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Warnings of Wuhan pneumonia

Posted January. 28, 2020 09:09,   

Updated January. 28, 2020 09:09


Wuhan pneumonia caused by a novel coronavirus is spreading like wildfire. It has been less than a month since it first appeared in Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei province, on December 31, 2019, but the virus has already reached eight countries, including the United States, with 581 confirmed cases. Seventeen people who have died are all Chinese. In the meanwhile, South Korea has also reported one confirmed case. The Chinese female patient, who displayed symptoms at the Incheon International Airport, has been quarantined as of today. Despite being China’s transport hub with a population of 11 million, Wuhan has suspended all public transport services in and out of the city as of 10 a.m. on Thursday, becoming the first provincial capital city that has been shut down.

It is thought that the host of Wuhan pneumonia is bats or snakes. Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) started in bats or civet cats while Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in camels. The outbreak began at a seafood market in Wuhan where a variety of wild animals are illegally traded, and the second person who died from the virus owned a store in the market. It can take up to 10 to 12 days to develop symptoms, which are similar to those of a common cold or a flu. There is no treatment or vaccine yet. Given that Human-to-human transmission can occur when someone comes in contact with an infected person’s secretions such as saliva and mucus, it is advised to wear a mask when in public places. A mask should not be reused as it might have viruses on it.

Experts in Hong Kong warn that the outbreak might evolve into a pandemic as SARS did in 2003. According to them, infectious diseases are first transmitted from animals to humans, from humans to humans and then from patients to their families and medical staff before they become a full-fledged pandemic, and Wuhan pneumonia is already in the third stage. China has come under criticism for accelerating the spread of the virus with its cover-up and late response. Wuhan has been shut down, but it is estimated that millions of people have already left the city. The New York Times said the problem has exacerbated by the Chinese government’s tight control over information, the media and a civic society.

In the meantime, the lockdown of Wuhan has tumbled down China stocks. It is expected that the economic damages caused by the novel coronavirus would be larger than those inflicted by SARS in 2003, because China’s share of the global economy is estimated to increase to 20 percent from 8.7 percent in 2003. This could also impact the South Korean economy, which was showing signs of recovery, from the beginning of the year. Consumption might freeze just like five years ago, delaying a rebound of the growth rate.

The first crisis is the Luna New Year holiday, which starts today. With many people traveling and gathering, the risk of transmission goes up while most hospitals close. During the Lunar New Year holiday, more than 140,000 Chinese tourists are expected to flock to South Korea. The Korean government should operate a 24-hour emergency disease control system while citizens should closely follow the relevant news as well as the guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus such as washing hands and wearing masks.

Jin-Yeong Lee ecolee@donga.com