Most mainstream news outlets claim that the Wuhan coronavirus isn’t as dangerous as the SARS or MERS virus, but is that really true?
According to official numbers, there are about 40.000 suspected cases in China with 13.000 people already in quarantine. The capital city of the (Hubei) province (Wuhan) reported 14,982 cases as of Sunday, with the death rate hitting 4.06 percent, which is much lower than the reported death rate of the SARS (15%) and MERS (25%) virus.
Some 123,827 people who had close contact with infected patients are under close watch in Hubei. However, the real number of suspected cases and close contacts under observation in Wuhan are still unknown.
First, for nearly four weeks, the municipal government officials in Wuhan worked to hide the severity of the disease. Then, when scientific disclosures made it untenable to downplay the crisis, regional authorities began placing quarantines unprecedented in scale and intensity over large swaths of the country.
The virus has spread worldwide to almost 30 countries with more than 360 cases have been confirmed outside mainland China, including Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia, Italy, France, USA, the U.K. and Spain.
“Dramatic reductions” in the pace of the disease’s spread should begin this month if containment works, Dr. Ian Lipkin, director of Columbia University’s Center for Infection and Immunity, said in an online news conference on Sunday.
However, he said, if new cases spike as people return to work after the Lunar New Year holiday, which was extended to reduce the risk of spreading the virus, then “we’ll know we’re in trouble.”
Tracking the virus
Chinese authorities have been using data from the world’s most sophisticated mass surveillance system to track coronavirus victims.
Using facial recognition cameras, security companies have boasted they can scan for people with low-grade fevers and even recognise them while wearing masks.
Chinese citizens have long been aware that they are tracked by the world’s most sophisticated system of electronic surveillance.
However the coronavirus emergency has brought some of that technology out of the shadows, providing the authorities with a justification for sweeping methods of high tech social control.
Although there has been some grumbling on social media, for now citizens seem to be accepting the extra intrusion, or even embracing it, as a means to combat the health emergency.
China’s state censors have clamped down this week on digital items related to the outbreak of the new coronavirus, removing local news reports that expose the dire circumstances in the city of Wuhan, epicenter of the outbreak, and scrubbing social media platforms of posts from Wuhan residents who say they are ill and desperate for medical care and supplies.
Wuhan coronavirus vs. SARS
The fatality toll has passed the 774 people believed to have died of SARS, another viral outbreak that originated in China. The total of 37,198 confirmed cases of the new virus vastly exceeds the 8,098 sickened by SARS.
The Wuhan coronavirus is already hurting the economy
The Wuhan coronavirus conspiracy theories
Some of the untruths about the coronavirus appear motivated by commercial interest. Others seem driven by ethnic suspicion and xenophobia. Still others have speculated that the coronavirus is a bioweapon developed by China to kill Uighur Muslims, or by the United States to destroy the Chinese economy.
The problem with conspiracy theories is that they often seem to have some whiff of truth. That makes them just plausible enough to be credible.
On a side note:
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 19 million Americans have been infected with the flu so far this season, and 180,000 of them have been hospitalized because of the illness. The flu virus has already killed an estimated 10,000 people across the U.S., including 68 children, according to the CDC.
Iahn Gonsenhauser, MD, chief quality and patient safety officer at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, said: “Flu is by far the thing we should be worried about because it’s the thing we’re more likely to encounter.
While coronaviruses are not new, this particular one (known as 2019-nCoV) is. “We’ve seen coronavirus before, but this is a new version,” Gonsenhauser says.
He adds: “If people were as concerned about influenza as they were about coronavirus we could potentially really create a much lower propensity for flu virus to spread in the U.S.”