Almost 43,000 people have been infected with the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) and more than 1,000 have died worldwide. It has hit China even harder than the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic and continues to spread.
Chinese epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan (鍾南山) says that the epidemic has not yet peaked.
The virus spread rapidly from the Chinese city of Wuhan to the rest of Hubei Province and across the nation, and things are heating up in densely populated industrial and commercial centers along the coastal region.
Wenzhou and Hangzhou have been added to the list of locked-down cities, and it seems that once the virus has gotten a foothold, there is no stopping it.
The 2019-nCoV has spread to 28 countries and territories, prompting the WHO to elevate it to a public health emergency of international health concern — preventing its further spread is now the most important global issue at hand.
In 1918, Spanish flu spread across the world, and although international individual and commercial contacts and exchanges were nowhere near what they are today, it still killed tens of millions of people, with estimates ranging from 20 million to 100 million.
With China being the world’s second-largest economy and the high level of globalization, the possible effects of the outbreak must not be underestimated.
Still, the level of international medical standards, public health knowledge and disease prevention has helped governments understand that there are two ways to eliminate the virus: developing a vaccine to prevent infection and treat those who have been infected, and using quarantine measures to prevent the further spread of the virus to minimize its effects.
These are complementary measures that have managed to restrict the spread of Ebola, hantavirus, various strains of avian influenza, SARS and other viruses to thousands or even hundreds of infected, and earlier diseases that caused millions or even tens of millions of deaths have disappeared altogether. There is reason to remain optimistic in the face of the menacing 2019-nCoV outbreak, despite its strength.
However, there have only been limited advances in the development of a vaccine against 2019-nCoV.
Reports that some existing medicines can alleviate the symptoms are purely coincidental and as no conclusion has been reached as to whether they would provide a general treatment, people still have to wait for test results.
The main approach to dealing with the virus has been quarantine and lockdowns that aim to minimize contact between people and prevent viral transmission.
China has locked down Wuhan, Wenzhou, Hangzhou and many other cities; restricted traffic and public gatherings in big cities, such as Shanghai and Beijing; and implemented mask requirements and disinfection measures.
The Chinese government has taken measures to restrict infections of individuals and whole communities. Since the Lunar New Year, these measures have had a negative effect on Chinese consumption and threaten to sever industrial supply chains.
This has had an effect on the Chinese economy, but Beijing has continued to act forcefully. This further emphasizes the dangers posed by the outbreak, as the threat to people’s lives is more important than avoiding a shrinking economy.
Meanwhile, other countries has adopted border controls to keep the virus out. These severe restrictions to international movement amount to isolation of China in an effort to contain the virus and guarantee that it would not become a threat to other populations.
As of yesterday, there were 42,638 confirmed cases and 1,016 deaths in China. Worldwide, there have been just two further deaths. This makes it clear that imposing border controls has been effective.
The US, Singapore and other countries have adopted strict border controls, banning all Chinese, as well as all foreign nationals who have visited China within the previous 14 days, from entering.
When their own citizens return from China, they are to be subject to self-managed quarantine.
In addition, many countries have suspended flights to and from China, and China-friendly North Korea, Russia, Mongolia and Central Asian nations have closed their borders with China.
If these countries were not worried that the outbreak would worsen and cause large numbers of deaths, they would not have taken these measures, as they sever business and tourism ties with China.
John Hopkins University has issued an epidemic prognosis, which predicted that Taiwan would become the second-most affected country after China.
However, there are only 18 confirmed cases in Taiwan, where prevention efforts compare favorably to Japan, South Korea and Thailand.
The virus is spreading fast in China and the government should quickly adopt a policy of only allowing Taiwanese residing abroad and foreigners — including Chinese — who have not visited, or transited through, China in the previous 14 days to enter Taiwan.
This is the only way to create a tight preventive net and avoid a situation in which the outbreak spirals out of control before a vaccine can be developed, and is crucial to the success of Taiwan’s epidemic prevention efforts.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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