Eliot K. Raman Jones | Student Writer
The deadly new coronavirus (2019-nCov) continues to spread, with a BBC News stat from 4th Feb. 2020 stating that 4,000 new cases were confirmed in China on Tuesday alone. The most recent death toll stands at 490 worldwide, but only two people have died outside of China: one in Hong Kong and one in the Philippines. However, despite the increasing number of infected cases and the slowly rising death toll, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has stated that 2019-nCov does not yet constitute a pandemic.
Pandemics are much more likely to be classified if the virus is brand new, able to infect people easily and has multiple ways of spreading from person to person. In the case of 2019-nCov there is no effective ‘cure’ at the time of writing. The best, albeit temporary, solution to the rising death toll is containment. While this would appear to be a moot point given 2019-nCov’s presence in countries such as Germany, the US, and the UK, individual containment efforts undertaken by multiple governments mean that 2019-nCov is less likely to continue its spread across the globe unchecked.
Scientists and the public have drawn comparisons between 2019-nCov and the SARS (Severe acute respiratory syndrome) disease of 2003. SARS was responsible for 774 deaths in 17 countries between November 2002 and July 2003, and the two diseases do have similarities but appear to differ in intensity. Both 2019-nCov and SARS originated in China, both appear to have originated in animals, as SARS was traced back to horseshoe bats and a comparison of the genetic sequence of 2019-nCov with bat coronaviruses shows a 96 percent similarity between the two. 2019-nCov has already surpassed SARS in the number of cases infected, but It has so far proved to have a much lower mortality rate, estimated by the WHO as around 2 percent, one-fifth of SARS’ 10 percent.
The intense media focus on 2019-nCov has also ignited a debate on what constitutes a proportional response to the virus. While 2019-nCov has proven itself deadly, China’s approach to containment has drawn criticism from international onlookers due to its heavy-handed nature. The doctor who initially reported 2019-nCov, Li Wenliang, was targeted by the Chinese police for ‘sharing false information’ and told that if he voiced his concerns in public again, he would be ‘brought to justice’. Wenliang died from contracting the virus on Thursday. China has also faced criticism for their manner of locking down infected areas, especially Wuhan. The complete lockdown in the city, with no transportation allowed in or out, was expanded to the rest of the cities in Hubei province, ultimately including around 50 million people. Despite these measures, the number of confirmed infections has doubled once every four days within China, so it is hard to tell if the preventative measures are working.
However, there are still reasons for hope during this outbreak. 2019-nCov was identified and determined to be a new virus quicker than ever before so that only a week after it was discovered China had already sequenced the virus and distributed with research labs around the globe. Additionally, the preventative measures one takes to avoid 2019-nCov are the same that one takes to avoid the common cold: washing hands, avoiding touching faces, and avoiding contact with anyone who’s sick. It’s just that the differences in familiarity between the two ailments mean some people will be more scared of 2019-nCov.