Today, the world is looking at closed borders, cancelled flights & hurting economies while the Wuhan Coronavirus continues its rampage across the world.
The people who are stranded on cruise ships in Japan and Hong Kong are very real reasons why we should not dismiss the Wuhan Coronavirus as just another flu.
Looking at how fast the virus has spread in countries which have imported the virus, we can have a good estimate of how long the virus had been in Wuhan before Beijing made the decision to act on the issue.
Wuhan reported the first case on 19th January 2020 and hit 500 cases in just 4 days. This is starkly different from the trends seen in Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore.
Wuhan may be a city with 11 million people which is a sizable population. It doesn’t seem to be the right environment for a virus to spread so quickly.
Japan has just reported 41 new cases from a cruise ship. It would take very high population density for the virus to spread at the pace similar to the numbers reported by China.
It is speculated that the coronavirus was already an issue in Wuhan in December 2019. However, medical professionals who are involved in the treatment of the infected are prohibited from discussing the issue or even acknowledging that there is a likelihood of outbreak.
If the virus had been able to spread from December 2019 to 23rd January 2020, it may account for the 500+ infected cases on 23rd January 2020.
Beijing has acknowledged slow handling of the issue and warning other countries about the outbreak.
The sluggish announcements by the World Health Organization (WHO) to recognize the threat also caused countries to react slowly towards the contagion.
China’s influence on the WHO has also delayed the escalation of the threat.
We have some questions to ask and provide assessments of:
1. Does China know of the virus earlier in 2019?
A highly probable situation considering the trend of infected cases. The pace of infection is not similar to other countries with imported cases. The structure of China’s government has also showed a lack of transparency to the international community before.
China had also sequenced the genome of the virus rather quickly and shared it with the international community. That’s not consistent with China’s usual playbook.
2. How serious is the situation in Wuhan?
Based on many reports from social media, which lacks verification, crematoria in Wuhan had been working 24/7 to handle the human remains for those who passed on. This has been reported by several different sources.
There have been many reports of hospitals being overwhelmed by huge numbers of patients with people dying in the queue. This is logical and plausible.
On a factual perspective, the lockdown of Wuhan is a huge sacrifice to China. It is a hard decision which will not be made lightly, considering Wuhan is a transport hub. The intensity of community spread must have been high enough for such a measure.
China has reported sending 6000 medical personnel from the rest of the country to Wuhan for assistance. If the hospitals aren’t overwhelmed and the infections are manageable, would it be necessary to send such a high number of professionals? At the time of that report, there were 2000 cases of infections within Wuhan.
All these factors point to the assessment that the situation is grave and irreparable within Wuhan.
3. Are infection numbers under-reported by China?
This is almost a certain yes. If hospitals are indeed overwhelmed, the is no way that accurate reporting can be done. Out of all the patients, only those who received a medical assessment are counted. As for the patients who died while in the queue, gave up waiting, chose to self-quarantine or simply just tried to live with the symptoms, they were never counted.
There is also the issue of adequate test kits. It is certain that test kits are much fewer than the patients that need to be tested. This artificially reduces the reported infections as many patients who are infected aren’t actually diagnosed.
Patients are also turned away as hospitals are at their limits. This people in this group are told to self-quarantine at home. It is unknown if they are really infected or have passed on. This forms another gap in the reports.
Mortality rates are very likely to be under-reported as patients who pass on with complications like heart attack or pneumonia due to the virus are recorded as deaths by heart attack or pneumonia, instead of the viral infection. This greatly downplays the seriousness of the epidemic.
These actions have also made the international community underestimate the risks regarding the virus.
There are many gaps in how the situation has developed in China. Referencing the speed at which the virus has spread from Wuhan to the rest of China, we have an indication of the true intensity of the epidemic.
Countries should reference the trend and form their assessments. The reports from Wuhan are simply poorly collected data which does not offer a true perspective of the situation.
As much as the WHO and international community can claim to act based on evidence and data, they are very likely to be looking at the wrong things.
China will need to revise their strategy of diplomacy and relations after this pandemic. That might not be an easy task.
The good thing out of this pandemic is that the Hong Kong protests have stopped. USA and Iran have taken a timeout. The USA trade war with China has also come to a halt. The world seems to enjoy a short period of peace.
How long will this last? How long do we want it to last?
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