I am growing increasingly worried as I continue to monitor news reports coming out of China.
Overnight, there was another huge jump in cases reported by China, as indicated by the graph on this up-to-date statistics panel created by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University, drawing from credible, official case reports from health agencies worldwide:
To me, the graph of the number of cases within mainland China is starting to look like an exponential growth curve. It is the first indication that we are facing a situation where each new case of the 2019-nCoV virus is infecting two, three, or more people in turn. It means that the Wuhan coronavirus could well spread worldwide, despite our best global efforts to stop it through travel restrictions and quarantines.
TIME magazine reports that researchers in Hong Kong are warning that the number of people infected with the coronavirus in Wuhan could already be more than 30 times higher the the official tally of cases released by the government, in this new, two-minute YouTube video:
Helen Branswell, a reporter for STAT News (a new U.S. website focusing on health, medicine and life sciences from Boston Globe Media Partners), and formerly a 15-year medical reporter for The Canada Press who very capably covered previous health crises such as SARS and Ebola, wrote yesterday in an article for Scientific American magazine:
Some infectious disease experts are warning that it may no longer be feasible to contain the new coronavirus circulating in China. Failure to stop it there could see the virus spread in a sustained way around the world and even perhaps join the ranks of respiratory viruses that regularly infect people.
“The more we learn about it, the greater the possibility is that transmission will not be able to be controlled with public health measures,” said Dr. Allison McGeer, a Toronto-based infectious disease specialist who contracted SARS in 2003 and who helped Saudi Arabia control several hospital-based outbreaks of MERS.
If that’s the case, she said, “we’re living with a new human virus, and we’re going to find out if it will spread around the globe.” McGeer cautioned that because the true severity of the outbreak isn’t yet known, it’s impossible to predict what the impact of that spread would be, though she noted it would likely pose significant challenges to health care facilities.
The pessimistic assessment comes from both researchers studying the dynamics of the outbreak—the rate at which cases are rising in and emerging from China—and infectious diseases experts who are parsing the first published studies describing cases to see if public health tools such as isolation and quarantine could as effective in this outbreak as they were in the 2003 SARS epidemic.
Somebody asked me yesterday on the RyanSchultz.com Discord server if it wouldn’t be better if they just got infected with 2019-nCoV and be done with it, thinking that once you had it and recovered, you would be immune. I replied that, based on what I have read so far, approximately 20% of the people who catch the Wuhan coronavirus develop severe, life-threatening health problems: fever, pneumonia, liver and kidney failure, death. Would you take a one-in-five chance on that happening?
Or let’s put it another way. Let’s say you are young, perfectly healthy, and have nothing to fear from a virus. Scientists already have reported that you can transmit the virus to other people even if you do not feel sick yourself. Germany’s first case of 2019-nCoV was a man who was infected by a Chinese colleague who visited him in Bavaria, who did not begin to feel sick until her flight home.
Even if you are healthy and asymptomatic, are you willing to infect others who may develop a severe, life-threatening reaction: children, the elderly, people with underlying health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, cancer, or HIV+? It’s not just about you; it’s about everyone around you that you come into contact with over the course of your day. And who they in turn come into contact with.
Using case data scraped from official reports, a team led by Jonathan Read at Lancaster University plotted a temporal map of the coronavirus’s spread, starting on January 1, when local authorities closed the meat-and-animal market where the virus is believed to have crossed into humans from an unknown source. They worked under the assumption that any spread following the first of the year could only be between humans.
The models they constructed predict a dire start to February: further outbreaks in other Chinese cities, more infections exported abroad, and an explosion of cases in Wuhan. “In 14 days’ time, our model predicts the number of infected people in Wuhan to be greater than 190,000,” the authors write.
No hospital system, anywhere on earth, will be able to cope with tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of people, becoming sick all at the same time, with approximately 20% of them having severe problems requiring intensive care. There simply aren’t enough beds. There have been reports that hospitals in Wuhan are already turning sick people away because they can’t admit any more patients, no matter how ill they are. It doesn’t matter how many prefabricated 1,000-bed hospitals that the Chinese Communist Party builds in Wuhan, or how fast they can build them; it will be a drop in the bucket compared to the number of cases that will arise.
I don’t know about the area where you live, but where I live in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, a first-world country with an excellent healthcare system, our hospitals are already being stretched to the limit, just dealing with the regular seasonal influenza cases that are coming in right now. There is zero extra capacity in our local hospitals to deal with a potential global pandemic. And I suspect that this is the case in most other cities and countries too.
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):
- the United Nations World Health Organization
- the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (this is a new, much more comprehensive website)
- Health Canada, including an FAQ and a fact sheet
- Public Health Canada
- Information for the public from the Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England (U.K.)
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, 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 and wiki with FAQ
- 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.
- The Corona Virus (2019-nCoV) Discord server (invite link)