While it is impeachment, impeachment, impeachment nonstop on cable news, other stories are out there and some of them warrant attention. Take, for instance, a health scare that is ravaging China. A coronavirus has been identified and the source of it has been determined as health officials cope with a rising death toll.
At least 471 cases in mainland China have been identified by Chinese health authorities as of Wednesday. Worldwide the number of confirmed cases is 479. As I write this Wednesday morning, nine deaths have been reported. This virus is spread from animals to humans and spreads from human to human. Officials are aware of 2,200 cases of people exposed to virus carriers from “close contact”. Also reported so far is that 715 patients have been discharged while more than 300 remain on medical watch.
The initial numbers may not sound so alarming, given the total population of China, but this virus is in the SARS family with SARS-like characteristics. It is spread through the respiratory tract. It is being described as a “super-spreader”. The virus was initially difficult to diagnose and now health officials overseas and in the United States are trying to manage panic from the public over fears of a pandemic.
The coronavirus originated in Wuhan, where a seafood and animal meat market is thought to have been the center of the outbreak.
Meanwhile, the head of China’s Bureau of Disease Prevention and Control said Wednesday that the new virus had originated in wild animals sold at a seafood market in Wuhan.
The bureau’s director general, Gao Fu, referred to a paper published on Tuesday by a joint team of researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the People’s Liberation Army and the Institut Pasteur in Shanghai that concluded “the Wuhan coronavirus’ natural host could be bats … but between bats and humans there could be an unknown intermediate.”
The new virus and the SARS virus are both mutations of HKU9-1, a virus found in fruit bats, the researchers said, according to the South China Morning Post.
The virus causes a type of pneumonia. Symptoms include fever and difficulty in breathing.
On Tuesday, the WHO warned the coronavirus was likely to spread. “More cases should be expected in other parts of China and possibly other countries in the coming days,” said WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic.
Asked by Reuters why the WHO expected higher numbers, Jasarevic said new cases would appear as China steps up monitoring.
The number of cases is expected to rise. Saturday is Lunar New Year and the holiday period is when millions of Chinese will travel domestically and overseas, therefore increasing the risk of more transmission. The World Health Organization (WHO) isn’t issuing any travel restrictions yet but is convening an emergency committee Wednesday to determine if an international health emergency should be declared.
While there are indications that Chinese authorities are ready to ramp up controls on travel — including ordering that all trips to Wuhan be canceled and refunded — it remains to be seen whether the virus, already reported in around a dozen locations, can be reined in before the Lunar New Year travel period truly kicks in.
The largest annual human migration on Earth, hundreds of millions of people will travel across China and overseas during the four-week period, which began in mid-January and continues until February. Many will go by train or plane, raising the risk of infection as they are put in close contact with other travelers.
BREAKING: WHO Director-General @DrTedros will convene an Emergency Committee on the novel #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) under the International Health Regulations.
The Committee will meet on Wednesday, 22 January 2020. pic.twitter.com/w3w7ZuoTeG
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) January 20, 2020
The Emergency Committee on the new #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) meets today to ascertain whether the outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern, and what recommendations should be made to manage it https://t.co/Qtsxqkr7xi pic.twitter.com/aC8NYUkS9h
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) January 22, 2020
During the SARS outbreak, the Chinese government was heavily criticized for a lack of transparency about the disease and its number of victims. This time around, the Chinese government is reportedly doing better with transparency and the speed of handling the crisis.
At the time, the rapid spread of SARS was blamed on a lack of transparency by the Chinese authorities. In an opinion editorial published Sunday, state tabloid Global Times wrote, “In the early moments of SARS, there was concealment in China. This must not be repeated.”
This time, however, experts say China has moved more rapidly to deal with the crisis and that the virus appears to be less lethal than SARS.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said Monday that containing the spread of the coronavirus should be a “top priority,” according to state media.
“Government and World Health Organization reports indicate that the virus is both less virulent and less deadly than SARS. The response from Beijing is also far faster this time than it was in 2002-04,” said Rory Green, economist for China and South Korea at research firm TS Lombard.
There is no vaccine for the coronavirus. It will likely be more than a year for a vaccine to become available.
In the US, the National Institutes of Health is working on a vaccine for the new virus, though it will take at least a few months until the first phase of clinical trials get underway and more than a year until a vaccine might be available.
Scientists in Texas, New York and China are also at work on a vaccine, according to Peter Hotez, a vaccine scientist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
“The lesson we’ve learned is coronavirus infections are serious and one of the newest and biggest global health threats,” Hotez told CNN.
In the meantime, the WHO has some tips on staying healthy.
On Wednesday, @WHO will convene Emergency Committee to determine if recent coronavirus outbreak constitutes a public health emergency & discuss next steps to control the spread of the illness.
— United Nations (@UN) January 22, 2020