WUHAN, China, January 27, 2020 (ENS) – A new strain of coronavirus is worrying doctors at the World Health Organization, WHO, and medical officials around the world. Doctors call it 2019-nCoV, but it’s more commonly known as the Wuhan coronavirus, named after the place where the virus emerged in December, Wuhan City, the capital of central China’s Hubei Province.
Wuhan, a city of 11 million, is the epicenter of the new coronavirus is believed to have infected nearly 3,000 people, mostly residents of China. As of Monday, deaths from the virus in China have climbed to 82.
Cases of the Wuhan coronavirus also have been detected in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Australia, Cambodia, Canada, France, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Singapore, Thailand, South Korea, the United States, and Vietnam.
To tackle the crisis, Wuhan began construction last Thursday on a 1,000-bed temporary hospital in the city’s Caidian district. Officials have said they plan to finish the new Huoshenshan Hospital in just six days, which means it should be completed this coming Wednesday.
To combat the spread of the respiratory illness, China has imposed a travel limit on some 50 million people in the region. No one from Wuhan or the 16 nearest cities will be allowed to travel in the coming days, even though the country is celebrating the Lunar New Year, its busiest travel time, which began Friday.
But on Sunday, Wuhan Mayor Zhou Xianwang said that at least five million people had left the city before travel restrictions were imposed ahead of the Chinese New Year.
Zhou said he expected at least 1,000 of the 3,000 suspected cases to be diagnosed with the highly-contagious virus.
Ma Xiaowei, the director of China’s National Health Commission, said that the virus has an incubation period of 10 to 14 days, during which the virus can be contagious but infected people do not show any symptoms.
People in Wuhan are panicking. Social media posts show chaotic scenes at Wuhan’s medical facilities, with people being turned away due to a lack of personnel and resources. Several of the region’s hospitals have asked the public to donate supplies, including face masks, goggles, and medical gowns, “The Guardian” newspaper reported.
On Monday, the northern port city of Tianjin and the eastern provinces of Zhejiang and Anhui, as well as the southwestern city of Chongqing, began to suspend inter-provincial highway passenger bus services, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported. Shanghai and Qinghai Province have already halted similar bus services.
Beijing has also launched temperature detection at 55 subway stations, including stops at railway stations and the Beijing Capital International Airport. Passengers with abnormal body temperatures will be sent to the hospital.
Beijing’s subway stations and buses have also stepped up cleaning and disinfection work. Each carriage of the train is ordered to be disinfected every day. The entrances and exits, escalators, self-service machines, toilets and other public areas of subway stations are disinfected three times each day.
In an effort to ensure that people with symptoms of the virus come forward, Ma said that patients would not have to pay the bill for any medical costs.
Hong Kong’s city leader Carrie Lam declared a state of emergency and said all primary and secondary schools would close until February 17.
The U.S. State Department has ordered the evacuation of all U.S. personnel at the Consulate in Wuhan.
In the United States to date, 110 people in 26 states are under investigation for the virus, five have tested positive and 73 have tested negative, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC.
There have been five confirmed cases in the United States, CDC officials said. On Sunday, two new cases were reported, one in Los Angeles, California and the other in Maricopa County, Arizona.
Another case, confirmed Saturday, was in Orange County, California. The infected person, gender and age not disclosed, had recently visited Wuhan, and was said by medical personnel to be in good condition.
The first confirmed case in the United States was in the Seattle area. A man in his 30s who returned from a recent trip to Wuhan was in good condition in a hospital in Everett, Washington. The other U.S. patient is a female resident of Chicago, Illinois in her 60s, who returned from a visit to Wuhan on January 13.
Today the CDC issued updated travel guidance for China, recommending that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to all of the country.
The CDC is conducting screening for illness among passengers arriving at 20 U.S. airports and providing educational materials for any passengers arriving from China.
CDC officials are assuring the public that no person-to-person transmission is happening in the United States to date.
David Fisman, MD holds a Masters in Public Health and is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Canada. He is a professor of epidemiology at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.
He explains how the coronavirus got started. “Information from a variety of sources suggests that this novel virus is a recombinant beta-coronavirus of animal origin that emerged in November or December 2019, likely at the Wuhan Seafood Market,” Dr. Fisman said. “Epidemiological analysis was initiated after recognition of a market-linked pneumonia cluster in late December.”
“Notwithstanding the name of the Wuhan Seafood Market, the market sells large numbers of live animals, including wild animals, which are kept in close proximity to one another, perhaps facilitating viral recombination,” said Dr. Fisman, adding that “similar disrupted ecology contributed to the emergence of SARS,” Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, a potentially deadly illness that quickly spread around the world in 2003.”
The Wuhan Seafood Market was closed on January 1. But a paper, written by a large group of Chinese researchers from several institutions, takes issue with Fisman’s conclusion. Their data show that, in total, 13 of the first 41 cases to be detected had no link to the marketplace.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has called the outbreak a grave situation and said the government is intensifying its efforts to restrict travel and public gatherings while rushing medical staff and supplies to the city at the center of the crisis.
Xi has asked Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who heads the group within the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on the prevention and control of the coronavirus outbreak, to inspect and direct the efforts in Wuhan.
While visiting the construction site, Li called for speeding up the construction of Huoshenshan Hospital, the makeshift hospital for treating infected patients.
“We must use every possible means to admit all the patients,” Li said, urging efforts to protect the construction workers against infection.
Li encouraged the workers to race against time to finish building the hospital as a “safety island” for coronavirus patients.