By Amanda Sherman, 1/26/2020
Information accurate as of 1/26/2020, 3:04 p.m.
A deadly new specimen of coronavirus (2019-nCoV) has infiltrated the world’s populace as health officials across the globe fight to contain it. Emerging in Wuhan, China, it spread rapidly within the past few weeks and has killed at least 56 people so far, as well as infecting 2,000 more. Although numerous measures have been taken to address the spread of disease, experts worry that it may be too little and too late.
The virus is thought to have originated in one of Wuhan’s wet markets. At such markets, outdoor stalls are squeezed together to form narrow lanes where shoppers buy everything from fresh produce to exotic meat. Hundreds of caged birds are put into close contact with eels being chopped up into little bits as vendors shout out their wares. Dogs leer hungrily at the uncooked cuts of pork laid out on a stand.
“Poorly regulated, live animal markets mixed with illegal wildlife trade offer a unique opportunity for viruses to spillover from wildlife hosts into the human population,” the Wildlife Conservation Society said in a statement.
In wet markets, people are put in constant close contact with both live and dead animals. This creates a perfect environment for a zoonotic virus to jump from animals to humans. In fact, there is speculation floating around that 2019-nCoV might have been transmitted from an infected snake. Cobra snakes and many-banded kraits are just two of the thousands of species sold at these unregulated, often unhygienic markets where chopped up fish guts flow freely in the streets alongside the shoes of consumers.
2019-nCoV is just one of many illnesses affiliated with coronaviruses, a family of viruses which include the common cold to more severe diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). Health officials around the world are especially alarmed because the rate of contagion is still unknown. It is suspected to be transmitted through airborne contact, such as coughing and sneezing. According to Ma Xiaowei, China’s National Health Commission Minister, the incubation period is around one to fourteen days.
People afflicted with 2019-nCoV show flu-like symptoms. These include fever, coughing, sore throat, headaches, and occasionally difficulty of breathing. It is known that most of the people who died from the coronavirus were elderly men and women whose immune systems were especially vulnerable due to their age. 2019-nCoV caused some of them to contract a fatal case of pneumonia, from which they passed away.
This is not the only zoonotic outbreak that has happened.
In 2003, a SARS epidemic swept across 37 countries, infecting more than 8,000 and killing 774 people. During the aftermath of the immense death toll, health officials noted how the outbreak had gone virtually unreported by the Chinese authorities until it was undeniable that there was, in fact, a disease that was spreading.
Now, many are concerned that the government is once again trying to cover up crucial information. Informal sources on YouTube from overworked Chinese doctors revealed that 2019-nCoV had made its initial appearance at least a month before the disease was reported in the mainstream media. In Wuhan, a giant communal dinner was commissioned two days afterwards where attendees ate and drank together. Despite the looming threat of the illness, party officials made little effort to educate the public or prepare hospitals for the onslaught of patients until it became too late.
A whistleblower has released a video on YouTube insisting that close to 90,000 people in China now have the disease – far more than the 2,000 reported by officials.
“I am in the area where the coronavirus started,” her video begins. “I’m here to tell the truth,” the anonymous nurse says in the video, which shows her wearing a mask covering her entire face. “At this moment, Hubei province, including the Wuhan area, even China, 90,000 people have been infected by a coronavirus.”
She does not reveal how she arrived at the astounding statistics. The video has been viewed on YouTube some two million times, according to the Daily Mail.
Other shocking videos have shown dead bodies covered by sheets lying in hospital hallways.
The Chinese government has simply insisted that it had ‘followed the principles of openness and transparency’ ever since the outbreak broke out.
Hospitals in Wuhan and the surrounding areas have been flooded with desperate patients, while pharmacies are rapidly running out of medicine. To combat this shortage, state media has announced that a new hospital will be constructed within six days, fit with 1,000 beds. Video footage posted online shows digging machinery already at the site, which has an area of 25,000 square meters.
“It’s basically a quarantined hospital where they send people with infectious diseases so it has the safety and protective gear in place,” said Joan Kaufman, lecturer in global health and social medicine at Harvard Medical School.
It remains to be seen how effective this new approach will be to combatting the outbreak. For the time being, hospitals in Hubei province – home of the majority of confirmed cases – have been forced to turn away patients due to a lack of medical supplies and bedding. Alarmed medical officers continue to post messages on social media begging for donations as face masks fly off of the shelves of nearby stores.
“There’s a shortage of medical supplies, help!!!” the Wuhan Children’s Hospital posted Thursday on China’s Twitter-like Weibo service.
The Ministry of Industry and Information has reported that a shipment of gloves and protective clothing has been shipped to the city from its reserves. Meanwhile, the Finance Ministry promised 1 billion yuan ($144 million) to fight the coronavirus. It is clearer than ever that imminent action is required to end the spread of 2019-nCoV.
Currently, no vaccine exists to treat the coronavirus. Research firms across the globe are competing to see who is able to develop a medical solution the fastest.
Outside of mainland China, the regions that have been affected include South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong, Macau, Australia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Nepal, Singapore, France, and the United States. So far, the U.S. only has three confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with the third one surfacing in California. More than 50 citizens within America are being surveilled under the pretense that they may be affected by 2019-nCoV.
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