The outbreak of Corona virus has emerged as a major challenge to Chinese authorities. As of today, more than 800 people have been diagnosed with Corona virus problem in China, with the number increasing by more than 200 in the last 24 hours. The number of deaths stand at 26 – increasing by more than 1/2 a dozen in the last 24 hours. Chinese authorities have imposed travel restrictions in 13 cities to prevent the virus from spreading. With 25th January being the day of Chinese New Year – typically the busiest travel season, the travel ban is likely to emerge as a major impediment. The travel ban is likely to affect 35 million Chinese. Millions of people are likely to travel during this weekend, increasing risks of the disease spreading.
The city of Wuhan, capital of the Hebei province was the “ground zero” for the breakout of the epidemic – majority of the deaths have occured in the Hebei province but now, 2 deaths have been confirmed which are far from the epicentre. One patient died more than 600 miles from Wuhan while another death took place in Heilongjiang, a province bordering Russia, more than 1100 miles from Wuhan. So far, the virus has also spread to South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and 1 confirmed case in USA – through people who have recently travelled to China. Disease modelling experts from Imperial College, London have stated that they consider China’s estimates of affected cases to be “too conservative” and projected a figure closer to 4000.
Corona viruses are a family of microbes which affect the respiratory system and have a deadly recent history. The one causing the current outbreak in China has been classified as 2019-nCOV. A corona virus, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), had infected 8098 in 2002-03 and killed 774. Another one, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), was first observed in 2012 and has killed 858 till date, mostly in the Arabian peninsula. The 2019-nCOV though, is different from both SARS and MERS and has never been seen in humans before. The current outbreak started from Hua Nan seafood market in Wuhan from what is likely an animal – human “spillover” incident. The Hunan market was shut down on Jan 1st but the virus is now spreading from human – human.
It is still not completely clear how the 2019-nCOV is transmitting from human to human. But the fact that 15 health workers in Wuhan tending to Corona virus patients have been affected makes it likely that it is spreading from affected hosts to normal bodies. Corona viruses typically spread through the air, as a result of victim sneezing or coughing, therefore it is believed that face masks will offer some protection against them. Experts also strongly recommend frequent hand washing since droplets from patients’ cough/sneeze often ends up on surfaces, enabling corona virus to spread through touch also. As of now, there is no medicine or vaccine known to counter 2019-nCOV with the knowledge about the virus still very nascent.
The outbreak of the virus has already hit the Chinese economy hard. Apart from blow to the tourism sector, also suffering is the Chinese film industry with 7 films set to premiere on the Chinese New Year standing cancelled. 2020 Olympic qualifying games have been shifted from Wuhan hitting the revenues of the city further. The Chinese stocks have suffered their worst fall in last 5 months this week. Goldman Sachs has predicted that reduced travel due to the outbreak is likely to see a drop in fuel prices especially aviation fuel.