Not So Happy Chinese New Year Thanks To Coronavirus

On January 25, 2020, millions of Chinese probably exclaimed, “Rats!” and not  because Chinese New Year ushered in the Year of the Rat. A pall was cast over China’s biggest holiday due to a public health scare. China is facing an outbreak of a new coronavirus, 2019 Novel Coronavirus–officially dubbed 2019-nCOV. The Chinese animal of the year is apropos since rats are symbolic of the drive to survive in times of danger.

The emergence of this virus is scary because it is one that hasn’t been previously identified–hence the name “Novel” Coronavirus. Because it is new, no vaccine exists to protect against the virus. And it will take a substantial amount of time (think months) to develop one. For modern society wanting instant fixes, that amount of time is hard to swallow.

The ultimate source of this new virus is as yet undetermined. Nevertheless, it has nothing to do with Corona beer despite a surge in Internet searches for “beer virus.” The virus’ name stems from the crown-like spikes on its surface.

Many of the initial Chinese patients who fell ill had been to Huanan, a large seafood and animal market in Wuhan. The connection to the now closed market suggested an animal source for the virus. Could it have been a rat?? The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) believes this coronavirus first emerged from animal to people, but it is now being transmitted person to person.

Animals played a part in past coronavius health scares  because coronaviruses are zoonotic, i.e., they are transmitted between animals and people. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome {“SARS”), first recognized in 2002 also in China,.was traced back to civit cats. A less well known coronavirus outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (“MERS”), was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Point the finger of blame at camels for MERS.

The growing spread of 2019-nCOV greatly concerns health and governmental officials. The outbreak erupted in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, a megacity of 11 million people in east central China. In addition to cases in China, 2019-nCOV has now been reported in Nepal, Vietnam, Cambodia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Macao, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia, Australia, Canada, the United States, Germany, and France. Yesterday, China; tomorrow, the world.

The first U.S. 2019-nCOV case was announced January 21st. To date five cases have been confirmed by CDC, currently the only entity in the country that can diagnose it. All five patients had recently returned from–you guessed it!–Wuhan. Accordingly health screenings of incoming travelers on direct and connecting flights from Wuhan have been implemented at five major airports: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, and New York (JFK). Outgoing travelers shouldn’t feel left out. CDC has issued a travel health notice recommending all nonessential travel to Hubei Province, China be avoided. (Well, duh!) The U.S. State Department has issued a similar warning. (Copycats!) So concerned were U.S. government officials for Americans still in Wuhan, that they chartered a Boeing 767 to evacuate U.S. citizens and diplomats.

Those remaining in Wuhan and surrounding areas are basically on lock down. On January 22nd, the Chinese government cut off trains, planes, and other links to Wuhan, a severe measure for the busy New Year travel time. The lock down was steadily expanded to surrounding cities and now affects over 50 million people. Two makeshift hospitals solely for coronavirus patients are being erected. Completion of the first hospital, to have 1,000 beds, was to be accomplished by February 3rd, i.e., in SIX days.

To avoid spread of the virus, New Year celebrations were cancelled in China and other countries. But it isn’t just New Year celebrations which have been impacted by the health threat. China’s economy has taken a big hit due to cancelled trips during their busiest travel time. In Hong Kong, schools have been ordered closed until February 17th. Likewise, Hong Kong Disneyworld is closed. Apparently Disney might make your dreams come true, but it can’t protect you from the nightmare of falling victim to a dread virus.

Chinese President Xi Jinping characterized the virus’ increasing spread as a “grave” situation. With over 100 deaths so far, the grave is the outcome for some patients. Worldwide cases now exceed 4,500, so the death toll will undoubtedly rise.

To control the spread of the virus, medical experts must determine how it is transmitted. They think the virus probably spreads through tiny droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. As a result, demand for face masks for protection has skyrocketed. The incubation period for the coronavirus is 1 to 14 days, and it’s infectious during that time. So, it can be spread by someone prior to their exhibiting symptoms and knowing they have it. Forget being a poet and not knowing it, you can be a coronavirus carrier and not know it.

What if you do get 2019-nCOV? The virus causes respiratory infections and symptoms similar to the common cold. Patients with the virus experience fever, coughing, and breathing problems such as wheezing and pneumonia. At the least, having the virus is uncomfortable; at the worst, it can be fatal.

Should Americans be concerned? Some public health experts are saying  reaction to the current situation is “hysteria and panic.” They point out that, at its current rate, 2019-nCOV is less deadly than this year’s U.S. flu season. Does this mean Americans should panic about the flu season instead?

While I’m not a doctor or public health expert, I do possess common sense and would encourage people everywhere to utilize theirs. Don’t travel to Hubei Province right now. Avoid situations where you might come in contact with people who have recently traveled there. If advised by your medical professional to get a flu shot, for heaven’s sake get one. Take into account the risk of exposure when in large public gatherings including, but not limited to, Chinese New Year celebrations. Consider wearing a face mask when out in public. You may not look smashing wearing that mask, but if it protects you from a possibly fatal illness, who really cares? Be like a rat in the Year of the Rat. Do what it takes to survive!

Just WONDER-ing:

Were you aware how widespread 2019-nCOV cases are? Are you alarmed about the situation? Should you be more concerned about catching the flu or 2019-nCOV?