It seems like every day there is a new story about some new factor in the coronavirus outbreak. But how did this all happen? Well, ending 2019 and going into 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) brought attention to an outbreak of respiratory disease caused by a new coronavirus in Wuhan City in Hubei Province, China. Coronaviruses are part of a large family of viruses that are common in many animals (camels, cattle, cats and bats); although this strain of diseases rarely impact humans, this particular virus, dubbed COVID-19, breaks that trend. The disease is similar to SARS and MERS in that it originates from bats. Many of the people involved in the initial outbreak had ties to a large seafood and animal market in Wuhan, which suggests an original animal-to-person spread; however, since the jump from animals to humans, the transmission of the disease has largely been from interpersonal interaction. Travel out of Wuhan has brought the virus to other countries, including the United States and France, where the first death outside of China was reported. On January 30, 2020 the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the WHO declared the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern.”
The outbreak of the virus coincided with Lunar New Year, a very important holiday in Chinese culture. Many people travel to celebrate with loved ones, which experts say contributed to the fast spread of the disease. The timing also means that the full economic impact of the virus has not been felt yet. The Lunar New Year always brings a disruption in commerce, but as the holiday ends but workers are still quarantined in cities around China, the economy is expected to suffer. In an interview with the Harvard Gazette, Harvard Business School Asian industrial competitiveness expert Willy Shih said, “You can imagine being a factory manager: “I have all these people working in close quarters…I don’t have enough masks…If one of them gets sick, and I have contagion in the factory, how am I going to quarantine them?”’ In addition, Chinese outbound tourism is dwindling, which will have a big impact on the United States among other countries. Shih predicts that this outbreak will be the biggest event impacting the global economy in 2020.
In the United States there are 15 cases of the new coronavirus, all originating from recent travelers to Wuhan. All passengers arriving from Wuhan and other large Chinese cities are sent to certain quarantine cities for a 14 day quarantine before they are allowed to return back into American society. Within this window it should become clear if a passenger has contracted the virus or not, and if they have they can be transported safely and quickly to a medical center equipped to deal with COVID-19. Globally, over 69,000 cases of the new coronavirus have been reported and over 1,100 people have died from the virus, most in mainland China. However, in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has maintained that the risk for new infections in low, and unless you are a healthcare professional treating patients with COVID-19, normal flu prevention techniques like washing hands (in addition to getting the flu shot) should be sufficient to protect against the new coronavirus.
By Eliana Sauer