Message of the Day: Disease
Coronavirus Deaths Surpass SARS, The New York Times, Feb. 4, 2020
Yesterday, the front page of The New York Times featured an article about Coronavirus deaths having surpassed the SARS virus, also originating in China, in 2002 and 2003.
Lengthy in-depth briefings are ongoing.
And two more articles, in Der Spiegel in Berlin, yesterday (the cover article from the February 1, 2020 magazine), and in National Geographic tomorrow, just posted.
Excellent and chilling all, which will follow.
There’s been no shortage of headlines in all media world-wide on this issue.
Even in the middle of one of the most eventful weeks imaginable already.
Which is really the point. We’ll return to this week’s other issues as they unfold further. But the point here is that the Coronavirus issue represents a larger story that is increasingly with us in the one world we are in, increasingly borderless no matter how much borders are invoked.
Disease in the one-world era may well turn out to be the biggest threat to the human species and to life on earth, in part because lack of global governance, cooperation, preparation and infrastructure to match the facts on the ground of a one world reality–again, not an ideology, but a functional reality.
Last week, after the virus had spread from China to a total of 24 countries, the World Health Organization declared Coronavirus an international public health emergency. The first case in the US was here in Seattle, brought by plane from China.
As the article below in Der Spiegel pointedly summarizes:
The story of the coronavirus is about more than just medicine and China. It is a lesson on the increasing interdependence – and the political, economic and social dimensions – of today’s world. It is a story about the globalization of danger.
This story is likely to get much worse before it gets better. But whether it’s this story or the next threat of global pandemic, the end point will be the end at some point, unless global reality, global governance, global cooperation, global equality and global sustainability converge.
Here are the articles:
By Sui-Lee Wee. Feb. 4, 2020, The New York Times
The number of dead is likely to grow as the tally of confirmed infections surges by more than 2,000 every day. “There’s no sign that it’s getting better,” said a health expert.
China’s Communist Party leadership called the month-old coronavirus epidemic a “major test” on Monday as other nations escalated efforts to isolate China, unnerving China’s stock market, depressing global oil prices and raising new anxiety about the world’s most populous country.
The growing global move to effectively cut off China’s 1.4 billion people came as government officials reported the new coronavirus strain had killed more in mainland China, 425 as of Tuesday morning, than the SARS outbreak in 2002 and 2003, confirming it as one of the deadliest epidemics in recent Chinese history.
Many leading infectious disease experts say the outbreak is likely to become a pandemic, defined as an ongoing epidemic on two or more continents, and that stringent anti-contagion restrictions may have come too late.
“There’s no sign that it’s getting better,” said Leo Poon, division head of the public health laboratory sciences department at the University of Hong Kong. “We don’t see a pattern of decline, and that’s a problem.”
President Xi Jinping of China called on Monday for all officials to make reducing the number of infections and deaths a top priority.
Coronavirus Map: Tracking the Spread of the Outbreak
The virus has sickened more than 40,500 people in China and 24 other countries.
Mr. Xi presided over a meeting of senior Communist Party leaders at which they acknowledged shortcomings in policies on public health and emergency management, according to a report by China’s official news agency. The leaders called the coronavirus epidemic “a major test of China’s system and capacity for governance.”
Xinhua quoted Mr. Xi as saying that officials who resist orders and “lack boldness” could be punished — suggesting that at least some regions in China may have balked at devoting resources and personnel to stopping the contagion.
As of Monday, China had 20,438 cases, the government said on Tuesday morning, and more than 160 cases have been diagnosed in two dozen other countries, including 11 in the United States. During the SARS outbreak, China had 349 deaths and 5,327 cases, according to the World Health Organization.
Government figures show that confirmed coronavirus infections are surging by more than 2,000 daily.
Some deaths still go unreported, and many residents in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak in central Hubei Province, say they believe the true number of deaths across China may be higher than the official tally, because many of the ill have been turned away by overstretched hospitals. Several residents said they had heard of people dying at home.
(THE LATEST ON THE OUTBREAK: Daily updates on the coronavirus.)
In the United States, there were scenes of uncertainty at the few airports still permitted to receive flights from China, as the first federally required quarantine since the smallpox era a half century ago took effect.
Russia, which shares a 2,600-mile border with China, suspended all passenger-rail links. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte exhorted citizens to “stop this xenophobia thing” amid signs there were acts of discrimination against people of Chinese descent.
The government of Hong Kong, the semi-autonomous territory that is part of China, closed four border crossings to the Chinese mainland, leaving just three, as more than 2,400 Hong Kong medical workers went on strike to press for a total ban on mainland arrivals.
Many airlines have suspended flights to China, and governments have barred Chinese travelers or anyone who has traveled recently to China, despite the World Health Organization’s statement that the closure of international borders was unnecessary. The United States has recommended that Americans put off travel to China.
A spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Hua Chunying, criticized the American response, adding that, “the U.S. government has not provided any substantive help to the Chinese side yet.”
In an online news briefing, Ms. Hua noted that the United States was “the first to withdraw its consulate staff from Wuhan, the first to suggest the partial withdrawal of embassy staff and the first to announce a ban on entry by Chinese citizens.”
“What the U.S. has done could create and spread panic,” Ms. Hua said.
But in China itself, millions of people who were working in Hubei Province have been stopped from returning to their home areas, feared as potential carriers of the disease and treated as outcasts. Even those without symptoms are being ostracized.
Last week, the American health and human services secretary, Alex Azar, said that he had offered to send a team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to China to help with the coronavirus outbreak, adding that he had reiterated the offer several times.
With the C.D.C. already running through its allocations for emergency response funds, the Department of Health and Human Services informed Congress that it may transfer up to $136 million to help combat the spread of coronavirus, according to a person with knowledge of the notification.
(GHOSTLY BEIJING: China’s capital, far from the contagion epicenter, seems empty.)
In a note to clients, Tai Hui, J.P. Morgan’s chief market strategist in Asia, wrote that, “As the number of infections is still likely to rise in the weeks ahead, we would expect the Chinese onshore equity market to come under pressure.”
The anxiety also infected global energy markets, where the possibility of falling demand from a hobbled China — the world’s biggest importer of oil — sent prices to the lowest level in more than a year. Ministers from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, as well as Russia, agreed to meet on Tuesday and Wednesday about possible production cuts.
In Wuhan, ailing residents have been begging for beds at local hospitals. Overwhelmed doctors have run out of medical supplies. In response, the Wuhan government announced that two new hospitals were to be built within weeks. The first hospital, with 1,000 beds, opened Monday after it was built in just eight days.
It was unclear whether the daily surge in infections is at least partly a result of more test kits being delivered, making it hard to determine how fast the virus is spreading. But even as the death toll has risen, the number of people who have recovered has also climbed in recent days, suggesting that the fatality rate of the virus is relatively low.
China has sealed off several of its cities, including Wuhan, restricted public gatherings and quarantined some communities. Many cities have been brought to a virtual standstill as residents have been told to stay at home and schools and offices remain shut.
Although many Chinese cities have extended the Lunar New Year holiday to combat the spread of the disease, public health experts say the virus is still likely to spread, given how infectious it is and the large number of travelers expected to commute for work.
The geographical extent of the disease is reminiscent of that of SARS, with cases reported in at least 25 countries, amplifying fears that the virus could spread across the world.
Reporting was contributed by Austin Ramzy, Alexandra Stevenson, Steven Lee Myers, Chris Buckley, Amy Qin, Anton Troianovski, Paul Mozur, Vivian Wang, Emily Cochrane, Tess Felder, Jason Gutierrez, Stanley Reed, Richard Pérez-Peña and Rick Gladstone.
Daily briefing, Feb. 5, 2020, The New York Times
Hyundai is suspending production in South Korea amid supply chain problems linked to the coronavirus, and Japan quarantined a cruise ship where 10 infections were found.
As deaths approach 500, no sign of a slowdown.
The death toll from the monthlong coronavirus outbreak has continued to climb, rising to 490. New cases have surged by double-digit percentages in the past 11 days, with no sign of a slowdown.
More people have now died in this epidemic than in the severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, outbreak of 2002-2003 in mainland China. During that outbreak, 349 people died.
The new figures from China’s Health Commission on Wednesday showed that 65 people died on Tuesday and that 3,887 more people had been infected. So far, 24,324 people have been infected.
Health experts say the death toll is likely to rise because of the large number of infections. The mortality rate of the coronavirus, about 2 percent so far, appears to be far lower than SARS, which has a mortality rate of about 10 percent.
Experts warn they still lack full data to say definitively how lethal the new coronavirus is. Many residents in Wuhan believe the death toll is much higher than the official tally because people with flulike symptoms are being turned away by overstretched hospitals. The health care system there is so overwhelmed that many cases are not diagnosed because of a shortage of testing kits.
The number of people recovering from the virus is also rising, suggesting that the treatment plan is working. On Tuesday, 262 people left the hospitals. The number of new suspected cases has dropped for two days in a row. Officials said they were tracking 3,971 new suspected cases, compared with 5,173 cases the day before.
On Tuesday, health officials released details of the deaths so far, saying that two-thirds of them were men. More than 80 percent were over 60 years old, and they typically had pre-existing health conditions such as cardiovascular diseases or diabetes.
The central province of Hubei has been hardest hit by the virus. The epicenter of the outbreak is home to the bulk of deaths (479) and infections (16,678). Wuhan, the capital of Hubei, in particular has borne the brunt of the deaths and infections.
The government said it has put 252,154 people under surveillance.
A second evacuation of Americans from China has begun.
The United States has begun its second airlift of American citizens out of China.
“Two planes have departed Wuhan en route to the United States,” the State Department said in a statement Wednesday night.
Little information was immediately available on the planes’ destination.
But it was believed that like the first Americans evacuated from Wuhan, the passengers will be taken to a military base and directed to remain there pending medical tests.
The first evacuees were flown from Wuhan on Jan. 29, and their plane stopped in Anchorage to refuel and for the passengers to be given initial screenings. The Boeing 747 then continued on to March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, Calif.
Britain and France urged their citizens to leave China.
Britain and France intensified warnings to their citizens in China on Tuesday, urging all who could do so to vacate the mainland to minimize the risk of infection.
Coronavirus Map: Tracking the Spread of the Outbreak
The virus has sickened more than 40,600 people in China and 24 other countries.
“If you’re in China and able to leave, you should do so,” Britain’s Foreign Office said in an updated travel advisory.
The Foreign Office also advised “against all travel” to Hubei Province, the epicenter of the outbreak, and “against all but essential travel to the rest of mainland China.” It made exceptions for Hong Kong and Macau.
“Where there are still British nationals in Hubei Province who wish to be evacuated, we will continue to work around the clock to facilitate this,” said Britain’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab.
France’s Foreign Ministry issued a similar warning.
“As a precaution,” the warning said, “it is recommended that the French, in particular families, who have no essential reason to stay in China, move away temporarily from the country.”
In Britain, at least, the government faced criticism for saying little about why it had escalated its warnings, leaving some Britons in China feeling anxious and confused.
Emily Thornberry, the opposition Labour Party’s spokeswoman on foreign affairs, accused the government of abandoning British citizens in China. “From the very start of this outbreak, the government’s response has been a total shambles,” she said.
Hyundai suspended production at South Korea car factories.
Hyundai, the world’s fifth-largest carmaker, said on Tuesday that it was suspending production lines at its car factories in South Korea, one of the first major manufacturers to face severe supply chain issues because of the coronavirus.
Hyundai, which relies on auto parts from China, said in a statement that it had “decided to suspend its production lines from operating at its plants in Korea. The decision is due to disruptions in the supply of parts resulting from the coronavirus outbreak in China.”
Many auto plants in China have shut down because of the virus, including factories run by Hyundai, Tesla, Ford and Nissan. Hyundai plants in South Korea would be the first to shut down lines outside China.
Hyundai has a worldwide network of factories, including plants in Russia, Turkey, the Czech Republic and Montgomery, Ala., which can probably make up for lost production in Korea.
But the shutdown of some production at its Korean plants may signal further disruptions at manufacturers that depend on parts from China. The longer that Chinese factories remain shut down, the greater the risk of shortages of key components.
The oil industry is already in the doldrums.
At a time when they are already cutting jobs and weighed down by debt, American oil producers are bracing for the latest shock to hit world energy markets: the economic effects of the coronavirus outbreak on China and beyond.
Oil and natural gas producers have been suffering from low commodity prices for the past year and now expect a sharp drop in global prices for their products. As a result, they are preparing to slash investments in exploration and production.
The price of West Texas intermediate crude, a key benchmark, fell below $50 on Monday, a 20 percent decline in less than a month. After recovering slightly Tuesday morning, the price fell further.
Just a few weeks after the outbreak of the virus, daily Chinese oil demand is already down 20 percent because of dwindling air travel, road transportation and manufacturing.
China buys only about 200,000 barrels a day of oil and refined transportation fuels from the United States, out of 8.5 million barrels of total daily American exports. But oil is a global commodity, and benchmark prices are set on world markets, not domestically. Lower prices mean lower profits.
“It’s a blow,” said Steven Pruett, chief executive of Elevation Resources.
‘The virus is the enemy, not the Chinese.’
China’s consul general in New York, Huang Ping, publicly thanked the Chinese-American community and other concerned Americans on Tuesday for their aid in battling the coronavirus outbreak.
But Mr. Huang, a veteran diplomat, also criticized what he described as an overreaction by the American government in severely restricting travel to and from China. He singled out in particular the decision to evacuate the American Consulate in Wuhan, the city of 11 million in Hubei where the outbreak was first detected.
“I personally don’t quite get it,” Mr. Huang said at a news conference at the Chinese Consulate in Manhattan. “It’s not the practice of Chinese diplomats. I myself did a few evacuations, and at a difficult time of something like that, the diplomats of China would be sent in, rather than pulling out, because you might get people there who need you.”
Mr. Huang, whose consular operations cover 10 states where 130,000 Chinese students are enrolled in universities, also said he had no clarity on how many of them were from Hubei or how recently they had been there, partly because of American privacy rules.
“We’ve been trying our best to find out this information,” he said. “But it’s not that easy.”
Mr. Huang spoke a day after visiting Boston, where a University of Massachusetts student tested positive for the coronavirus last week after returning from China. School officials said the student was recovering, and remained in isolation.
Asked about instances of anti-Chinese bigotry in the United States that have been tied to the coronavirus outbreak, Mr. Huang said that “I really don’t want to see this,” and that he had expressed his concern to Massachusetts officials that the Boston case not incite such behavior.
“I said, ‘The virus is the enemy, not the Chinese,’” Mr. Huang said.
[Have you or someone you know faced prejudice in the United States as a result of coronavirus fears? Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are willing to share your story.]
Looking for the basics? Start here.
How Bad Will the Coronavirus Outbreak Get? Here Are 6 Key Factors
Here’s what early research says about how the pathogen behaves and the factors that will determine whether it can be contained.
What is a coronavirus, and how dangerous is it? Read up on the basics, including its symptoms and how it is transmitted.
Where has the virus spread? You can track its movement with this map.
How is the United States being affected? There were 11 confirmed cases as of Monday. American citizens and permanent residents who fly to the United States from China are now subject to a two-week quarantine.
Xi Jinping signaled a more assertive response.
China’s leader, Xi Jinping, has signaled a more assertive strategy for dealing with the coronavirus epidemic after days of seeming to retreat from center stage.
His convening of a second special Communist Party meeting on Monday was only his second public appearance since the government in Wuhan, which is at the epicenter of the outbreak, took the extraordinary step of locking down the city on Jan. 23. That order was almost certainly approved at the highest levels in Beijing.
Mr. Xi sent Premier Li Keqiang to Wuhan more than a week ago, when the death toll stood at 106. By Tuesday, the toll in China was more than 420 deaths. The Chinese government has reported 20,438 confirmed cases.
Mr. Xi called the crisis “a major test of China’s system and capacity for governance,” according to the state-run news media. He warned officials not to resist orders or to let “bureaucratism” slow government efforts to bring the outbreak under control.
“Those who disobey the unified command or shirk off responsibilities will be punished,” Mr. Xi said, the Xinhua news agency reported.
Hong Kong’s first death was reported amid calls for a border shutdown.
A 39-year-old man in Hong Kong died on Tuesday from the coronavirus, the city’s Hospital Authority said.
It was the first death from the outbreak was in Hong Kong, and the second outside mainland China. The other death, of a man from Wuhan, was in the Philippines.
The man who died in Hong Kong traveled by train to Wuhan on Jan. 21 and returned to the Chinese territory two days later, the government said. Health officials said he also had diabetes, which may have impaired his immune system.
The man’s mother, who did not travel to Wuhan, later contracted the virus. His wife and two children, as well as a domestic worker employed by the family, are being quarantined.
Though Hong Kong shares a landmass with mainland China, the territory has not been hit nearly as hard by the outbreak, and has just 17 confirmed cases. A neighboring city just across the border, Shenzhen, has had hundreds of cases.
Hong Kong’s government has been under pressure to close its borders to mainland China. All but three border checkpoints out of 16 were shut on Monday, but the remaining entry points can still admit thousands of mainland Chinese visitors per day.
More than 2,500 medical workers went on strike Monday to demand a fully closed border.
China struggles to keep food available and prices affordable.
The coronavirus crisis is testing China’s ability to feed its 1.4 billion people, one of the Communist Party’s proudest achievements.
Cooped up at home and fearful that the epidemic could last weeks or even months, families across China are hoarding provisions, making it harder for shops and supermarkets to keep fresh food in stock. Many places have closed off roads to passing traffic, slowing truck shipments and raising freight costs.
Chinese officials have vowed to keep food flowing to Wuhan, the inland city of 11 million at the center of the outbreak. Shouguang, one of the country’s biggest hubs for growing, trading and shipping vegetables, has begun donating produce by the truckload to the locked-down city.
Confusion for passengers traveling to, from and in Asia.
As airlines cancel flights to and from China, some travelers are trying to get refunds, while others are unsure of whether to rebook their trips for later dates or cancel them altogether.
There is also confusion for those with itineraries via China to other destinations.
InsureMyTrip, a travel insurance comparison site, has experienced “at least a 30 percent increase in call volume,” said Julie Loffredi, the media relations manager. Most calls concern the coronavirus.
For some, it is unclear who is responsible for issuing refunds, and travel insurance does not always cover the cost of a canceled trip, since policies differ and refund eligibility may depend on when an insurance policy was bought.
On Tuesday, United Airlines said that it would suspend flights from Feb. 8 until Feb. 20 in light of a “continued drop in demand.” In 2018, United carried 14.5 percent of the 3.9 million passengers who took nonstop flights between the United States and Hong Kong.
Cathay Pacific, the flagship airline of Hong Kong, said it was temporarily cutting its flight capacity 30 percent, including suspending 90 percent of its flights into mainland China.
American Airlines said it had suspended flights to Hong Kong from both Dallas/Fort Worth and Los Angeles through Feb. 20 “due to demand.”
And Japan Airlines said it was suspending several flights to mainland China, and the British authorities said that British Airways and Virgin Atlantic had suspended their mainland China flights.
A drugmaker is trying to develop a strong vaccine.
The drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline has joined the global hunt for a vaccine for the new coronavirus, aiming to develop a type of treatment that increases the protection offered by a vaccine.
That approach relies on using an agent known as an adjuvant, which helps create stronger and longer-lasting immunity against infections than a vaccine can provide on its own.
The use of this technology allows scientists to produce vaccines much faster and make them available to more people, said Dr. Richard Hatchett, the chief executive of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, which is partnering with GSK. GSK also used adjuvant technology to develop vaccines against pandemic influenza in 2009.
More than a dozen biotech companies and academic groups are working on coronavirus vaccines.
Do masks work? The debate flares up.
Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control said last week that healthy people did not need to wear surgical masks unless visiting a hospital. Hong Kong’s chief executive instructed officials on Tuesday to stop wearing masks to help save supplies for medical workers.
The answer to the simplest of questions — do the masks work? — is, unfortunately, not that simple. There isn’t much high-quality scientific evidence on whether masks are an effective safeguard outside health care settings, where experts generally agree that they reduce risks.
It appears that while they can slow the spread of disease when worn by sick people, the masks — of which there is now a global shortage — do little when worn by healthy people.
Still, in some Asian cities like Hong Kong, where long lines form each morning for limited mask supplies, most people on sidewalks and public transportation wear one, and people who don’t are sometimes questioned about it.
Most experts agree: To prevent the spread of the coronavirus and keep yourself safe, it’s best to wash your hands and avoid touching your face.
Markets are rising as China gives its economy another boost.
Ever since the coronavirus outbreak was first reported, investors have been trying to handicap its impact on the global economy.
Last week, the concern was that the travel shutdowns and shuttered factories would hurt growth both in China and elsewhere.
This week, the sentiment seems to be that maybe the big picture won’t be so bad after all.
Stocks shot higher on Tuesday, with the S&P 500 on track for its best day of the year, after China took further measures to bolster its economy amid the still-expanding outbreak.
The People’s Bank of China said that it pumped a further 500 billion yuan (roughly $71 billion) into the country’s financial system on Tuesday, following an injection of 1.2 trillion yuan (over $170 billion) into its financial markets the day before.
It wasn’t just Wall Street that rallied on the news. In Asia, stocks in Shanghai and Hong Kong were also sharply higher. Major European markets in France, Germany and Italy rose more than 1 percent.
Other recent updates on corporate earnings and the economy have also given investors a lift.
On Monday, a closely watched gauge of manufacturing showed that factory activity expanded in the United States in January, after five straight months of contraction in the industrial sector. The report suggested that the manufacturing turndown — a reflection of a global factory slowdown widely linked to the trade war — that had hampered the American economy might have been easing, at least before the outbreak in China hit.
The recent round of fourth-quarter corporate earning reports have also been better than expected.
Of course, investors can change their minds quickly, and the mood in stock markets may well sour if traders are confronted with evidence of the coronavirus impact that they had not anticipated.
But for now, even those companies that are certain to be affected by the shutdowns are rebounding. For example, after officials in the city of Macau asked its 41 casinos to close for half a month — a move that will shut down the world’s gambling capital — shares of the big casinos operators Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands rose.
10 passengers on a cruise ship in Japan tested positive for the virus.
Ten passengers on a cruise ship quarantined in Yokohama, Japan, have tested positive for the coronavirus, Japan’s health minister said on Wednesday.
The ship, carrying around 3,700 people, arrived in Yokohama on Tuesday, but the authorities did not allow anyone off. An 80-year-old Hong Kong resident who had disembarked earlier in his home city was found to be infected.
In all, 273 passengers were tested for the virus after everyone on board underwent an initial health screening. Twenty-one were cleared, and officials were awaiting the other results.
The passengers who tested positive were being transported by a Japanese Coast Guard ship to a hospital. The other passengers are to remain quarantined on board the Princess Cruises ship.
Also on Wednesday, the American military, which has a large presence in Japan, said that anyone under its jurisdiction who was returning to the country from China would undergo a 14-day quarantine.
A suspected case in New York has proven unfounded.
A woman hospitalized in New York City amid concerns that she might have the coronavirus has tested negative, city health officials said Tuesday.
The woman, was one of three people recently hospitalized in the city who doctors thought might be infected.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the negative test results to the city authorities on Tuesday, officials said. Test results for the other two patients are pending, officials said.
“We’re relieved to hear that the person in question does not have the novel coronavirus,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. “I can’t say this enough: If you have the symptoms and recent travel history, please see your health provider immediately.”
There has yet to be a confirmed case of the new illness in New York City or anywhere in New York State.
But like other cities, New York is starting to experience the economic fallout of a precipitous drop in Chinese visitors because of travel restrictions. Tour operators and travel agents in the New York area are bracing for empty rooms in hotels and empty seats on tour buses.
Chinese tourists represent the second-largest group of foreign travelers to New York.
A company that arranges Chinese-language bus tours of the sights in Manhattan is dealing with as many as 300 cancellations from Chinese tourists. And the owner of a Queens travel agency who had booked trips for 200 Chinese tourists in the next two weeks said he might have to lay off two of his five employees.
Restaurant and store owners in New York’s three main Chinatowns say business has been hurt. In restaurants in the Manhattan Chinatown, workers and owners said business had dropped 50 to 70 percent in the last 10 days.
Other victims of the Wuhan lockdown: pets left alone in homes.
With Wuhan in lockdown, volunteers are trying to reach thousands of pets trapped alone in homes and at risk of starvation. Many pet owners who traveled out of the city during the Lunar New Year holiday period left only a few days’ supply of food and water, and they have taken to social media to plead for help in checking on their animals.
Hundreds of people, worried about their cats, dogs, pigs and snakes, have joined chat groups connecting them with volunteers. On Saturday, the Wuhan Small Animal Protection Association, which is providing food and water to pets in isolation, said it had helped more than 600 pets in the last week.
One Wuhan resident who asked to be identified as Lao Mao, or Old Cat, told Reuters that his team of volunteers had rescued more than 1,000 pets since Jan. 25, and estimated that as many as 50,000 pets remained unattended in the city.
But gaining entry to locked apartments and buildings, even with owners’ permission, has been a challenge.
In one instance, Lao Mao said, he climbed up rusty pipes to feed two cats in a third-floor apartment that had been left alone for 10 days. He found the cats barely alive under a sofa. When he video-called the owners, who could not return to Wuhan because of roadblocks, they cried.
Macau is closing all casinos for two weeks.
Macau’s top official said on Tuesday that the government would shut down the city’s lucrative casinos for half a month to combat the coronavirus outbreak, a drastic move that will further weaken the Chinese territory’s ailing economy.
The semiautonomous enclave, which neighbors Hong Kong and is the world’s largest gambling hub, has reported 10 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with a worker in the gambling industry among those infected. The shutdown was announced on Tuesday by Ho Iat Seng, the chief executive.
“Of course this was a difficult decision, but we must do it for the health of Macau’s residents,” Mr. Ho said.
Macau’s casinos have struggled as the coronavirus outbreak led to growing travel restrictions for visitors from the mainland. Macau, the only place in China where casino gambling is legal, derives a significant portion of its revenue from gamblers from the mainland.
Mr. Ho also said the city’s basic public services — except for emergency ones — would be suspended, and he urged Macau residents to “not go outside” except to get food.
A steady climb in infections in China, but some encouraging news, too.
The death toll from the new coronavirus has exceeded that of the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak in 2002 and 2003 in mainland China. But the number of people who have recovered nationwide has also risen in recent days, suggesting that the new virus’s fatality rate is relatively low.
China’s Health Commission reported on Tuesday that there were 632 recoveries and more than 420 deaths nationwide. During the SARS outbreak, 349 people died in mainland China.
Health experts say they are encouraged by the steady rise in the number of recoveries. They take it as evidence that the treatments meted out have been effective and that the virus does not appear to be as deadly as SARS.
SARS had a mortality rate of 9.6 percent, and about 2 percent of those reported to have been infected with the new coronavirus have died.
Reporting was contributed by Daniel Victor, Elaine Yu, Tiffany May, Steven Lee Myers, Raymond Zhong, Geneva Abdul, Li Yuan, Tess Felder, Knvul Sheikh, Damien Cave, Paul Mozur, Ben Dooley, Hisako Ueno, Kate Conger, Isabella Kwai, Tariro Mzezewa, Alexandra Stevenson, Christopher F. Schuetze, Julie Bosman, Denise Grady, Mitch Smith, James Barron, Donald F. McNeil Jr., Benjamin Mueller, Rick Gladstone and Clifford Krauss.
On the evening of Dec. 30, a young doctor in the Chinese city of Wuhan sent a short text message to a group of colleagues. “Seven cases of SARS have been confirmed at the seafood market in Huanan,” he wrote. SARS, the viral disease that broke out in November 2002, claimed 774 lives.
The name of the doctor and the hospital where he works have not been made public. But the story that he told the Beijing Youth Dailynewspaper has been shared tens of thousands of times online in China. At 1:30 a.m. on Dec. 31, the municipal health commission summoned the doctor and questioned him several times throughout the day.
Where did he get his information, officials wanted to know? Did he realize he was breaking the law? Did he understand that spreading that kind of information was a punishable offense? “Understood,” he wrote on a form, signing his statement with his fingerprint.
But the doctor never got punished. Instead, he got sick.
“On Jan. 10, around noon, I began to cough. The next day, my fever rose. That was when I knew I was in trouble,” he said. On Jan. 16, he started having trouble breathing. On Jan. 24, he was transferred to the intensive care unit. From there, he typed out his story on his phone on Jan. 27. He couldn’t speak and could only breath with the help of a respirator.
The coronavirus, the viral disease the doctor had warned about at the end of December and which he ultimately contracted himself, has spread from the Chinese city of Wuhan around the world. As of Tuesday, Feb. 4, there have been more than 20,630 confirmed cases in 24 countries, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). China has reported more than 420 deaths so far. That’s more than during the SARS outbreak in 2002 and 2003, which claimed 349 lives in mainland China.
The epidemic is worrying scientists, politicians and entrepreneurs alike. Chinese markets reopened Monday after being closed since Jan. 23 for the Lunar New Year and stocks immediately plunged. The virus has also begun to change people’s everyday lives, the way they do business and how they travel. The fear of new infections has made its way around the world. Sports events have been postponed. British Airways and Lufthansa were the first airlines to cancel all flights to China. Cathay Pacific stopped handing out pillows, blankets and magazines in its aircraft to prevent the virus from spreading. What’s next?
China, the world’s most populous country and its second-largest economy, is facing a “complicated and serious” crisis, according to a group of Chinese officials headed by Prime Minister Li Keqiang. The country exports more than $2.3 trillion worth of goods annually and is responsible for about one-third of global economic growth.
What if, now that the first airports have been closed, China also shutters its ports? This would disrupt countless supply chains around the world, both big and small. And what if, after the initial coverup and subsequent quarantine of cities with populations in the millions, the Chinese lose confidence in their government?
The epidemic has already shown just how vulnerable our interdependent 21st century economy really is. China boasts the world’s largest manufacturing industry. Yet many of the assembly lines aren’t running. The government extended the Lunar New Year holiday by a few days in an effort to combat the spread of the virus. Meanwhile, preschools, schools and universities remain closed indefinitely. This suggests that factories in China will also remain closed for the time being.
A Globalized Virus
Experts are divided on when the virus will reach its peak. China’s best-known epidemiologist, Zhong Nanshan, has said he expects new infections to reach their high point in early February, whereas experts in Hong Kong and London say they think it will be closer to April or May. Manufacturers of everything from electronics to textiles are likely facing shutdowns of several weeks.
Tech giant Apple, which has a production facility in Wuhan, quickly began looking for alternate suppliers “to make up any expected production loss,” CEO Tim Cook said last week. The French carmaker PSA, which has several factories in Wuhan, is facing a similar situation.
China exports more than 80 percent of that which it produces -including industrial and consumer goods, raw materials and food – by sea. If the ports were closed, it would lead to a massive disruption of global trade comparable to a stop in oil deliveries from Saudi Arabia. To a certain extent, China has “swing capacity” in the manufacturing industry. An interruption in production could bring a large part of the global economy to a standstill, although this still seems a long way away.
Globalization has lifted millions of people in countries like China, Indonesia and Vietnam out of poverty. It has provided people in industrialized nations with cheap televisions and laptops not to mention clothing and textiles, yet at the same time, it makes the world more vulnerable to all sorts of disruption, from terrorist attacks to natural disasters – and epidemics.
A panel of experts from the World Bank and the WHO wrote of a “world at risk” when they examined the economic consequences of a serious global health emergency last year. A pandemic like the Spanish flu, which killed as many as 50 million people between 1918 and 1920, would depress global economic output today by around $3 trillion (2.7 trillion euros), the experts calculated. Even a comparatively mild epidemic could cause damages adding up to more than 2 percent of GDP. “The world is not prepared for a fast-moving, virulent respiratory pathogen pandemic,” the report states.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, has compared the virus to a “demon,” thus stirring up one emotion that spreads even more quickly than the virus itself: fear. In Malaysia, South Korea and Singapore, hundreds of thousands of people have signed petitions demanding entry bans for Chinese. In France, people of Asian origin have taken to Twitter to complain about discrimination, using the hashtag #JeNeSuisPasUnVirus (“I am not a virus”). Some people have even refused to be served by Asians in supermarkets. In France, there had been six confirmed cases as of Tuesday, Feb 4. In South Korea, there had been 15; in Malaysia, 10; and in Singapore, 18.
The story of the coronavirus is about more than just medicine and China. It is a lesson on the increasing interdependence – and the political, economic and social dimensions – of today’s world. It is a story about the globalization of danger.
Wuhan, a city of 11 million people in central China, remains at the center of the crisis. For Christian Drosten, the director of the Institute of Virology at Berlin’s Charité university hospital who also helped discover the SARS virus, one thing is certain: In Wuhan, the place where it all began and where new infections and deaths have been increasing from one day to the next, the coming weeks will show whether the new virus can be stopped – or whether the world will simply look on helplessly as the virus jumps around from country to country and continent to continent.
Drosten says the decisive factor in the fight against the new coronavirus won’t be a few hundred additional doctors or a hospital that was built in just over a week, but residents’ everyday behavior. “SARS could only be stopped in Hong Kong in 2003 because people consistently stayed home out of fear,” he explains. If people stay away from one another, they can’t spread their germs.
What epidemiologists refer to as “social distancing” – i.e. minimizing contact with other people, avoiding unnecessary walks or travel, working from home, etc. – is more effective than anything against dangerous new viruses, Drosten says. If the number of new infections in Wuhan were to decrease in the coming weeks, it would certainly be due to people’s behavior there.
Weeks have passed since the outbreak of the virus and it’s still not known where exactly it originated in Wuhan. One guess that gained wide traction – that the virus originated at the Huanan seafood market – is now being called into question again. “The virus was immediately and rapidly transmissible from person to person,” Drosten says. “That’s why I could imagine it being an infected person rather than an animal that spread the virus at the market.” The virus could have even originated at another market altogether and could have spread from there to the Huanan seafood market.
NAOHIKO HATTA / GETTY IMAGES
So far, the city’s residents have strictly heeded the call to stay home. “People are only going outside to run errands that are absolutely necessary,” says Han Li, 62, a resident of Hamburg who was surprised to learn on Jan. 23 that the city in which he was staying had been quarantined. Until last Saturday, he had been holed up in a hotel in the city center, waiting for the German government to fly him, his wife and around 90 other German citizens out of Wuhan.
In Wuhan, the government’s transportation ban and curfew have been highly effective. The streets are all but deserted. On New Year’s Eve, many residents could be seen and heard at their windows or on their balconies, singing the national anthem and shouting words of encouragement to one another. “Wuhan!” they yelled. And: “Jia you!” which literally means to “add oil” but is used as an expression of support. It’s the same battle cry that protestors in Hong Kong have been using for months.
Last week, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus praised Chinese leaders for their discipline, though it has really been the medical professionals and residents of Wuhan and the 15 worst-hit cities in Hubei Province who have been the most disciplined.
“We appreciate the seriousness with which China is taking this outbreak, especially the commitment from top leadership,” Tedros said during a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. He went on to say that he was “very encouraged and impressed by the president’s knowledge of the outbreak and his personal involvement in the response.” And he responded to criticism of his lavish praise for the Chinese leader by insisting that he “would praise China again and again.” Beijing’s actions had “helped prevent the spread of coronavirus to other countries,” Tedros said. He also noted that China had been proactive in alerting the German authorities after a woman infected with the disease had returned to China following a visit to Bavaria.
Xi had no trouble accepting the praise. Flanked by a floor-to-ceiling painting of a mountain landscape, Xi nodded approvingly as Tedros commended him for his engagement in fighting the virus. It was welcome reinforcement for Beijing. It may sound counterintuitive, but the crisis actually provides a useful opportunity for the Chinese government to make the case for its system of rule. As if to say, “You in the West may call our measures draconian. We call them efficient.”
In fact, what China is asking of its people would be difficult to imagine in any other country. For Europeans, it may be reminiscent of some blockbuster movie about a natural disaster. More than 50 million people are trapped in Hubei province. That’s more than the entire population of Spain. Major cities including Beijing and Tianjin were quick to suspend long-distance bus services.
Travelers who returned from Wuhan were urged to quarantine themselves and report their body temperature to the authorities twice a day. In Beijing’s subway stations, security guards in white full-body suits could be seen scanning every passenger with infrared thermometers.
“We will definitely overcome this disease,” Xi said during his meeting with Tedros – just as long as his policy was “precisely implemented.” His words conveyed confidence, but they were also a warning: If containment wasn’t achieved quickly, it would only mean that someone hadn’t sufficiently implemented the directives from Beijing.
There’s a Chinese proverb that goes, “Heaven is high and the emperor is far away.” Basically, it means that the idea of the central government having absolute power over every last city, town, village and farm simply isn’t true. High-ranking provincial leaders enjoy considerable freedom – say, to ignore processes and rules. Harvard professor Elizabeth J. Perry has called this a “guerilla policy style.” Economically, this approach has produced bold experiments that have contributed to China’s rise.
The flip side, however, is that the central government often doesn’t have an exact picture of what’s going at the periphery – and that China’s regional leaders are often held to account if something goes wrong in their jurisdiction. This could be one reason why the authorities in Wuhan waited so long to sound the alarm. On Jan. 1, the city government closed the Huanan market and the police initiated “legal action” against eight internet users who had “spread rumors” about a new viral disease, including the doctor who had been called in by the health commission the day before.
Almost three weeks later, and only a few days before Wuhan was sealed off, the city administration held a New Year’s banquet. Some 40,000 people reportedly helped themselves to bowls of shrimp and hot and spicy duck necks. Later, the mayor of Wuhan said it had been assumed at the time that the virus was not being transmitted from person to person. But he did admit to doing too little for too long. He has since offered to resign.
Administrative failures like this are especially threatening to a regime that does not derive its legitimacy from elections, but instead rules repressively and then points to the achievements of its style of governance. Social media in China have been flooded with expressions of displeasure, testimonies of human suffering and eyewitness accounts – but it’s usually the provincial authorities that are held responsible and rarely the central government.
A Sharp Jump
As the crisis first unfolded, the debate over it was extremely open by Chinese standards. Since Xi’s public statement about the virus on Jan. 20, he has been trying to present himself as being in charge of containment efforts. Public health took priority, he said, adding that it was “extremely crucial.” At the same time, he suggested “strengthening the guidance of public opinion.”
So far, the strategy seems to be working. Indeed, the spectrum of what can be said is narrowing again. Particularly drastic reports from Wuhan are being expunged more quickly now than at the beginning of the outbreak. But criticism cannot be completely silenced. This became apparent when a video uploaded by a chief physician went viral last week.
Hector Retamal/ AFP
The doctor, Zhang Wenhong, said he wanted to give his overworked colleagues in the infectious diseases department at Huashan Hospital in Shanghai a break. Instead, he said he would send Communist Party members like himself into the sick wards. “Didn’t the members of the Communist Party take an oath to put the interests of the people above everything and not to let difficulties stop them? So, I say: Now march forward, comrades, and do your best.”
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi surprised doctors last week with his statement that the epidemic was “generally controllable and curable.” Indeed, the virus continues to spread at a high rate. The number of infected jumped sharply over the weekend. As of Tuesday, China alone had recorded more than 17,238 confirmed infections.
A Race Against the Clock
On Thursday of last week, after the virus had spread to a total of 24 countries, WHO declared an international public health emergency. “We must all act together now,” Tedros said. WHO’s primary concern at the moment is that the virus could spread to countries that don’t have good health systems. The organization did not, however, call for further travel restrictions, with Tedros saying on Monday that there was no need for measures that “unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade” in trying to get ahead of the virus. Instead, he called for the rapid development of vaccines and medicines. Researchers around the world are racing against the clock to come up with a vaccine. But it will take time – at least three months for human testing of any vaccine to begin.
No drug has yet proven to be effective against the virus, either. There are plans for doctors to start experimenting with different drugs in the hope that something may prove helpful. If the virus were to spread uncontrollably, the world would have few means of protecting itself, and the result would be far more infections and deaths than seen up to this point.
What has been particularly worrying is that it is not yet clear what scientists and doctors are up against. Even though the gene sequence of 2019-nCoV has been decoded and Australian researchers have succeeded in growing the virus in the laboratory, it is not clear how contagious or how deadly the new pathogen really is. “At the moment, we’re dealing with things as they come,” University of Marburg virologist Becker says, summing up the situation.
“It is extremely difficult to make any reliable predictions for a virus that only recently came into the human population,” explains David Heymann of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who helped fight the SARS outbreak for WHO back in 2003. Technology, for its part, can only help in determining the characteristics of the virus. So, epidemiologists are now focusing on the careful study of so-called clusters, groups of sick people, and trying to find out how these individual cases correlate with each other.
That’s why experts are attaching great importance to the early cases that have emerged in Germany. In contrast to Wuhan, where it is now often difficult to trace who actually contracted the disease from whom, the chains of infection can still be tracked very closely in this country.
In Bavaria, a 33-year-old employee of Webasto, an automotive supplier, contracted the virus from a Chinese colleague who had traveled to the company’s headquarters in the village of Stockdorf near Munich for a training event.
The initial findings in the German case are both reassuring and disturbing. Contrary to initial reporting on the case, the colleague from China likely did have early symptoms when she infected the first Webasto employee and possibly also a second. The first employee, in turn, infected the third and fourth, before getting diagnosed himself. Even after he felt completely healthy again, the man still had a large amount of the virus in his saliva, meaning he was possibly still infectious. So, it may be that simple exposure to a person who doesn’t appear to be very sick or to a person who appears to be fully recovered is enough to get infected – making it difficult to prevent the global spread of 2019-nCoV.
As of Tuesday, a total of eight Webasto employees had tested positive for the coronavirus, and two children of one employee had also come down with it. Together with two people who had returned to Germany from Wuhan and were infected there, the total number of infections in Germany has risen to 12.
The health of the first four who fell ill in Germany quickly improved after they suffered brief fevers. “The four are in great shape now, with no symptoms, no fever and no cough,” Clemens Wendtner, the senior physician attending to the patients at a hospital in Munich, announced at a press conference on Wednesday.
“More Difficult than We Thought”
Elsewhere, though, the virus struck harder, even among younger people. In Wuhan, a 36-year-old man died after getting infected. And in France, the condition of an infected male around the age of 30 deteriorated.
And yet, it’s not unconceivable that the infections will ultimately be contained. “We will still have to wait a bit to see whether the strict quarantine measures imposed by the Chinese government will work,” says Marion Koopmans, professor at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam. It would definitely be a good sign if there were only a few more cases in the coming days in the affected countries outside China.
It’s becoming more likely, however, that a pandemic will emerge in which the virus will spread around the world. Stephan Becker, director of the Institute of Virology at the University of Marburg, says, “In any case, containing the virus will be more difficult than we thought.” Lee Hyuk Min, a professor at the Yonsei University College of Medicine in South Korea, points to another aspect. “I don’t want to provide any estimate on how many people might get infected,” he says, “but this outbreak could last for several months.” He fears the virus could spread unnoticed for a long period and cause considerable damage, especially in developing and emerging countries.
But even if a pandemic does ensue, it wouldn’t automatically be catastrophic, because mortality is often overestimated at the beginning of epidemics. Public health authorities are currently estimating a mortality rate of between 2 and 4 percent for the coronavirus, compared to around 10 percent for SARS and 35 percent for MERS (the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome that first emerged in 2012).
DER SPIEGEL 6/2020
The article you are reading originally appeared in German in issue 6/2020 (February 1st, 2020) of DER SPIEGEL
And even that value of 2 to 4 percent could fall considerable if more mild cases are detected. The earliest infections in Wuhan had already shown that the illness is particularly severe in the elderly and in people suffering from other illnesses. That’s why Becker suspects that “a pandemic with the new coronavirus could perhaps become a kind of second flu pandemic. It would still be highly dangerous and a challenge to the health care system, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world.”
Fears of New Financial Crisis
Meanwhile, many people whose assets and jobs are dependent on China, the world’s second largest economy, are greatly concerned about the situation. They’ve been living in fear of an unforeseeable event with grave consequences since the last financial crisis.
At the beginning of last week, international financial markets grew increasingly nervous. After the Shanghai Composite Index, China’s most important stock index, lost almost 5 percent of its value within days, stock prices in many countries dived. Then, on Monday, the index fell again by 7.7 percent, its worst day since 2015. At the same time, the value of all assets traded on the stock exchange under the “safe” label rose: gold, U.S. bonds, German bonds. Securities traders in London, Hong Kong and New York issued warnings about the risk of a crash.
After a brief recovery midweek, Monday’s plunge of the Shanghai index showed that the situation on the markets remains volatile. Investors, bankers and economists still remember all too well the impact of one of the most momentous waves of disease from China: the SARS pandemic of 2002 and 2003.
Back then, global growth declined by around 1 percent. Economists estimate that the costs this time could be even higher, given the speed at which the pathogen is spreading and because of the country’s increased weight in the global economy. At the start of the new century, China produced 4 percent of the world’s economic output, but now it accounts for a whopping 16 percent.
China has become the main trading partner of the U.S., the European Union and most of its Asian neighbors, exporting goods, services and capital around the world and it is responsible for about one-third of global economic growth. China had long been the “world’s factory,” but it has since developed into a central research laboratory and trade platform.
As a result, the economic consequences will be proportionately large if, in its battle against the pathogen, the government in Beijing seals off entire regions, restricts travel and impedes the movement of goods, and extends school or factory holidays. The decisions may only apply regionally, but their effects will be felt by ship owners in Taiwan, electronics manufacturers in Seoul and fashion houses in Milan.
In the worst-case scenario, the corona epidemic could lead to a global economic downturn, warns American economist Stephen Roach, who spent years running the Hong Kong branch of Morgan Stanley, the investment bank, in Hong Kong. He argues that this risk is even greater because the global economy is already in a slump due to the many trade conflicts and political crises. “A big shock to a weak economy,” he says, “can end in an unexpected recession.”
In fact, many industries are already expecting permanent losses that they won’t be able to wipe off their balance sheets, even if Beijing does manage to get a grip on the crisis quickly. In the tourism industry, for example, tour operators, hotel owners and airlines are expecting massive slumps because, in many places, China’s middle class already comprises a large part of the clientele.
Before the SARS pandemic, only a few hundred thousand Chinese traveled to Japan each year. Today, that figure has grown to more than 8 million. China is even more important for classic tourist destinations like Thailand or the Philippines, as well as for the aviation industry, which has increased its number of routes to China in recent years.
When airlines like British Airways suspend all flights to Beijing and Shanghai, and corporations around the world announce that they are reducing the number of business trips, it causes massive losses. The cost of SARS to the travel and tourism industry alone was more than $10 billion. Experts estimate that the novel coronavirus could cause far greater damage.
If China travels, trades or produces less, then the country also requires fewer raw materials. That, at least, is the view taken by traders on the international commodities exchanges, who have sent the prices of copper, nickel, corn and soya beans down in recent days.
The fact that the oil price fell to a new low could be a boon to the global economy – at least if it stays that way. But the oil-producing countries in OPEC are determined to drive prices back up again. The organization said in a statement it is determined “to take all necessary measures.”
The business community, retailers and politicians are still counting on the epidemic being contained in a relatively short time. If that happens, it would just leave a small dent in the data collected by economists and statisticians.
But if the virus spreads for weeks or months, as almost all epidemiologists predict it will, the damage will also amass quickly – especially for companies that have significant dealings in China. Apple, which is based in the U.S., produces parts for its computers and smartphones in Wuhan, the center of the epidemic. And Starbucks, the American coffee chain, operates around 4,300 stores in China, half of which are currently closed.
An Impact on the German Economy
If the crisis continues, it would also have an impact on the German economy, which is more deeply intertwined with industrial China than that of most other Western countries. For Germany’s mechanical-engineering sector, China is the second most important market. One in four BMW sedans is sold there, and VW earns more than a third of its annual profits in the country. Volkswagen has already sent a large share of its workers in China home. Meanwhile, Continental, a German auto-parts supplier, has issued a ban on business travel to China.
The damages for Lufthansa, Germany’s biggest airline, could also be massive. The company has four direct flights a day to Shanghai and Beijing, and then there are those operated by two of its subsidiaries, Austrian Airlines and Swiss. If you calculate 12 flights with up to 300 passengers per plane, that would be 3,600 guests a day. “With average revenues of 1,000 euros per passenger, that would mean a loss of up to 3.6 million euros a day,” estimates Hamburg-based aviation expert Heinrich Großbongardt. During the SARS pandemic, when China’s importance in the airline industry was significantly lower, there was a 35-percent slump in global air traffic.
Auto-parts company Schaeffler has temporarily suspended all of its manufacturing in China. The Bavarian firm employs around 13,000 workers at eight factories in the country. They primarily manufacture parts for the local carmakers – Chinese companies like Geely or German ones like VW. So far, at least, the financial consequences have been limited because of the Chinese New Year holidays. But Schaeffler has since extended its suspension of production until Feb. 10.
The company has a sales office in Wuhan with six employees. Just over a week ago, the company banned its employees from traveling to or from China, and administrative staff are currently working from home. The company is also investigating the extent to which production downtimes at suppliers will hinder its own manufacturing once it restarts.
Yu Fangping/Utuku/ROPI/ ROPI
But one thing is certain: If the epidemic continues to spread, it could become very expensive, given that the company has annual revenues of 2 billion euros in China. The company’s European business has only been marginally affected, as only about one-tenth of Schaeffler products manufactured in China are exported.
A Test of Patience
For trade in China, the virus is becoming a test of patience. “We’re expecting enormous bottlenecks,” says a major logistics company that organizes imports and exports for retail groups and industrial companies. “Nothing is being produced because the workers aren’t allowed to go to the factories.” People in industry are nervous because they fear serious delays. An internal analysis by the company has found that shipments from China to the West are still at least a week away and everything is delayed.
The delays are expected to hit discount stores and home-shopping channels particularly hard, since 90 percent of the products they sell are consumer goods offered at sale prices. There have already been inquiries about whether good can be transported via Hong Kong, but the city lacks freight capacity.
The virus could also affect an industry that has already been struggling for years with increasingly widespread supply shortages: generics – medicines with active ingredients no longer covered by patents. These include large numbers of medications with proven track records in treating chronic illnesses, like antihypertension drugs, thyroid hormones and anti-epileptic drugs. According to Germany’s Federal Insitute for Drugs and Medical Devices, around 260 drugs are currently unavailable for various reasons, including such important medications as the antihypertension drug candesarten and the antidepressant venlafaxine.
Many generic drugs and their active ingredients are made in China, and a number of the factories that make them are located in the Zhejiang province, relatively far away from Wuhan. But the faster and further the virus spreads, the greater the fears that supply bottlenecks, which are already threatening the health of many German patients, could get even worse.
To limit the damage to its own economy, the government in Beijing will have to be confident that the medical measures it has taken will be successful. Economically, the means available to the country are limited. It has already launched several economic stimulus packages in recent years and many banks and companies are heavily indebted. Nicolas Lardy, an expert on China at the Peterson Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, says that the West underestimates how important “limiting the financial risks” is to the government in Beijing.
Caught Off Guard, Despite Warnings
As the first weeks of the crisis have shown, neither Chinese nor Western politicians or economists were prepared for the kind of event that experts have often warned about since the SARS epidemic. It also appears that leading think tanks didn’t give much consideration to an outbreak like this in their crisis scenarios.
People seem to be overwhelmed by anxiety. Fears about the fate of the people in and around Wuhan have been exported to the rest of the world. This is affecting people like Lee Tsui-ping, who haven’t even been infected.
Lee, who is originally from Taiwan, is a German citizen and has lived just outside of Munich for decades. Until Wednesday, she had worked as an interpreter in Munich at ISPO, the world’s largest trade fair for sporting goods. When she went to hand in her registration form for the event, the hostess flinched as if frightened to death. “To them, I look like someone who has just arrived from China, so I must be infected, right?” she says. Lee says she’s noticed the same kinds of fears in stores in downtown Munich. “When they hand the receipt to someone who looks like me, they do it with the tips of their fingers,” she says.
If experts like Christian Drosten are correct, then the very people who have been hit hardest, the people who have been prohibited from leaving in Wuhan, in Huanggang, in Xiaogan and the other 13 cities that have been sealed off in Hubei, are doing exactly the right thing: They’re waiting. And keeping their distance. They are doing something called “social distancing,” which represents the opposite of global networking. It also happens to be the best way for them to protect themselves from the virus.
As paradoxical as it may seem, the very things needed to save globalization at this moment are isolation, calm and patience.
By Jane Qiu, February 6, 2020, National Geographic
A father, a doctor, and other residents recount the coronavirus outbreak’s deadly first month.
BEIJING: The sweating and shivering arrived with Lunar New Year.
Wang Zhen was watching festive programs on television with his wife, two kids, and his parents on the outskirts of Wuhan when he became short of breath. Evening was settling over the village, while a knot in the center of his chest was tightening. He couldn’t sit up.
“The first thing that came to my mind was I must not pass the bug to my family—if it was not too late,” Wang, a 33-year-old philosophy lecturer at Hubei University, recounts.
He packed a small bag and drove by himself through a cold drizzle to his flat in the city. Major roads were blocked off, but as a Wuhan native, he knew his way around the checkpoints. When he reached the apartment, Wang sank into his sofa and read the latest news about the epidemic.
By the time this gloom descended upon Wang on January 25, China had reported 1,320 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus—mostly in Hubei province, where Wuhan sits as the capital. During the early weeks of the outbreak, he had heard of people contracting the mysterious disease, but he hadn’t been too alarmed. Local officials initially said the virus came from wildlife but could not jump from person to person. (Read how more Chinese citizens are pushing to end wildlife markets)
The message changed five days before Wang became sick, when Zhong Nanshan, the lead investigator on a National Health Commission team deployed to Wuhan, told China’s state television that the evidence for human-to-human transmission was strong. The government imposed citywide transportation restrictions in Wuhan, a megacity with a population of 11 million, and then expanded to the rest of the province. A region twice the size of Portugal with nearly 60 million humans was now locked down.
“The city was totally deserted,” he says. “There was an eerie atmosphere to it. It felt like the end of the world.”
In his flat, Wang’s condition deteriorated as he dialed 120, China’s emergency number. Busy signal. He put down the phone and sat in the dark alone, waiting—while outside the novel coronavirus spread like bush fire.
With a case-fatality rate hovering at two percent, the novel coronavirus has, as of Feb. 6, 2020, a lower risk of death than other notable outbreaks, except influenza. With thousands still battling the coronavirus and hundreds of new cases confirmed every day, it’s too early to say for certain how fatal it will ultimately be.
Wang’s story is akin to so many others from the frontlines of this viral war, which chart a familiar tale about the first month of any global health emergency.
As of this writing, the number of people infected in China has reached a staggering 28,000 cases. More than two-thirds of the afflicted live in Hubei Province, and 3,800 people have severe pneumonia—raising the specter of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic from 17 years prior, which inflicted 8,100 people globally and killed nearly 800.
Then, as now, a coronavirus is the germ behind the sickness, but this emergent strain has reached far more people in a shorter time frame. More than 200 people across two dozen countries and territories in Asia, Europe, and North America are suffering from the new infection, and the first deaths outside of China happened over the past week.
Catching the first cases
Zhang Li spent most of January 1 in the wards at Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital, the city’s premier infectious disease center, frantically trying to save gravely ill patients from an atypical pneumonia. The first patients had arrived on December 29, but more came the next day. Dozens followed. The hospital was at full capacity within a week. Zhang and her husband, both respiratory specialists at Jinyintan, along with the rest of the hospital staff, have been on overdrive ever since.
“It’s a battle of life and death,” Zhang says.
Her words echo Chinese president Xi Jinping, who has put the region on war footing to prevent and control the spread of the novel coronavirus. On Lunar New Year’s Eve, 450 military medical staff—experienced in combating SARS or Ebola—touched down in Wuhan, as part of the Communist Party’s effort to save lives. President Xi ordered the speedy delivery of medical supplies, including protective masks, gowns, and diagnostic tools, to areas under lockdown, and he vowed consequences for officials who were negligent in tackling the crisis.
Scientists rushed to decipher the infection’s ramifications. A study of the first 425 severe cases, published January 29 in the New England Journal of Medicine, shows the median age of those grave illnesses was 59 years old. The largest epidemiological study to date of the new coronavirus, it also presents clear evidence of human-to-human transmission, says lead author Benjamin Cowling, an epidemiologist at the University of Hong Kong.
“It’s unequivocal,” Cowling says, though adding on a positive note that the team witnessed no cases in children under the age of 15.
His study and another published in The Lancet—both led by University of Hong Kong’s dean of medicine Gabriel Leung—estimate that on average each patient has given the bug to 2.2 and 2.7 additional people, respectively. The new infection appears to incubate for five to six days before showing symptoms, based on Leung’s research and other analyses.
The contagion spreads primarily through close contact, particularly through droplets sprayed by an infected person’s coughs and sneezes. In a second study also published January 29 in the New England Journal of Medicine, scientists found signs of the virus in the loose stool of the first U.S. case, suggesting the disease might be transmitted via fecal matter as well.
To stop the viral fire from spreading, millions of people who departed Hubei before the lockdown as part of the Spring Festival mass migration are being tracked down and put under compulsory two-week quarantine. The holiday season has been extended, as people across the country are advised to stay put and work from home as much as possible. Tour groups have been suspended, and all domestic travel by bus, train, and airplane has been interrupted. (Read how coronavirus spreads on a plane—and the safest place to sit)
Despite being unprecedented and verging on draconian, the measures are commendable, some experts say. “The [Chinese] government deserves credit for having responded rapidly,” and for its commitment to containing the virus, says Ian Lipkin, director of Columbia University’s Center for Infection and Immunity in New York, whose lab worked with Chinese officials to develop early diagnostic tests for SARS. “It’s much much better than it was” when battling SARS in 2003, he says.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, echoed this sentiment right before his agency designated the novel coronavirus epidemic as a global health emergency on January 30. This designation is the WHO’s highest level of alarm, reserved for outbreaks that threaten those beyond the country of the pathogen’s origin and require a coordinated international response. Over the next three months, the WHO plans to spend $675 million on a response plan for vulnerable countries.
“This declaration is not a vote of no confidence in China,” Ghebreyesus said at a press conference in Geneva on January 30. “Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems.”
“The mortality rate seems to be climbing. Three patients died in my wards alone today,” Zhang told National Geographic on Sunday evening. She sounded tired, her voice quiet, a sense of sadness and helplessness palpable. “I wonder if this is a sign that the virus is getting more deadly.” Zhang keeps losing her colleagues to illnesses: some are infected, others are sick out of sheer exhaustion. Li Wenliang, the doctor who alerted the public to the outbreak, died on Thursday as reported by The Washington Post.
In a study published in Lancet, Zhang and her colleagues show that 99 confirmed severe cases admitted to her hospital between January 1 and January 20 had a mortality rate of 11 percent. Nationwide, fatalities among severe cases are running around 15 percent.
The study identifies a list of factors that could help predict those worst cases, including a history of smoking, bacterial infection, high blood pressure, diabetes, and old age. “Early identification of those factors and early treatment are critical for preventing patients from developing fatal symptoms,” Zhang says.
Other experts doubt this bleak outlook will extend beyond the critical zone of the outbreak’s epicenter. The overall death tally is around 560, about 2 percent of the confirmed cases spread across the globe.
“The real fatality rate is likely to be much lower”, says Linfa Wang, director of the program in emerging infectious diseases at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore. This is because the confirmed cases represent only a fraction of total cases, given that many people with mild symptoms may not go to the hospital and the testing capacity is limited, he adds.
Yet death was what Wang felt, alone in his city flat in Wuhan. The thought of not being able to see his children grow up was unbearable. He dialled 120 again. Still busy.
After trying and failing multiple times, Wang panicked and did what anyone might do in this digital age—he hopped on social media.
He started to send messages on the popular Chinese messaging app WeChat to his friends, colleagues, and students. Dozens responded. They volunteered to call the emergency number on his behalf. A friend of a colleague at Wuhan Tianyou Hospital offered to reserve a bed for him.
“Fear, anxiety, and ignorance of the disease are taking a heavy toll on populations in lockdown areas,” says Liu Hao, a physician at the Wuhan Ciming Health Checkup Group. “Thanks to the internet, there is a lot we can do.”
Liu, a Wuhan native, has gathered nearly a hundred or so volunteers from across the country, including over three dozen clinicians, to offer online support to neglected individuals. The group provides medical guidance and psychological counseling. It also gives advice on ways to ward off infection and on how to eat well and stay healthy during a quarantine.
Not knowing when the lockdown will be lifted, “we are in for a long haul,” says Liu. “People need to feel someone cares about them. They need to know someone will be there for them if necessary—even if hospitals can’t take care of them right now.”
Hours after sending up flags on WeChat, an ambulance arrived at Wang’s apartment. Two medical staff in protective masks and clothing ushered him to Tianyou hospital. Despite a raging fever, x-rays showed no signs of severe respiratory illness.
“At least I’m not dying,” he recalls thinking. But he could not be tested for the coronavirus because the scarce medical reagents were reserved for patients with clear symptoms of pneumonia. He was admitted for monitoring, sharing a room with two elderly male patients. A curtain separated each bed.
“We never chatted. We were quite wary of each other. Each of us was probably wondering if the others had got the virus,” Wang says. But his experience ranks among the lucky.
Critics say there is an urgent need to properly quarantine suspected cases. “Failing that, there would be more ‘walking infectious sources’ and more cross-infections,” says Lei Reipeng, deputy dean of the School of Humanities at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan. She and a team at Huanzhong have been lobbying the provincial government to quarantine anybody who has symptoms but cannot be immediately handled by hospitals designated for the epidemic.
“You just cannot let them float around and potentially infect others,” Lei says. “Most hotels in Wuhan are empty. There is also space in many general hospitals. Why can’t we use them to cut the infectious sources?”
Fortunately, the helplessness felt by many people trapped in Wuhan might soon find relief. Early this week, the provincial government announced that identifying and quarantining suspected cases will be a top priority in the coming weeks, according to the Hubei Daily.
And to meet the unprecedented medical need, the government has rushed to build two new hospitals for Wuhan. The state television showed dozens of brightly colored diggers hoeing the ground at the building sites. More than 6,300 workers labored in round-the-clock shifts to ensure rapid construction.
The first hospital—named Huoshenshan, or “the mountain of fire god”—was completed in 10 days and opened on Tuesday. Leishenshan Hospital, the mountain of thunder god, is due to open later this week. Together, the new facilities will be staffed by 3,400 military medics and will house 2,600 beds.
Meanwhile, 24 general hospitals in the city are being retrofitted to admit patients with respiratory infectious diseases. A total of 13,000 new beds will be created through this process by the end of this week, project member Sun Fenghua told the state television.
“We will decide whether to retrofit more hospitals based on how the epidemic evolves,” she says.
After a few days of treatment at Wuhan Tianyou Hospital, including taking a couple of antiviral drugs, Wang felt much better. The fever broke. He could breathe again. The knot in his chest had loosened, and the hospital discharged him. While his recovery remains in progress, China is still reeling.
A study published in Lancet last Friday estimated that nearly 76,000 people in Wuhan had likely caught the novel coronavirus by January 25, based on modeling off the known number of cases and how the disease spreads. The authors reckon the epidemic was doubling every 6.4 days. But the epidemic growth might now be slowing because of “the unprecedented massive social distancing measures that have since been implemented,” Leung, who led the study, says in an email.
To date, no super-spreaders—patients who transmit a pathogen to many people at once—have been reported in peer-reviewed studies. At least one paper, published January 24 in The Lancet, shows that patients can be contagious when they have mild or even no symptoms. On Tuesday, China’s National Health Commission confirmed that many such cases exist, mostly among family members.
“This is in contrast to SARS, when you are infectious only when you have symptoms,” says Jeremy Farrar, director of London-based Wellcome Trust, a charitable foundation focusing on medical research. “This makes it extremely challenging to control.”
So, Wang is quarantining himself in his city flat in Hubei University, in case he is infected and still contagious. His students take turns grocery shopping for him.
“They leave the stuff outside the flat and then text me,” says Wang. “We don’t meet. We can’t take any chances.”
And he “sees” his family every day through video calls on WeChat: “I just want this to be over soon. I can’t wait to hold my kids again.”
. . .
- Issue of the Week: Human Rights, Economic Opportunity
- Message of the Day: Human Rights, Economic Opportunity
- “Is It a Pandemic Yet?”, The New York Times
- “South Africa, Apartheid, Crimes against humanity and the Rule of Law: Quo Vadis?”, Daily Maverick
- “The world’s most unlikely solar farms”, BBC Future
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