The largest nation in the world is on lockdown. Normally bustling streets are empty, and transport is at a standstill. At a time when China would normally be jubilantly celebrating the arrival of the new year, tragedy has struck. Joy and excitement have been replaced with frustration and fear. The cause: coronavirus. This virus is believed to have originated in a food market in Wuhan in Hubei province of China. While the exact cause has yet to be confirmed, according to a report from BBC, World Health Organization (WHO) officials think it likely originated from live animals that were being illegally sold there.
What is coronavirus?
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), coronavirus, thought to have originated from animals, is characterized initially by a runny nose, headache, congestion, fever, cough or sore throat. While these are all symptoms similar to many other ailments that are common this time of year, coronavirus is said to decrease the immune system’s ability to fight off other illnesses, leading to other, more serious ailments, such as pneumonia and bronchitis. While these are all illnesses that are capable of being treated with modern medicine, this does not remove the dangerous nature of the outbreak.
Many reports from CNN, BBC and the New York Times are comparing this outbreak with that of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), which caused an outbreak earlier this decade and resulted in the death of a reported 858 people (WHO). Another comparison has been with the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak of 2003, which affected more than 8,000 people (WHO). There was no reported death toll.
All of these outbreaks have similar symptoms as previously discussed. They are linked together largely due to the scale of the people affected and the global spread of the illness.
How many people has it affected?
CNN reports that there are currently over 800 confirmed cases of coronavirus with at least 25 deaths resulting from it. However, the problem lies not simply within Wuhan, but across China and cases of the virus are now being reported across Asia and across the ocean in the United States. Several countries including Mexico and Canada are investigating possible cases.
How did it spread?
BBC explains that Wuhan, the origin city of coronavirus, was the perfect location for the virus to spread for two reasons. The first is that Wuhan is located on the Yangtze river, making it a critical port for the transportation of goods, food and people. The Yangtze connects Wuhan with other large Chinese cities, including the metropolis of Shanghai. With so many people and products moving from Wuhan to other parts of China, it was relatively simple for the virus to be spread from city to city, infecting increasingly more people. The other reason is that Wuhan is the center of the network of high speed passenger trains that move throughout China. With all routes having to pass through Wuhan, it was easy for the millions of people who use the trains to be exposed to the virus and then to carry it with them as they travel.
What is being done to stop the spread?
China has imposed a lock down on Wuhan, Huanggang and Ezhou, three largest cities that have been affected by the outbreak. By ‘lockdown’ it is essentially imposing extreme limitations on travel to and from these cities, as well as within them. Several more cities have followed suit in a less strict ban, trying to limit the possibility of transporting the virus. With so many cities on high alert, all possible measures are being taken in order to contain the outbreak. Beijing officials have gone so far as to cancel the lunar new year celebration that was to take place this weekend. With the inability to travel to join with family and many cities completely empty, the celebration of the new Year of the Rat will be dampened.
Outside of China, airports are now conducting screenings for anyone who may have been exposed to the virus, specifically travelers coming from China. Most countries will quarantine any suspected cases to prevent any more spread.
How does this affect the Chinese market?
Aside from heightened alert, business will continue as usual. Given that coronavirus originated from China, it is likely that the world’s second largest economy will suffer slightly from the outbreak. At least for a while, many of China’s trading partners will decrease their exchange in order to prevent importing goods that can transport the virus. However, if the virus dies down, the lull in the Chinese markets should be only temporary before returning to normal.
Should I be worried?
Coronavirus has spread rapidly across the world and infected hundreds of people, however, the only cases that have resulted in death are the ones in which the victim is elderly or has a preexisting condition, both of which decrease the ability of the immune system to fight the infection. Despite the frightening facts and figures, coronavirus is very similar to the common cold. Like the cold, the best way to prevent getting coronavirus is as simple as washing your hands and staying out of close contact with those who are sick. It is also worth noting that there have been only a couple suspected cases present in the United States that have been quarantined so as to stop the spread. Since Hope College was not a location that has been exposed to the virus, there is currently little risk of contracting it.
While the figures and statistics of coronavirus are both startling and sobering, active measures are being taken to ensure the containment, even if it means that the new year isn’t off to the best start.