The Wuhan Coronavirus is potentially much worse than SARS.
I’m fascinated by this story because I’ve lived in China for nearly five years; I live in Thailand now, and we have 8 cases of infected individuals; and I just got over a month-long bout of bronchitis so am a little sensitive about airborne communicable diseases.
The epicenter for the 2019-nCoV virus is Wuhan, China, and the virus was detected about a month ago, at the end of December. Already more than 15 Chinese cities are in lock-down. There are officially 2,700 cases, 400 people in critical condition, and 80 deaths. Unlike in 2002, when SARS broke out, Chinese are now traveling more than ever, and there are today flights going out of China all around the globe. Also, very significantly, unlike SARS, this virus is contagious while still in the incubation phase, during which there may be no symptoms, and which may last as long as 2 weeks. This makes it impossible to detect infected and contagious people at airports unless they are already showing symptoms. Considering the long incubation period, and how new this virus is, most people who are contagious at this point may not be showing symptoms. In other words, the floodgates are open, and it’s only the minority of infected individuals who are being isolated from the public.
SARS emerged in mid November, 2002, and by mid February, there were 806 cases and 34 deaths. That’s three months as compared to one, and the Wu-flu (as some call it on social media within China) has already infected more than 3 times as many people, and reached more than double the death count in a third the time. Further, because of the 10-day delay, on average, between infection and detection, “researchers at Northeastern University and Imperial College London estimated that the number of actual infections may be 10 times higher than those confirmed at the time of reporting.” If that is the case, that’s at least 20,000 cases.
As regards mortality, SARS had 8,098 cases in total, resulting in 774 deaths. That’s about 1 in 10 people dying from the disease. The Wu-flu, with 80 deaths so far out of 2,700 cases, gives us about 1 in 30 people dying (and that’s if the 400 people in critical condition survive). If half of those 400 were to die, we’d be at the 10% margin, equaling SARS for deadliness. If there are indeed 10 times as many infected as are showing symptoms, and the mortality ratio remains the same, that would mean about 800 deaths, eclipsing SARS’ final toll of 774. But the Wu-flu is just getting started, and I haven’t seen any encouraging words about a let up in the speed at which it is spreading. On the contrary, Chinese authorities are now saying the virus has become increasingly transferable. Nevetheless, some sources are saying that the illness is “mild”.
The virus hit at the worst possible time in China, which is at the New Year, when the greatest migration of people yearly occurs as Chinese travel from province to province in order to be with their families. Of the 11,000,000 residents of Wuhan, fully 5,000,000 left to other parts of China, and elsewhere. Is there any possibility of containing a virus when 5 million people from the epicenter of the outbreak have flooded other provinces in the country?
On top of all this, we can’t trust the reporting coming out of China, which we are largely relying on. When they were still reporting that the only infections in China were in Wuhan, there were already confirmed cases in Japan and Thailand.
If China is downplaying the severity of the virus, we might look less to what it is saying than to what it is doing. Let’s put those quarantined cities in perspective. Part of the reason I’m sensitive to this issue is that I’ve lived in China, in which case what happens there is not an abstraction, but something I can easily imagine. I’ve never been to Wuhan, but lived in much smaller cities, and have visited equally enormous ones. Wuhan is presently a ghost town. People aren’t allowed to drive, and hardly anyone can be seen in the street. If you live in Los Angeles, consider Wuhan has nearly 3 times your population (11 million compared to 4), and if you are in London it has 3 million people more than your city. Now imagine what it would take for your government to quarantine the city you live in, and make it a ghost town. Keep in mind that it would take much more for China to take that action than it would your own country, which is more likely to put people’s lives above other considerations, such as saving face.
There are already 8 confirmed cases of Wu-flu in Thailand, where I currently reside with my American girlfriend. There is even one suspected case in the city I live in. We exist in a “post truth” world where people are so good at manipulating statistics, completely uninhibited in spreading lies, and more capable than ever of appealing to our emotions, instincts, sense of common sense, and so on…. The only tool we really have left to hook onto reality is reason, objectivity, and the scientific method. Well, I suppose there are spiritual and artistic avenues of apprehending and conveying truth, but not about factual matters like the 2019-nCoV virus.
I have to ask myself what logical reason is there that a virus that spread from one seafood market, and probably one snake, and one mutated virus within that snake, to thousands of people won’t spread here as well from 8 confirmed cases. One answer is that we knew about it beforehand and we were able to isolate the individuals. However, if there are as many undetected cases, or far more, how are we going to stop the spread if China can’t? The infection rate is apparently somewhere between 1-4, as in if one person gets it, they are spreading it to 1-4 people.
I don’t have a logical response to put myself at ease. I must rely on hope, faith, and feeling to say that there just must be something I’m missing, and this disease is not as infectious or deadly as quarantining 15 cities would suggest.
The only thing that is keeping the WHO from declaring 2019-nCoV a global pandemic is that the virus is not being transmitted from person to person outside of China. Once that happens, it’s the next level of danger. I ask myself, how is it possible that the virus is transmitted from person to person in China, but not outside of it? It is either transmitted from person to person or it isn’t, and they are saying that it definitely is, which is why you see the Chinese doctors and nurses wearing full protective suits, gloves, masks, and face shields.
Presently the outstanding hope is that transference is only happening between close contact, which explains why all knows cases issue specifically from Wuhan. This suggests that while one is contagious long before having symptoms, it does not spread as easily as other flus. It could also be that thousands of people are in the incubation stage, and we just don’t know it yet. Until that is sorted out, we don’t know how concerned and vigilant we have to be, but it’s better to err on the side of caution.
Right, there are about 13 million cases of the flu in America this season, and 6,600 deaths, so, I should keep things in perspective. But that’s a 1 in nearly 2000 chance of dying, not one in 30, or 1 in 10. If you contract the Wu-flu you have a higher on average chance of dying than rolling snake eyes (which is 1/36, I just looked it up).
And yet, somehow, while Shanghai closed Disneyland for fear of the virus spreading, planes are arriving here from Beijing at present. I just looked on Expedia for flights from Beijing to Los Angeles, and they are packed. At least the the Chinese can go to Disneyland in Anaheim.
I may be overreacting, but I wish there was some logical sign that I need not be worried, either about contracting the Wu-flu myself, or the city I live in being locked down when the virus takes root here.
I’m kinda’ hoping that by the time the virus would reach me, it will have already hit other places like Bangkok and Chiangmai much worse (because they get astronomically more Chinese tourists) and people will be far more informed and diligent about not spreading the virus. That’s assuming the damned thing doesn’t mutate and grow stronger, either more deadly or more transferable.
This is a case where I definitely don’t want to be right, nor to be able to say “I told you so”. I’m hoping my logic is failing me, and I’ve lost my toehold on reality. I often end my articles admitting that I very well may be wrong, and reminding people that they are only wrong until they admit they are wrong, at which point they merely WERE wrong, but aren’t anymore. Now I’m banking on being out on a limb singing my cuckoo song, and it wouldn’t be the first time. I’d rather be a bit of a nutter than a bit of a goner.
The worse case scenario for me would probably be the virus hitting this area, not being able to work, and if I got it, yuck, being sick for up to a month, and possibly spending some time in a local hospital (not to all the good people around me getting ill!). The best case scenario is the virus is not that strong, and it hasn’t taken off outside of China because, for some presently unknown reason, the only people who are known to have it got it in Wuhan. Well, there’s worse case scenarios than the one I made, such as if the virus mutates, but I’m not worried about that yet. I’m just focused on what logic says I can’t escape. The virus is spreading, it’s here, and nobody has been able to contain it.
There remain a few missing pieces, including just how transferable and how dangerous the virus really is. And we are in a window of not knowing, because of the long incubration period, how many are really infected. Once we have those answers, we’ll know what we are really dealing with.