What is happening inside China?
At least 132 people have died to date in Mainland China from the coronavirus outbreak with nearly 6,000 confirmed cases across the country. The virus appears to be spreading rapidly, with a 65 percent jump in reported cases in the country in just one day.
Hospital staff in Hubei Province are struggling to cope with the staggering number of patients, and supplies are running low. China has deployed 1,800 more medical personnel to the province to help while the construction of two new hospitals continues unabated.
Some 60 million people are under travel restrictions in Hubei Province. The provincial capital, Wuhan, is under almost complete lockdown, with no movement in or out. Still, an estimated 5 million people had left Wuhan before travel out of the city was restricted, said the city’s mayor, Zhou Xianwang. It was a stunning disclosure that intensified questions about efforts by Beijing to contain the spread of the virus in its early stages.
In several other cities across China, businesses and schools remain closed. Chinese officials announced that the trading of wild animals would be temporarily suspended in hopes that would help contain the outbreak. The government also initiated a ban on outbound group travel as part of measures to stop the spread of the virus. Hong Kong has announced plans to slash cross-border travel between the city and Mainland China as high-speed trains and ferries that cross the border are suspended.
What is the global impact?
The virus has spread across China and to at least 16 countries globally. There are over 80 confirmed cases outside China, including the U.S., Australia, France, and Germany. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a level 3 alert warning against all nonessential travel to China, its highest alert on a scale of 1 to 3. Germany and Japan confirmed that they had cases involving people who had not traveled to China but caught the virus from someone who had the illness. Several foreign governments with large numbers of citizens in Wuhan have initiated air evacuations with many evacuees placed in a two-week quarantine upon their return.
Numerous countries, including the U.S., have stepped up airport screenings. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is boosting staffing at 20 U.S. airports that have quarantine facilities and which receive 90 percent of China’s airline passengers. Other countries, including Indonesia and the Philippines, have banned Chinese citizens from entering their countries. Meanwhile, in the most drastic action yet by a major airline as the deadly coronavirus spreads, British Airways has suspended all flights between the United Kingdom and China.
Global markets took a sharp downturn on Monday, January 27 as investors grew increasingly anxious about the swift spread of the coronavirus beyond China. The Dow Jones industrial average plunged 454 points or about 1.6 percent. The Standard & Poor’s 500 and Nasdaq indexes were also down 1.6 percent and 1.9 percent, respectively.
How serious is the threat?
People who are carrying the virus but not showing symptoms may still be able to infect others, according to China’s National Health Commission. From observations, the virus is capable of transmission even during the incubation period of 1 to 14 days. Such asymptomatic transmissions would make the disease much more difficult to control as compared to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), a virus that was not contagious during incubation but still killed more than 600 people across Mainland China and Hong Kong along with more than 100 other people around the world in 2002-2003.
U.S. health officials criticized Chinese authorities for not inviting the U.S. and other international investigative agencies to join them in researching the new virus. While China has been more transparent than it was during the 2003 SARS outbreak, U.S. officials are still getting their information through press briefings rather than from direct transfer of scientific data, said Anthony S. Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.