On New Year’s Eve, the Chinese government announced that it had discovered 27 cases of a new coronavirus in Wuhan, the most populous city in central China.
A month later, there are now over 17,000 reported cases in 24 different countries and territories and more than 350 people are confirmed to have died.
Though the overwhelming majority of cases have appeared in China, cases are now appearing throughout Asia and further abroad. This rapid spread of a novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), combined with the lack of a known treatment, has provoked international panic.
Memories of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)
For many, this emergency brings up memories of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Over 8000 people in nearly 30 countries and territories fell ill and 774 people died before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak ‘contained’ in July 2003.
Beyond the human toll, the SARS outbreak led to significant economic losses, challenged the authority and legitimacy of the Chinese government and fostered prejudice against Asians for spreading the disease. With the new coronavirus, news stories are comparing SARS and 2019-nCoV and claiming that the economic and political effects may be even greater.
The spread of 2019-nCoV will not stop without concerted action by national and international officials. In China, the government has allowed international experts to assist with its response, sought to counter rumours and false information and is building two new hospitals — set to be completed within two weeks — to house patients at the epicentre of the crisis.
Almost 60 million people quarantined
More problematically, it effectively quarantined almost 60 million people in 17 cities by shutting down transportation networks and restricting public gatherings. The government argues that implementing the largest ever known quarantine measures will prevent the disease from spreading.
But not all of the actions taken so far are likely to be effective. Some of the Chinese government’s actions fly in the face of best practice. While it is attempting to quash rumours about the new disease, China is also arresting people who criticise the government’s response. The increased burden on health care workers has raised stress levels, too, with nurses in Hong Kong threatening to go on…