Despite the extreme quarantine measures taken by Chinese officials to stem the spread of the 2019 Novel Coronvirus (COVID-19), or Wuhan virus, the infectious, flu-like affliction continues to spread worldwide at an unprecedented rate. As of March 2, 2020, there are more than 90,000 reported cases in at least 53 countries, with more than 3,000 deaths globally.
This is a sharp increase from the 7,711 instances of the virus, including 200 deaths in China, and the 100 cases reported in 19 countries worldwide, just four weeks ago. To prevent the disease from becoming a pandemic, nations worldwide are imposing strict measures, such as travel restrictions and school closures. Here are a few that went into effect over the past week.
In two televised press conferences on February 27, 2020, and February 29, 2020, President Donald Trump and health experts assured Americans that the risk of contracting the disease was still extremely low in the US. They urged citizens not to panic and continue with their day-to-day lives. The US leader also assured Americans that he would devote all the resources necessary to curtail the spread of the infection, which has, as of March 2, 2020, afflicted 90 residents, six of whom have died. So far, all of the fatalities have occurred in Washington state. "We'll spend whatever is appropriate. Hopefully, we won't have to spend so much because we really think that we've done a great job in keeping it down to a minimum," the president said.
The US leader also appointed Vice President Michael Pence to oversee the effort to fight the virus. "Mike will be working with the professionals, doctors, and everybody else that is working. The team is brilliant. I spent a lot of time with the team the last couple weeks," he said. "But they are brilliant, and we're doing really well, and Mike is going to be in charge, and Mike will report back to me."
As an added precautionary measure, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) is urging Americans to avoid traveling to countries most impacted by the outbreak. These include China, South Korea, Iran, and Italy.
Outside of China, the largest outbreak of the Wuhan virus has been reported in South Korea. As of March 2, 2020, there are 4,335 confirmed cases and at least 22 infection-related deaths. To prevent it from spreading further, government officials have announced that suspected patients caught breaking the mandated two-week quarantine will face up to a year in prison or a 10 million won ($8,200) fine. They also want individuals who have come within 7 feet (2 meters) of a coronavirus patient to self-quarantine by staying home for two weeks. Those who comply will be provided financial assistance to compensate for the lost wages.
Additionally, though most of the reported cases have been in the cities of Seoul and Daegu and the neighboring North Gyeongsang province, the country's leaders are urging all citizens to stay indoors as much as possible. They have also closed all schools and postponed the start of the new term by three weeks, from early March to early April.
Iran currently has the highest number of confirmed Wuhan virus cases outside Asia — 1,501, including 61 deaths, as of March 2, 2020. The government is urging locals to stay at home and to avoid mass gatherings, including funerals for coronavirus victims. The authorities also imposed a ban on members of the public visiting patients at hospitals across the country.
"The safest place is our homes and our cities," Health Ministry spokesperson Kianoush Jahanpour said in a televised address. "We have to reduce our visits, even attending funerals, and of course, those people who are mourning will feel guilty if they find that their ceremony causes the disease to spread."
Italy, which has reported 1,600 cases, including 34 coronavirus-related fatalities, has cordoned off eleven towns and villages where most of the infections have occurred. Two impacted regions include Lombardy and Venato, whose respective capitals, Milan and Venice, are popular business and holiday destinations. The regions' estimated 100,000 residents have been asked to remain in their homes for two weeks as authorities scramble to contain the spread. The officials have also stopped people from entering or leaving the affected areas, suspended all public events, and closed down tourist attractions, such as museums.
Japan, which currently has more than 910 infections, including eight deaths, has not yet seen as rapid a jump in new cases as some of the other countries. To keep it that way, on February 27, 2020, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe requested the closure of all elementary, middle, and high schools until spring break, which starts in late March. Though the timing, which coincides with the end of Japan's school year and final examinations, is unfortunate, the country's leader believes it is necessary.
"The coming week or two is an extremely important time," Mr. Abe said. "This is to prioritize the health and safety of the children and take precautions to avoid the risk of possible large-scale infections for many children and teachers who gather and spend hours together every day."
Though the Wuhan virus's worldwide spread is disconcerting, there is a glimmer of hope from mainland China, which was the epicenter of the outbreak. Since a massive spike in mid-February, the number of new cases being reported daily has stayed in the hundreds, rather than the thousands being reported earlier. This is good news for the millions of Chinese residents who are gradually being allowed to resume their normal lives after being quarantined for several months. More importantly, it indicates that with precautionary measures, like the ones being undertaken by countries worldwide, the virus can be effectively halted.
Should I be concerned?
The CDC maintains that the risk of contracting the Wuhan virus is relatively low unless you have been, or are, in contact with someone that has recently traveled to a country, or an area, that has experienced a large outbreak. Additionally, thus far, the virus has proved fatal to only about 2 percent of those infected, with the risks increasing significantly for elderly patients. Infectious disease experts believe the overall fatality numbers could be even lower due to the possibility of thousands of undetected infections around the world, many of them mild or even with no symptoms at all.
What symptoms should I be looking out for?
Wuhan virus symptoms are similar to those experienced with the flu. They include fever, cough, fatigue, muscle pain, and shortness of breath. Some victims have also experienced severe headaches and diarrhea. The CDC says if diagnosed on time, most people will recover on their own by simply resting and taking commonly-available cold medications.
When will the Wuhan virus vaccine be available?
Scientists worldwide are scrambling to create an effective vaccine against the new coronavirus. However, Peter Marks, the director of the US Federal Drug Administration's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, warns that it will take a few months before one is ready and even more time to ensure that it is safe for the public. He is, however, cautiously optimistic that medication used for previous coronavirus strains, currently being tested in Chinese hospitals, may help severely ill patients fight the disease.
How can I remain healthy?
Though scientists are not entirely sure how this virus is spreading, coronaviruses typically pass through droplets containing large particles that can only be suspended in the air for three to six feet before dissipating. Hence, experts recommend taking simple precautions, like washing hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, avoiding touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with your hands, and staying away from people displaying flu-like symptoms. Those experiencing any of the symptoms associated with the virus are advised to cover their coughs and sneezes with their inner elbows. Most importantly, however, they should stay away from school, work, or any public area where they risk infecting others.
Resources: marketwatch.com, CNN.com, BBC.com, Guardian.com