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Haynes: China reels as world works to stem spread of mysterious coronavirus

China continues to work to stem the spread of a mysterious coronavirus. (Getty Images)

Alexander Haynes is an aspiring journalist raised in the northwest with a background in investigation and policy. He is a graduate of an internship program at KTSW 89.9 in San Marcos, Texas and will always have a new book recommendation for anyone who asks. He has been reporting on the ground from Hong Kong during the city’s recent protests and time of civil unrest.

In early December, reports began circling in Wuhan, China that an unknown pneumonia had begun to crop up as people fell mysteriously ill. Chinese officials quickly isolated the source of the disease as the Huanan Seafood Wet Market, where live and exotic animal meats are sold, closing the market on Jan. 1, 2020.

No one had yet died from the mysterious strain of pneumonia, and Chinese officials had labeled the disease as “under control.”Still, international concern was growing.

The concern for residents of Hong Kong was palpable, as many remember the 2003 SARS outbreak that claimed 286 lives out of 1,750 total cases in Hong Kong. In mainland China, SARS inflicted 336 deaths across 5,329 cases. Scientists later revealed that the respiratory disease outbreak number could have been lowered had the Chinese government been more forthcoming with initial data.

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Hence, as the wet market was closed and cases still appeared, concern grew that this new virus was spreading due to a negligent and inactive Chinese government. In the initial stages of the virus (termed generation one), the virus had not spread from human to human. However, as the disease grew to the second generation, suspicions rose.

In the third generation of the disease, maturing earlier this week, Chinese officials confirmed the virus could be spread from human to human. The threat of an unknown, and rapidly mutating virus has since gripped the international community as Chinese New Year’s (also known as Spring Festival) descends, a time where people from China travel around the world to celebrate with family. Even more concerning is the fact Wuhan is Central China’s transportation hub, home to 11 million people, providing easy pathways for the disease to spread.

Although the threat of a globally spreading disease is evident, officials of the World Health Organization (WHO) declined to issue a global emergency ordinance for the second straight day on Thursday afternoon, citing that there had been “No evidence,” of human-human contraction of the virus outside of China.

The fourth generation of the disease, which has shown signs of arriving this week and could be in full force by next Monday, would host key evidence to whether the disease is spreading from human to human outside of China.

Stopping the spread of generation four in China is a chief reason for Wuhan being put on lockdown. Because the incubation period is roughly 10 to 14 days, those who have the disease outside China, hopefully, only have the second generation of the virus. That would be a generation which may not be as virulent. The urgency to isolate the disease, however, has increased, as a new report suggests the latest strain is sustaining its spread with human to human contact..

The threat to Wuhan has only increased as the city was put on lockdown. Due to sheer panic, hospitals have become overwhelmed with patients, many of whom may not have the coronavirus. Due to packed lines, those perfectly healthy may become infected. Furthermore, reports from China Central Television indicate that supplies are running low and medical accommodations for professionals are not alleviating them from risk.

Internal reports show that the city has even developed a military presence due to public instability. China has canceled large-scale, public Chinese New Year celebrations in order to curb the spread of the virus. In Wuhan, temporary hospitals are being built to handle the wave of sick patients. Huangang, home to 7.5 million people, and Ezhou, home to a million people, have also been put on lockdown, with more cities possibly to follow.

The international community has also seen an increased reason to be alarmed. One Chinese citizen who had a fever evaded a border check by taking cold medicine, flew to Paris, ate at a restaurant, later bragged about it on social media, and then was later tracked by the Chinese Embassy in Paris.

Although one case in Australia and two others in Moscow tested negative for the coronavirus strain, cases have spread to Macau (prompting the international gambling capital to ponder closing down their casinos), Hong Kong, Seattle, Thailand (two of which have been cured), two in Japan (one cured), Vietnam, Singapore, two in South Korea, a possible case in a Texas A&M student, and a possible case in New Jersey. The Seattle patient is in satisfactory condition and there is little reason for concern in the Pacific Northwest at this time.

Initial testing of the novel strain of coronavirus is mixed. One test indicates that it is highly infectious, but not as deadly as SARS was. The same test, however, found the disease was rapidly mutating with a possible origin in fruit bats, a delicacy in some Chinese cities. However, other meats may have been carrying the virus as well, and no definitive animal source has been identified.

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Of curiosity, the study found that disease attached to the protein receptor ACE-2, just as other SARS strains. However, the novel coronavirus attached with more force and with greater affinity. Furthermore, the virus is an RNA virus, implicating it is simpler and thus could evolve at a rapid pace, giving rise to concern laboratories could not keep up with each iteration of evolution.

Further studies do not aid optimism. A highly-respected scientist and lead SARS researcher, Professor Yi Guan of Hong Kong University, stated that the infection rate could be 10 times that of SARS in 2003. Imperial College London research has indicated the total number of symptomatic people in Wuhan could be 4,000 as of Jan. 18, although they do provided a range for statistical sensitivity, with the low being 2,300 symptomatic people.

As of 6 p.m. Pacific Time on January 23, 2020, the total number of confirmed cases in China stands at 835, with 25 deaths and 1,072 suspected cases. Coronavirus has infected the elderly and children most virulently. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has publicly chastised China for not being forthcoming with all data, limiting international efforts to provide aid.

All deaths have been patients with pre-existing conditions. Health authorities state that symptoms are fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. Prevention of the disease is routine; wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands, and stay home when your sick. No treatment exists and recovery depends entirely on the person’s immune system response.

You can track all confirmed cases of the coronavirus on this interactive map.

You can follow Alexander Haynes’ reporting from China on Twitter, at @ACLHaynes. Make sure to listen to The Saul Spady Show every morning from 6-9 a.m. on 770 KTTH for these types of stories and more.

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