Coronavirus cases steadily grow as the Chinese New Year approaches

Chris Davis, Lode Writer

Over New Year’s Eve, the Chinese government confirmed the first case of flu-like coronavirus in Wuhan, China. Since then, the World Health Organization has coined this specific member of the Corona family of viruses as “2019 n-CoV.” Since then the virus has exported a handful of cases to a number of countries including Japan, Thailand, Korea, and the United States.

At the time of writing, 4,500 cases of the disease have been reported, though the disease is said to be severe in only about 20% of patients. The death toll stands currently at 106, all of which occurred in China. In Beijing, the first death as a result of the disease had been confirmed. According to the WHO, the majority of those had underlying conditions that culminated with 2019 n-CoV. Five cases of the disease have been reported in the United States.

The World Health Organization convened Jan. 22, and while views of those present differed, members “agreed on the urgency of the situation,” according to a WHO release. The meeting concluded without classifying the outbreak as a public health emergency, though they moved to reconvene approximately 10 days after the fact to reassess. They estimated an R0 value somewhere in the range of 1.4 to 2.5, meaning that, on average, one infected patient is liable to transmit the disease to 1.4 to 2.5 other people.

On Jan. 28, Director-General of the WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, met with Chinese president Xi Jinping to discuss the situation. In the meeting, the doctor showed his appreciation for the Chinese government’s commitment to dealing with the disease. Some of the measures that that have already been taken include the closing of public transport in the city of Wuhan and the sharing of health data to the WHO. China has indicated that they don’t want to see a situation similar to that which they faced in a 2003 outbreak of SARS, killing 775 people internationally.

The disease springs up around the time of the Chinese New Year, which appears on the Gregorian calendar around late January or early February. The holiday marks an important time for many Chinese, and features, among other celebrations, the travelling of family members cross-country to a customary reunion dinner. Many businesses and services in the country slow or cease for this reason. Generally, citizens take seven days from work to observe the holiday, with three of those days being officially recognized by the country. China has since extended the holiday this year in response to the virus in order to prevent further proliferation. Many of the country’s neighbors also officially recognize the Chinese New Year, and the Chinese diaspora of these places, too, make the trek home to celebrate. Travel such as this, expectedly, is not conducive to subduing an outbreak.

The origin of the disease is yet unconfirmed, but, according to the WHO, the likely culprit is an “animal reservoir.” Coronavirus is zoonotic, meaning it can be commuted between humans and animals. For this reason, China has temporarily banned the trade of wild animals and advised citizens to avoid eating the meat of such animals as well. The WHO also has confirmed human-to-human transmission in the case of 2019 n-CoV.

The United States and other nations with diplomats and officials in the country are currently in process of evacuating China for the time being.