The mysterious new strain of Coronavirus has now resulted in a total of 25 deaths in China with over 830 reported cases. The Chinese National Health Commission (CNHC) confirmed the rise in the death toll because of the epidemic outbreak. Even as the country quarantines Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, there seems no respite from the virus that has resulted in major filtration and screening at airports around the globe with incoming travellers from China.
"As of 24:00 on 23 January, the National Health Commission has received a total of 830 confirmed cases of new Coronavirus infection in 29 provinces (autonomous regions and municipalities), including 177 severe cases and 25 deaths, including 24 cases in Hubei Province and one case in Hebei Province", the CNHC statement said.
As per reports, over 8,000 people have been kept under medical observation.
A tweet by CCTV Asia Pacific shows the streets of Wuhan with only a handful of pedestrians and vehicles as locals chose to stay at home despite the festive season in China. The government has also announced the cancelation of the Chinese New Year celebration amidst the unprecedented pneumonia outbreak.
The World Health Organization has decided against declaring the outbreak a global emergency, a step that can bring more money and resources to fight a threat but that can also cause trade and travel restrictions and other economic damage, making the decision a politically fraught one.
The decision “should not be taken as a sign that WHO does not think the situation is serious or that we’re not taking it seriously. Nothing could be further from the truth,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “WHO is following this outbreak every minute of every day.”
Chinese officials have not said how long the shutdowns of the cities will last. While sweeping measures are typical of China’s Communist Party-led government, large-scale quarantines are rare around the world, even in deadly epidemics, because of concerns about infringing on people’s liberties. And the effectiveness of such measures is unclear.
“To my knowledge, trying to contain a city of 11 million people is new to science,” said Gauden Galea, the WHO″s representative in China. “It has not been tried before as a public health measure. We cannot at this stage say it will or it will not work.”
Jonathan Ball, a professor of virology at molecular virology at the University of Nottingham in Britain, said the lockdowns appear to be justified scientifically.
“Until there’s a better understanding of what the situation is, I think it’s not an unreasonable thing to do,” he said. “Anything that limits people’s travels during an outbreak would obviously work.”
But Ball cautioned that any such quarantine should be strictly time-limited. He added: “You have to make sure you communicate effectively about why this is being done. Otherwise you will lose the goodwill of the people.”
During the devastating West Africa Ebola outbreak in 2014, Sierra Leone imposed a national three-day quarantine as health workers went door to door, searching for hidden cases. Burial teams collecting corpses and people taking the sick to Ebola centers were the only ones allowed to move freely. Frustrated residents complained of food shortages.
In China, the illnesses from the newly identified coronavirus first appeared last month in Wuhan, an industrial and transportation hub. Local authorities demanded all residents wear masks in public places and urged civil servants wear them at work.
After the city was closed off Thursday, images showed long lines and empty shelves at supermarkets, as people stocked up. Trucks carrying supplies into the city are not being restricted, although many Chinese recall shortages in the years before the country’s recent economic boom.
Analysts predicted cases will continue to multiply, although the jump in numbers is also attributable in part to increased monitoring.
“Even if (cases) are in the thousands, this would not surprise us,” the WHO’s Galea said, adding, however, that the number of infected is not an indicator of the outbreak’s severity so long as the death rate remains low.
The coronavirus family includes the common cold as well as viruses that cause more serious illnesses, such as the SARS outbreak that spread from China to more than a dozen countries in 2002-03 and killed about 800 people, and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, or MERS, which is thought to have originated from camels.
China is keen to avoid repeating mistakes with its handling of SARS. For months, even after the illness had spread around the world, China parked patients in hotels and drove them around in ambulances to conceal the true number of cases and avoid WHO experts. This time, China has been credited with sharing information rapidly, and President Xi Jinping has emphasized that as a priority.
Health authorities are taking extraordinary measures to prevent the spread of the virus, placing those believed infected in plastic tubes and wheeled boxes, with air passed through filters.
The first cases in the Wuhan outbreak were connected to people who worked at or visited a seafood market, now closed for an investigation. Experts suspect that the virus was first transmitted from wild animals but that it may also be mutating. Mutations can make it deadlier or more contagious.