Time for my daily update on the evolving Wuhan coronavirus (more formally known as 2019-nCoV, or novel coronavirus) situation. Again, I will be providing links to credible, authoritative information, as well as a bit of analysis, and some predictions of what will happen next, both within China and globally as the virus spreads. (I plan to write up a daily blogpost on my blog as the situation develops.)
What You Need to Know About 2019-nCoV
Ma Xiaowei, the minister in charge of China’s National Health Commission (NHC), told a press conference that battling the outbreak was complicated, particularly as it had been discovered that the new virus could be transmitted even during incubation period, which did not happen with SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome).
“From observations, the virus is capable of transmission even during incubation period,” Ma said, adding that the incubation period lasted from one to 14 days.
“Some patients have normal temperatures and there are many milder cases. There are hidden carriers,” he said.
Al Jazeera news reports that the virus appears to be becoming more contagious as it spreads from person to person, which will make containment even more difficult:
China’s National Health Commission Minister Ma Xiaowei said the incubation period for the virus can range from one to 14 days, during which infection can occur, which was not the case with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
SARS was a coronavirus that originated in China and killed nearly 800 people globally in 2002 and 2003.
“According to recent clinical information, the virus’ ability to spread seems to be getting somewhat stronger,” Ma told reporters.
The New York Times reports that Chinese government bureaucracy may be partly to blame for the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus:
China’s rigid bureaucracy discourages local officials from raising bad news with central bosses and it silos officials off from one another, making it harder to manage, or even see, a crisis in the making.
“That’s why you never really hear about problems emerging on a local scale in China,” said John Yasuda, who studies China’s approach to health crises at Indiana University. “By the time that we hear about it, and that the problem reaches the central government, it’s because it’s become a huge problem.”
Those systemic flaws appear to have played a role in the pace at which officials responded to the outbreak, and the country’s inability to address the health risks from its so-called wet markets, which are stuffed with livestock living and dead, domesticated and wild.
China is now mobilizing a nationwide response involving hundreds of personnel, one of the system’s strengths.
According to TIME, China has now imposed travel restrictions on some 50 million people, an absolutely unprecedented measure:
China cut off trains, planes and other links to Wuhan on Wednesday, as well as public transportation within the city, and has steadily expanded a lockdown to 16 surrounding cities with a combined population of more than 50 million — greater than that of New York, London, Paris and Moscow combined.
What Can We Expect?
So, what can we expect in the coming days and weeks, as the virus begins to accelerate within China and more cases start popping up abroad?
- Increasingly draconian travel restrictions within China (most of which will probably have little to no affect on transmission of the virus, because it’s likely already too late—the South China Morning Post reports today that approximately 5 million residents left Wuhan before the lockdown because of the deadly coronavirus epidemic and the Spring Festival holiday);
- More regions and countries imposing bans against travelers from China (such as the one Hong Kong just imposed on people who had been in Hubei province in the past 14 days);
- Governments evacuating their citizens from China, such as the U.S. flying Americans out of Wuhan to San Francisco (see image below);
- Increasingly stressful situations in hospitals, first in China and then possibly in other locations, as doctors and other workers become overwhelmed with sick people, and stocks of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) run low, leading to increasing infections among healthcare staff. Shortages of medical supplies have already been reported in Wuhan, according to the Washington Post newspaper.
However, if other governments can successfully contain the cases which are being reported outside China (as appears to be the case in Toronto, which yesterday evening reported the first Canadian patient infected with 2019-nCoV), then the rest of the world might be able to avoid the kind of things we are currently seeing happen in various Chinese cities and provinces, according to mainstream news reports and social media:
- The shutdown of many places where people gather, such as festivals, theatres, marketplaces, etc.;
- The closing of schools, businesses, and public transportation;
- People imposing self-quarantine within their homes in an effort to avoid becoming sick.
It is easy to read the headlines and feel anxiety, dread, even a sense of panic. Panic is absolutely the last thing we need right now; if you are not in China, you still have a window of opportunity to take action and prepare for a potential global pandemic. Use that nervous energy and put it towards concrete tasks that will help you get ready. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
For example, yesterday I went to the pharmacy and renewed all of my prescriptions, and stocked up on a few essentials like toilet paper and garbage bags. The Personal Health Preparedness Guidelines issues by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control offer useful, practical lists of things to buy to best prepare for an emergency situation such as this. Look them over, draw up a shopping list, and stock up on what you need, should you be forced to stay at home for a week or two. Don’t panic; prepare.
Good Sources of Information on 2019-nCoV
Here are some credible, official sources of information on the Wuhan coronavirus:
- the World Health Organization
- the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- the U.K. Department of Public Health
- the Ontario Ministry of Health (Canada)
If you want a quick overview of what’s going on, the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University has created a statistics panel with the latest information at a glance, drawing from credible, official case reports from health agencies worldwide.
Sources of Fast-Breaking News on 2019-nCoV (WARNING: 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, 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.
- The FluTrackers.com discussion forum
- The China_Flu subReddit
- The Intelliwatch Discord server (invite link) is a geopolitical events and crises discussion forum that has two channels devoted to 2019-nCoV/Wuhan coronavirus news and speculation.