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Haynes: Coronavirus spurring protests, unrest across China

Medical workers hold a strike near Queen Mary Hospital to demand the government shut the city's border with China to reduce the spread of the 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 (Hubei Province) that an unknown strain of 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 illness, and Chinese officials had labeled the disease as “under control”; still international concern was growing.

The virus was later identified by scientists as a novel coronavirus, or nCoV-2019, a relative of the SARS virus which terrified China and the rest of the world in 2003. nCoV-2019 is an RNA virus, allowing it to mutate with ease, attaching to the ACE-2 protein which controls pulmonary function.

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A case study of the first 99 patients in Wuhan shows the symptoms to be relatively on par with pneumonia – fever, chest pain, difficulty breathing – and additional symptoms such as diarrhea and muscle aches. While no statistical test can definitively show the mortality rate in a still-mutating virus, nCoV-2019 is more likely to cause death in older patients with pre-existing conditions. Thus far, SARS 2003 is deadlier, while nCoV-2019 is proving to be more infectious.

Now, a month after the market has been closed, the virus is still spreading, with triple the number of infections in China (17,114) alone than they had the entirety of the eight-month long SARS outbreak in 2003 (5,327 cases).

Now across twenty-seven countries, total cases have risen to 17,295 with 362 deaths (350 deaths being in Hubei), and 487 people recovered (as of February 2, 2020 at 6 p.m. PST). The Philippines witnessed the first death of a patient outside of China on Saturday evening.

Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) hosted a second emergency meeting, declaring the outbreak a public health emergency. Criticism has poured onto WHO for what many perceive as pandering to China’s government, specifically as there are indications China could have prevented disaster in the Hubei Province by being more forthcoming with their citizens about the new virus.

All indications point to Hubei hospitals being under-resourced, leaving doctors without sufficient material to assist or test patients. There is a widespread lack of masks throughout most provinces, prompting some to increase the risk of infection by reusing a mask. The government has responded by taking over allocation of mask sales.

While runs on stores for food were reported last week, those runs have stopped as people are too scared to leave their homes, or are not allowed to leave in heavily quarantined areas.

Several countries have begun to ban flights from China altogether. Major United States airlines have done exactly that, canceling all major flights as of Sunday. United Airlines will maintain a daily flight to Hong Kong. Furthermore, any U.S. citizens who have been to China recently will be automatically subjected to a 14-day quarantine, while most foreign nationals who have been to China in the last two weeks will not be allowed to enter.

At this time, there are only nine positive cases in the United States, including one human-to-human contraction occurring in Illinois (the remainder of the patients contracted the virus while in China). 114 other people have tested negative for the virus, while 121 tests are pending across 36 states, as of Jan. 31, 2020.

In Hong Kong, fear has only grown, leading to protesters and activists promising they will close the border if the government refuses to. The city has already run out of masks and has seen at least three grocery stores be the recipients of panic runs.

Most universities have curtailed classes until March, with many employers telling their employees to stay at home or work from home. Hospital staff are planning to strike starting Monday, citing severe governmental budget cuts (accounting for inflation, the budget is now lower than it was during the 2003 SARS outbreak) and a lack of adequate facilities.

Two housing developments have been staged as quarantine regions, and both have been the recipient of mass protests due to their proximity (100 meters) to dense populations. Despite pro-Beijing and pro-Democracy advocates — who have been at each other’s throats for months — joining together to protest in the past week, Chief Executive Carrie Lam has refused to close the border, slow border traffic beyond suspending mainland ferry and rail lines, or provide hospital staff with adequate emergency measures to handle what Hong Kong University staff are predicting to be an infection rate nothing short of tragic.

Drastic prevention measures are being called on by hospital staff precisely because nCoV-2019 has no cure; the body’s immune system and additional therapeutics must fight back to restore patients to health.

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Fortunately, the man diagnosed in Everett, Washington has shown tremendous signs of recovery. A study revealed that he received “largely supportive treatment,” including ibuprofen, oxygen, acetaminophen, and guaifenesin.

The first man diagnosed in Jingzhou City, Hubei, China, has also recovered, sharing his experience of fighting the virus, specifically the fever. However, health officials still stress there is no cure, and the best method to fight the disease is prevention and quarantine.

The other factor which may not be readily curable is a global economic slowdown. Many companies in the United States source material from China, specifically Wuhan. With the national holiday being extended, and businesses having their employees staying home, there will be an inevitable slowdown. Even packages that contain material have been halted as these may be infected with the virus, as it can live on surfaces.

One estimate puts the slowdown at $160 billion worldwide, as China now has a share of 17 percent of global output. The Hang Seng (Hong Kong’s stock exchange, a central market for banks) has fallen from a high of 29.056,42 points in the middle of January, to a low of 26.312,63 when it closed on Friday evening.

The Chinese stock exchange opened Monday morning (China Standard Time) with investors bracing for a traumatic fall that could have global repercussions. As a result, the government opened with a shock by investing 1.2 trillion yuan into the economy while the People’s Bank of China lowered the reverse repurchase rate from 2.5 percent to 2.4 percent (seven-day tenor) and from 2.65 percent to 2.55 percent (14-day tenor), both in hopes of maintaining economic stability.

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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