An outbreak involving a novel coronavirus is currently underway in China’s city of Wuhan, causing a flu-like illness in over 1,354 people, with at least 41 deaths having been reported. The disease’s virulent nature has prompted Chinese authorities to suspend the operation of public transport in and out of Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, with neighboring cities expected to be placed under a similar quarantine by January 24.

Initially identified as a novel virus in mid-December 2019, this coronavirus, called 2019-nCoV, has a genetic structure that has a 70 percent similarity to the SARS-CoV coronavirus that killed 774 people in 37 countries in 2003. Although the majority of cases have occurred in mainland China, there have been a handful of reported infections in Thailand, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Macau and Hong Kong, including one case in the United States where a man returning from a trip to Wuhan was hospitalized after exhibiting symptoms of the disease. He is reportedly in good condition, and authorities are now screening for signs of 2019-nCoV at major international airports across the US.

The symptoms caused by this coronavirus–so-called because of its resemblance to a solar corona when viewed under a microscope–are flu-like in nature, including fever, fatigue and a dry cough, with shortness of breath occurring in 20 percent of the cases, and respiratory distress in 15 percent; those with a weakened immune system are most susceptible to more serious complications, such as the onset of pneumonia. The virus was initially identified as a new pathogen when a cluster of pneumonia cases without an apparent cause occurred amongst people connected with the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan in mid-December. The first case of human-to-human infection was confirmed on January 21.

Some authorities believe that the coronavirus, a class of virus that typically infects livestock and birds, but rarely humans, originated in bats and made the jump to venomous snakes that were being sold as bushmeat in the Huanan Seafood Market before mutating into a strain that could infect humans, although it is currently unknown as to how the virus could make the jump between cold and warm-blooded species.

Quarantine efforts are being hampered by the Chinese New Year season, when hundreds of millions of people travel across China and Asia for the important holiday. In addition to travel restrictions in and out of Wuhan, a major travel hub in central China, residents of the city are required to wear face masks when in public, as government health officials take measures to stem the spread of 2019-nCoV.

High-level authorities in Beijing have also issued a warning to lower-level officials to not cover up reporting the spread of the virus, saying that anyone concealing new cases would “be nailed on the pillar of shame for eternity.” China learned a harsh lesson from the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak, having initially withheld information on the epidemic and downplayed the health risks involved, speeding the spread of the deadly disease. President Xi Jinping has called for “all-out efforts” to control the outbreak.

Fortunately, this virus isn’t as lethal as the SARS virus, with only 2.8 percent of those infected having succumbed to the disease (compared to SARS’s 9.8 percent), although researchers point out that 2019-nCoV is still in the process of infecting people. Researchers in the UK estimate that there are actually roughly 4,000 people currently infected, based on the virulence of the disease.

UPDATE: 10:45 pm PST: This is a fast-moving situation, with the number of infected/dead having nearly doubled in the 24 hours since the article was first written. Chinese authorities have closed down 12 cities in central Hubei province, where the disease is concentrated, representing a population of 36 million people—that’s slightly less than the population of California, or the entire country of Canada. Major New Year’s holiday events have been cancelled, and residents are being urged to stay in their homes for the duration of the quarantine. Construction crews are scrambling to build a makeshift hospital using prefabricated units within ten days to treat infected patients.

11 Comments

  1. My summary on this coronavirus is already in the Health/Medicine section of our UnknownCountry message board. Thank you for this news article update. The US hospital (Seattle WA) is using a stethoscope-wielding robot to care for their coronavirus patient in isolation, mainly because they don’t know for sure whether that patient has a mutated form of the virus … any such mutation could potentially be more virulent than the original organism. The other probable US case is in Chicago, IL. Time will tell.

    1. It has just been announced that it is more contagious than it previously appeared.

      1. Virus-hit Wuhan has two laboratories linked to Chinese bio-warfare program

        https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2020/jan/24/virus-hit-wuhan-has-two-laboratories-linked-chines/

        Those damn fools…

        You’d think they would have their bio-warfare laboratories hidden inside an underground mountain facility somewhere in Western China, in the middle of the Gobi desert where no one could find it, but no, they decided to build two of them in a dense population center of 11 million people in a nation of 1.3 billion.

        ffs, the hubris of Communists never ceases to amaze me.

      2. With this virus, people are able to spread it when they are not showing symptoms. So anyone infected with no symptoms could be in a plane and be spreading the coronavirus to their fellow passengers, and no one will be none the wiser until they start dropping like flies three weeks later.

  2. Update on Sunday, January 26, 2020: Today’s NYTimes reports that the organism most similar to the current global coronavirus outbreak occurred 17 years ago, in 2002; that was known as SARS; it moved from bats to Asian palm civets in China. Officials and scientists now say that this new coronavirus appears to have originated in bats, transferring to another unknown animal before infecting humans. On social media in China, a growing number of TV news reporters, scholars and others are calling for the permanent closure of Chinese food markets that sell live or slaughtered wildlife.

  3. My mom found out earlier this afternoon through a friend from Beijing that is studying here that the authorities have imposed travel restrictions on the capital. Further digging revealed that it’s common practice for sick people to travel to the major cities for treatment, due to the poor state of healthcare in outlying regions, and authorities are trying to prevent a flood of potentially-infected people from inundating the city.

    https://www.forexlive.com/news/!/china-imposes-restrictions-on-travel-beijing-20200125

    A second field hospital is also apparently being built in Wuhan, adding another 1,300 beds to the first facility.

  4. The Civil and Systems Engineering Department at John Hopkins University has posted a GIS dashboard providing a near-realtime map of the stats regarding the outbreak.

    The good news is that the mortality rate (currently 2.4%, compared to SARS’s 9.8%) continues to drop as more cases are uncovered. The bad news is that 2019-nCoV has a mortality rate to begin with.

    2019-nCoV is also much more virulent than SARS: “SARS took several months to cause a thousand cases,” says Thompson. “This has caused [almost] 3000 cases in three weeks,” according to Oxford’s Robin Thompson. This means that despite the chances of succumbing to the disease being low for individuals that are infected, a larger number of cases means there there will be a larger number of overall deaths.

    The Dashboard:
    https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6

    JHU Blogpost regarding the dashboard:
    https://systems.jhu.edu/research/public-health/ncov/

    “New coronavirus may be much more contagious than initially thought” (New Scientist):
    https://www.newscientist.com/article/2231453-new-coronavirus-may-be-much-more-contagious-than-initially-thought/

  5. Matthew, agreed on the “poor state of healthcare in the outlying regions” of China. In fact, China has no distributed primary health care system, just hospitals. Oops. Chinese president Xi is not a stupid person, and is not anti-technology either, so I expect to see him roll out a primary health care or public health system for China, starting quite soon.

    Days ago in this news thread, a post used the term “virulence” in discussing the coronavirus. Be aware that while news journalists *love* to use dramatic words like virulence in discussing disease outbreaks, that word has no scientific value because it is ambiguous. (I used the word “virulent” myself, at the top of this thread, because I was in a hurry … so “oops” on me, too.) The epidemiologists use specific terms with single meanings, such as transmission, contagion, mortality rate, and the like.

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