Separating fact from fiction: Coronavirus

Sydney Joa 9-III

Barely a month into the new year, and there’s already a deadly virus roaming around China and at least 28 other countries. This virus was first identified in the city of Wuhan, China on December 31st, 2019 and is known as the Covid-19. Flights have been suspended, tours have been canceled, restaurants are on temporary closure, and millions of people are being quarantined or maintained under lockdown.

         According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as of February 24, the virus has infected over 79,000 and killed over 2,629 across countries in Asia, North America, and Australia. It has officially surpassed the number of fatalities from the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak back in 2003, which infected more than 8,000 people and killed 774. Sadly, there is currently no specific vaccine or cure, however, a number of people have recovered after treatment.

What is the coronavirus?

The coronavirus is a zoonotic respiratory illness, meaning that it can be transmitted between animals and people. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, with some causing illnesses in people and others circulating among animals such as bats, cats, and camels. In some cases, coronaviruses that originate from animals can evolve and infect humans. This was the case for SARS, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and the latest outbreak – the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV).

         This new novel had not been previously identified in humans before the first report in Wuhan. The virus manifests from mild, flu-like symptoms to life-threatening pneumonia. However, those with weaker immune systems, such as older people, infants, or people with pre-existing medical conditions (heart disease, diabetes, etc.) are more vulnerable when exposed to the virus, causing the disease to be fatal. In addition, WHO states that the virus can be transmitted from person to person, usually after close contact with someone infected.

         Furthermore, the virus is thought to have started in a wet market in the city of Wuhan. Wet markets are like Mother Nature Network (MNN) put it, “unique to Asian countries.” Some of these places have snakes, poultry, fish, and other animals slaughtered and sold on-site. Since these markets are hardly ever regulated, this animal trade is often illegal. Additionally, these markets increase the chances of new diseases and viruses being introduced to humans. Thus, on January 22nd, Wuhan banned the trade of live animals in wet markets.

Action taken by China

China issued the largest quarantine in human history, locking down approximately 60 million people. In Wuhan alone, 11 million people are on lockdown. The Wuhan government has shut down all businesses, with exception of pharmacies, supermarkets, and gas stations. Schools are also suspended until February 17.

         With hospitals overflowing, China managed to build an emergency hospital in Wuhan to specifically treat patients infected by the coronavirus in just 10 days. This medical facility is equipped with 1,000 hospital beds, 30 intensive care units, and several isolation wards.

Economic impact on China

The economic cost of the virus is mounting in China. This economic damage is mostly due to efforts in preventing it from spreading, rather than the virus itself. Fear of this virus causes people to avoid activities that could expose them to the risk of infection. Consequently, businesses are being affected, especially with the timing of the Lunar New Year which was celebrated a couple of weeks ago.

         Moreover, global companies are more reluctant to buy from China and some have even introduced travel restrictions. For example, Facebook became the first big U.S. firm to tell their staff to avoid traveling to China. Beyond this, international retailers such as the furniture seller IKEA and coffee shops like Starbucks have closed their chains in China.

         According to BBC, as of February 6, “stock markets around the world are lower than they were two weeks ago. China’s market fell 8% on the first day of trading after the holiday. Crude oil has dropped by about 15% in the past two weeks, reflecting declining demand from China. Copper is also cheaper – by about 13% over the past two weeks.” And considering how copper is an important material for the construction industry, it has definitely affected the Chinese economy.

Coronavirus in the Dominican Republic

Currently, there are no reported cases in the Dominican Republic. However, there have been rumors circulating around the messenger app, WhatsApp, which stated that the virus has arrived here. Nevertheless, they have been debunked by local authorities and global maps tracking the virus have confirmed zero cases here.

         Apart from this, 5 students who were studying in Wuhan, China were stranded there and asking for help. They wrote letters expressing how hard it was to obtain clean water and food. The Dominican Ministry of Foreign Affairs managed to get the students a flight to Ukraine where they were admitted to the Kiev Regional Medical Rehabilitation hospital in which they will be spending 14 days quarantined. If all goes well, the students will be returning back home to the Dominican Republic. 

Cases on cruise ship

The coronavirus is currently aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which is stuck in the south of Tokyo, Japan. Out of 3,700 passengers aboard and quarantined, 691 are infected and 3 have died. After a scheduled two-week quarantine where passengers were confined to their rooms, Japanese health officials are testing passengers and transporting the ones who test positive to health facilities on land. However, according to Business Insider, experts are questioning the decision that kept passengers on board, saying how “keeping people in a confined space may have helped the virus spread.” 

Conspiracies about the Chinese government

During the SARS outbreak in 2003, Chinese officials attempted to conceal information and mask cases from WHO inspectors. This has caused many to be skeptical about Chinese officials undercounting the number of people infected and deaths with the current outbreak. However, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has stated that China is being more transparent with the coronavirus than they were with SARS. The Department Secretary Alex Azar during a press conference said, “The Chinese government’s level of cooperation is completely different from what we experienced in 2003.”

         Nevertheless, from the very start, Chinese authorities have been controlling information about the outbreak, silencing those that differed from their account even if they were telling the truth. An example is Chinese doctor Li Wenliang who on December 30th, 2019 announced to his school alumni group that seven patients from a local seafood market have been diagnosed with a similar illness to SARS and were quarantined in his hospital. All he wanted to do was to “remind his university classmates to be careful,” but soon after the message was posted, Li was brought down to a local police station and reprimanded for “spreading rumors online” and “severely disrupting social order,” according to CNN. Sadly, in the early hours of February 7th, he died from the coronavirus after unfortunately being infected about a week prior.

         A police statement on Weibo – China’s Twitter-like platform stated that “the internet is not land beyond the law… Any unlawful acts of fabricating, spreading rumors, and disturbing the social order will be punished by police according to the law, with zero tolerance.” Thus, skepticism continues and the question remains to be answered: what is the Chinese government hiding about the coronavirus?

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