countries have now advised their citizens to avoid all travel to China. Expect global travel tourism to go into a free fall; nobody wants to be trapped away from home during a global health crisis. This is going to be a very difficult time for the travel industry as a whole.

The growing health emergency will trigger a global recession. The current situation in China will have a direct impact on the production of goods in that country, including the manufacture of ingredients used in many medicines, as STAT News reports. Many corporations have announced that they are shutting down their Chinese locations and asking their employees to curtail travel to/from and within China, and work from their homes. You can expect to see growing disruptions in product deliveries to stores, and potential shortages of products that come from Chinese factories: everything from clothing to electronics.

Anxiety, fear and panic will begin to take hold. People can react irrationally during times of stress. Unfortunately, social media has already become a breeding ground for wildly unfounded conspiracy theories. We have already seen incidents of anti-Chinese racism occur in Canada. Again, the best response is to remain calm, cultivate resilience, and be a discriminating information consumer. Double check and verify any news you hear via social media channels before you accept it as fact. Don’t panic, but prepare.

What is the Best Way to Prepare?

Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. And the worst thing that could happen is that you will be asked to stay in your homes for a period of several weeks, limiting your outside contact with other people, as a wave of illness caused by the Wuhan coronavirus sweeps through your community, forcing schools and workplaces to close.

That means that you need to prepare by stocking up on food and other supplies to last you at least two or three weeks. The time to go shopping is NOW. Start by reviewing the Personal Health Preparedness lists provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention here.

Second, inform yourself. Learn as much as you can about the virus and the illness it causes. Dr. Roger Seheult is posting short videos to his YouTube channel, explaining the medical concepts behind the Wuhan coronavirus in an easy-to-understand way. Here is a sample from today:

Good Sources of Information on 2019-nCoV

Here is my updated list of good, authoritative resources to learn more about the Wuhan coronoavirus (more formally known as 2019-nCoV):

Sources of Fast-Breaking News on 2019-nCoV (WARNING: News You Read Here May Not Be 100% Credible!)

PLEASE READ: In addition to the sources listed in the previous section, there are other places you can check, which might have reports (including translated links to local social media in China) that have not yet made the mainstream news media. Please keep in mind that the situation in China is chaotic, and that some of the information you find in the sources I list below might be gossip, rumours, hoaxes, misinformation, or disinformation! If you are already feeling anxious, I would recommend you avoid these sources, but if, like me, you want to get a fuller picture of what’s going on, then I provide the links below.

Stay healthy!