China's coronavirus lockdown: 35 million and rising as "dozens" now dead; Update: CDC confirms new case in Chicago, "immediate risk ... low"

China's coronavirus lockdown: 35 million and rising as "dozens" now dead; Update: CDC confirms new case in Chicago, "immediate risk ... low"

Imagine, if you will, that the US had put the state of Washington in lockdown after finding its first case of the Wuhan coronavirus this week. That wouldn’t amount to a third of the population China has now locked down as they rapidly expand their quarantine of their central provinces. Thirty-five million people now cannot travel outside of the hot zone for the virus, and most of those cannot travel much within it either. Beijing has also updated its numbers of the sick and the dead, but they might still be underestimating those:

Want another comparison? The New York Times notes that the lockdown now impacts a population similar to Canada:

The authorities on Friday greatly expanded a travel lockdown in central China to include 12 cities near the center of the outbreak, effectively penning in 35 million residents — nearly the population of Canada — in an effort to contain the deadly virus.

The new limits — abruptly decreed ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday, China’s busiest travel season — were an extraordinary step that underlined the ruling Communist Party’s deepening fears about the outbreak of a little understood coronavirus.

Just one day after China restricted travel in and from Wuhan, a city of 11 million people and the capital of Hubei Province, and four nearby towns, the government announced plans to suspend public transportation services covering more than half the population of the province.

As radical as that move is, it may be too little, too late. Travelers to and from China for the New Year celebration season have already spread it as far as the US and throughout the southeast Asia region:

The disease has also been detected in Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and the United States, in travelers who had visited China.

One case may have been found as far away as Belfast, in fact:

A man is being treated at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast for symptoms associated with the potentially fatal Wuhan coronavirus. …

The man is believed to have travelled to Northern Ireland from the city of Wuhan at the weekend and is currently being treated in an isolation ward.

It will be some time before results are returned, and there is no suggestion at this stage that the patient has coronavirus.

They’re not taking any chances in Northern Ireland, nor in China — and that might be another problem. The WuFlu, as it’s been called, has overrun hospitals in the lockdown region with symptoms of the disease, which have turned to social media to plead for supplies. With the lockdown and severe internal travel restrictions in place, it will be more and more difficult to get those supplies to the patients and doctors. It will also make food shipments more difficult, for that matter. If the lockdown continues for any length of time, it could generate even more serious health issues across a wider swath of the population, even if this succeeds in slowing down the virus’ spread.

Speaking of which, it may have hit closer to home again. The US has already confirmed one case of the Wuhan coronavirus in the state of Washington, but health officials have also announced that a potential new case has emerged in Texas. In both cases, the patient recently returned from travel in China, and this case involves a university student. That might mean more follow-up cases, although officials told KHOU that they are not concerned about that at the moment:

Two cases are a manageable risk, and we have no need yet to worry about exponential spread. US health officials have to worry, though, about travelers who may still have unknowingly carried the virus back not just from China but from other countries where the disease has spread. The farther that goes in the region, the tougher it is to contain the potential spread here.

At the same time, of course, the CDC and NIH are studying the Wuhan coronavirus to crack its secrets and develop treatments and potentially a vaccine to deal with it. That certainly beats massive lockdowns of populations, especially when it seems like locking the barn door after the horse has bolted.

Update: The CDC has now confirmed a second case in the US, but in Chicago:

A second U.S. case of the new coronavirus has been confirmed in a patient in Chicago, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The patient, a woman in her 60s and a Chicago resident, had traveled to Wuhan, China, in December. She was admitted to the hospital and is in stable condition, according to Illinois health officials.

“We understand that some people are worried about this virus and how it may impact Americans,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases said at a Friday news briefing.

“The immediate risk to the U.S. public is low at this time,” Messonnier said.

That sounds very much true, “at this time.” Two cases are very manageable, especially with the US on alert. If we get a lot more cases, it could start to overwhelm the system, but we’re not close to being there yet. One can be vigilant without becoming hysterical.

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