Wuhan Coronavirus/2019-nCoV Update: January 28th, 2020

UPDATE Jan. 29th, 2020: You can view my latest daily update here.

Current extent of the 2019-nCoV outbreak in China (source: BBC)

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.

A Jan. 24th report by WIRED on the mathematical modeling of the spread of the virus by researchers provides some worrying estimates:

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):

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.

Stay healthy!

Wuhan Coronavirus/2019-nCoV Update: January 27th, 2020

UPDATE Jan. 28th, 2020: You can view my latest daily update here.

I don’t have a lot of major news to report today. I’m feeling somewhat stressed out trying to keep on top of this, so I am probably going to turn off the news until later this evening, put up my feet, and try to relax.

I did watch the press conference held in Toronto, Ontario concerning the first Canadian case of 2019-nCoV, a man who flew from Wuhan to Toronto with his wife. The man’s case is now confirmed (by the Canadian national microbiology laboratory in Winnipeg), and his wife is now considered to be a second, “presumptive” case (verified by the Ontario Ministry of Health, to be verified by the Winnipeg lab before officially labeled “confirmed”). Apparently she is not as sick as her husband, and is under self-quarantine in her home.

The following infographic is courtesy of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), which also livestreamed the press conference earlier today:

Coronavirus Prevention Tips (source: CBC)

Please see yesterday’s update for a list of links to good, authoritative information sources about the 2019-nCoV virus, as well as a few links to places to check if you want information that has not yet reached the mainstream news media (but may be more suspect).

And speaking of suspect information, you might want to read this list of hoaxes and crackpot conspiracy theories about 2019-nCoV already making the rounds, courtesy of the Politifact website. (BuzzFeed News has a running list of coronavirus disinformation making the rounds of social media, too.) Forewarned is forearmed.

And that’s all for me at the moment! Keep your fingers crossed.

Wuhan Coronavirus Update: January 26th, 2020

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

The South China Morning Post reported this morning:

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.

Infographic Explaining 2019-nCoV Infection (source)

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?

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:

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.

Stay healthy!

UPDATED! Wuhan Coronavirus Update: January 25th, 2020

The first close-up images of the Wuhan coronavirus were released on Friday. Photo: Chinese Centre For Disease Control And Prevention (source)

Sorry, guys, but I am going to be continuing to post about the Wuhan coronavirus situation on this blog. Given my background as a flu prepper, and despite my attempts to inject some laughter into previous potential pandemics, everything I have seen and read so far indicates that this is situation which requires all hands on deck.

Given that this blog gets between 600 and 6,000 views per day, I am hoping that I can use my little soapbox to help bring other people up-to-speed as to what is happening out there in the real world. Yes, we in virtual worlds do tend sometimes to use them to escape aspects of reality that we would rather not have to deal with. I am certainly guilty of this myself, and I suspect some of you, my readers, are as well.

But as a librarian who works at a university science library, I owe it to you to make sure that you are connected to the best, most up-to-date sources of information to make the best decisions. So here goes. Expect a new blogpost with updated information and links every day.

First: You Need to Put Things Into Perspective

To put the current crisis into some historical perspective, and to understand terms being thrown around such as R0, read this informative 2014 article by the World Economic Forum, How Ebola compares with other diseases, which obviously does not talk about the Wuhan virus, but discusses and compares previous epidemics and pandemics over the years. At this point, we do not yet know the R0 of the Wuhan coronavirus (which is essentially, a measure of how easy it is to catch it from an infected person). Scientists are working to figure that out as soon as possible, however, based on the early spread of cases.

Second: You Need to Prepare

Watch this one-and-half-minute video from TIME magazine, excerpts from an interview with Hong Kong infectious disease expert Dr. Yuen Kwok-yung, explaining in a calm and credible way why you need to take this situation seriously:

I’m just going to cut and paste a good argument posted to the China_Flu subReddit discussion group:

I’ve noticed that there are two dominant mindsets on this sub when it comes to gathering emergency supplies.

Group 1 thinks something like, “It’s fear-mongering to suggest anyone go out and get supplies. It’s paranoid to go get emergency supplies.”

Group 2 thinks something like, “The world is about to end and so I need as many supplies as possible. Why won’t people recognize the emergency and give real advice?”

I figured that linking to what the CDC [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] has already recommended for ages might be helpful.

Group 1 needs to understand that the CDC wants literally everyone to have emergency supplies even at the best of times, and has already tried over and over again to convince people to prepare for emergencies, including specific emergencies like flu pandemic, which they have explicitly mentioned many times. The only problem they’d have with you running out to get a hand cranked radio is that they think you should’ve gotten one a long time ago, not that they think preparation is paranoid.

Group 2 will have some actual guidance instead of just getting told to stop freaking out. Or instead of being swept up by actual paranoid suggestions like bankrupting themselves to order hazmat suits in bulk. The CDC does not recommend that everyone have a bizillion N95 masks, but they do recommend many things that lots of us might not even think about beforehand. (Like: how good is your can opener? Because canned food is no good if you struggle to open it.)

If you are in Group 1, likely nothing I say is going to convince you to prepare until it’s too late. If you are in Group 2, like me, someone who went crazy during the bird flu scare and stocked up on face masks, tinned food, and Tamiflu (which, by the way, will be completely useless against the Wuhan coronavirus), then some actual, credible guidance on what to buy is a good idea.

Here is the CDC’s Guide to Personal Health Preparedness, which includes sections with handy shopping lists on:

  • Personal needs (food, water, toilet paper, first aid supplies, soap and hand sanitizer, garbage bags, etc.)
  • Prescriptions (essentially, talk to your doctor and pharmacist about creating an emergency supply of your prescription medications, and stock up on some over-the-counter medications)
  • Power sources (flashlight, extra batteries, car chargers and adapters for your mobile devices, a battery-operated or hand-crank radio)

Third: You Need to Stay Informed

The University of California San Francisco published this excellent article, an interview with infectious disease expert Dr. Charles Chiu: As Mysterious Coronavirus Spreads, An Infectious Disease Expert Explains What You Should Know:

Right now, we don’t know the transmission efficiency for the new virus. A case was reported from China where one patient apparently infected 14 health care workers at the hospital, and it’s possible that some patients, known as super spreaders, are more infectious than others. We don’t know whether that particular patient was a super spreader or whether this reflects the fact that this virus is already very efficient at human-to-human transmission.

Based on the reports, the symptoms of respiratory infection from 2019-nCoV are very similar to those from other coronaviruses: nasal congestion, headache, cough, sore throat and a fever. In some patients, these symptoms can worsen into pneumonia, with chest tightness, chest pain, and shortness of breath. If you’re elderly, immunocompromised, or if you have other comorbidities such as heart disease, liver disease, you are at higher risk of developing severe pneumonia and dying from the disease.

We also know that there are documented cases of human-to-human transmission as shown by the hospital-acquired cases, and evidence of sustained cycles of transmission, as evidenced by secondary infections in household members who were not exposed to the markets from which the initial cases originated. We also know that there have been deaths from this virus, the majority in older men with underlying health problems, but also in a healthy young man. So it’s definitely something to worry about.

Again, I stress: all the experts are telling you that you need to take this seriously.

Now, if you want a single-screen, up-to-date statistics panel, which shows you the current information on the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus, you’re in luck! The Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University has created a panel with the latest information (updated every day at noon EST), including a global map of reported cases which you can zoom in and out on:

Wuhan Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Global Cases (by Johns Hopkins University)

Here are a few other good, credible sources of information on the Wuhan coronavirus:

In addition to these official sources, there are two 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 some of the information you find here might be gossip, rumours, misinformation, or disinformation!

Stay healthy!