China’s New Viral Pneumonia Heightens Global Alarm

January 22, 2020 Updated: January 27, 2020
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BEIJING/SHANGHAI—Deaths from China’s new viral pneumonia heightened global fears of contagion from an infection suspected to have come from animals.

The previously unknown and contagious coronavirus strain emerged from the central city of Wuhan, with cases now detected as far away as the United States. Officials believe the origin to be a market where wildlife is traded illegally.

The World Health Organization (WHO) began an emergency meeting to rule if the outbreak was a global health emergency.

After official appeals to stay calm, many Chinese were cancelling trips, buying face masks, avoiding public places such as cinemas and shopping centers, and even turning to an online plague simulation game or watching disaster movie “The Flu” as a way to cope.

“The best way to conquer fear is to confront fear,” said one commentator on China’s Twitter-like Weibo.

The virus has spread from Wuhan around China to population centers including Beijing, Shanghai, Macau and Hong Kong.

Abroad, Thailand has confirmed four cases, while the United States, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan have each reported one.

President Donald Trump said the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had a good containment plan. “We think it is going to be handled very well,” he said at Davos in Switzerland.

Epoch Times Photo
Officials monitor thermal scanners at a temperature monitoring station at Taipa Ferry Terminal in Macau, China, on Jan. 8, 2020. (Macau SAR Health Bureau/Handout via Reuters)

Respiratory Threat

The virus, which can cause pneumonia, was being spread via breathing. Symptoms include fever, coughing and difficulty breathing.

There is no vaccine for the virus.

Fears of a pandemic initially spooked markets, with aviation and luxury goods stocks hit and the yuan falling.

With more than 11 million people, Wuhan is central China’s main industrial and commercial center and an important transport hub, home to the country’s largest inland port and gateway to its giant Three Gorges hydroelectric dam.

WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said new cases would appear as China stepped up monitoring. But Li said there was no evidence of “super-spreaders” capable of disseminating the virus more widely, as happened during the SARS outbreak. SARS was thought to have crossed to humans from civet cats sold for food.

However, some experts are skeptical about China’ monitoring efforts.

“We have reason to doubt whether surv (surveillance) is adequate as cases mount,” tweeted Lawrence Gostin, a public health expert at Georgetown University Law School in Washington.

Global Precautions

Airports round the world have stepped up screening of people from China.

Russia’s consumer safety watchdog said it had strengthened its sanitary and quarantine control, Britain said it would start enhanced monitoring of passengers arriving from Wuhan and Singapore started screening all passengers arriving from China.

The Chinese-ruled gambling hub of Macau confirmed its first case of pneumonia linked to the coronavirus and tightened body-temperature screening measures.

A first case of the virus emerged in Hong Kong on Wednesday, media reported. The patient arrived via high-speed railway from the mainland and had been quarantined.

“The whole world is watching,” the city’s commerce secretary, Edward Yau, told Reuters at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Mexico said it was investigating a potential case of the virus.

North Korea banned foreign tourists from Wednesday due to the virus, several foreign tour operators said, losing one of its main sources of foreign currency.

Sport too was affected, with some qualifying boxing matches for the 2020 Olympics set for Wuhan cancelled and women’s football qualifiers shifted to Nanjing.