|Wuhan Hospitals are being overwhelmed by Coronavirus cases.|
Officials have confirmed 544 cases of the virus and 17 deaths and medical staff in Wuhan say they are overwhelmed with sick patients as one hospital alone is treating about 300 patients. Hospitals in Wuhan are reportedly dealing with huge numbers of sick patients, raising fears the new coronavirus is spreading faster than official reports suggest.
Bus, subway, ferry and long-distance passenger transportation networks will be suspended from 10am (local time), and the airport and train stations will be closed to outgoing passengers, state TV said.
There are now 544 cases of novel coronavirus reported across China, with 17 confirmed deaths — almost double that reported a day earlier — according to reports in the country's state media, Xinhua, the China Daily newspaper and Reuters. The previous report pointed to nine deaths.
Abroad, Thailand has confirmed four cases, while the United States, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan have reported one each. Authorities say they have also confirmed 2,197 cases where people have had close contact with patients.
Wuhan virus 'super-spreaders'
One of China's top health experts warns potential "super-spreaders" could worsen the impact of the new coronavirus strain, which can now be passed between humans.
This comes as the state-owned Global Times newspaper in an editorial appeared to lash authorities in Wuhan for being slow to report the virus had spread to medical workers — a key sign of human-to-human transmission and potential "super-spreaders".
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases includes dozens of people in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong province and Zhejiang province, with the majority in central Hubei province, where the city of Wuhan is located.
However, according to messages in a private WeChat group for Chinese medical professionals viewed by the ABC, one hospital in Wuhan has been overwhelmed with patients, with nearly 300 people in that facility alone exhibiting symptoms of the coronavirus.
The information from the group is difficult to independently verify — the ABC made multiple attempts to contact hospitals in Wuhan to ask about the reports, but received no response. Video footage appeared to back up the reports, showing large lines of patients wearing face masks at a hospital in Wuhan, crowding the wards as doctors moved through checking on them.
Analysis from Imperial College London last week suggested the Wuhan outbreak could have led to more than 1,700 cases, a significantly higher figure than what has been officially reported. Experts in Hong Kong have suggested the number could be closer to 1,300.
People posting in the group also expressed concern the coronavirus had spread to the city of Nanjing in Jiangsu province. However, authorities in the city said such statements were "rumours", and no cases had been reported at any of the city's hospitals.
Officials had initially tried to hide the real number of cases of the deadly disease, leading to the sacking of China's then health minister and Beijing's mayor. The epidemic saw more than 8,000 SARS cases across 37 countries, resulting in 774 deaths.
He said China was sharing information on the epidemic with the World Health Organisation (WHO), which held an emergency meeting about the outbreak and its potential global consequences in Geneva on Wednesday evening (local time).
During the meeting the WHO said it would decide on Thursday whether to declare a global emergency over the outbreak of the virus spreading from China. If it does so it will be only the sixth international emergency to be declared in the last decade.
"The decision is one I take extremely seriously," WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, adding that he was only prepared to make it with the appropriate amount of consideration and information.
He was speaking after the WHO held a day-long meeting of an independent panel of experts in Geneva on Wednesday. WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said new cases of the coronavirus would appear as China stepped up monitoring. The WHO said an animal source appeared most likely to be the primary source of this outbreak.
In Australia, one man in Brisbane was briefly placed in isolation after returning from Wuhan with flu-like symptoms, but subsequently released. Hong Kong has reported 118 suspected cases, according to the South China Morning Post; however, 88 of those people have since been discharged. Macau, another special administrative region of China, also announced its first confirmed case of the virus on Wednesday.
The outbreak of a new coronavirus stemming from Wuhan, China, has killed nine people and afflicted more than 400 others ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday during which hundreds of millions of people are expected to travel. As of Wednesday morning, it has now spread beyond Asia, with one confirmed case found in Washington State, U.S.
Officials confirmed that the new mystery virus can spread between humans and said 15 medical staff have now been infected, stoking fears about an international pandemic and prompting airport authorities around the world to step up screening of travelers arriving from China.
The outbreak could hit the economy, experts warned as they pointed to the fallout from the deadly SARS crisis in 2003.
The coronavirus, which causes a type of pneumonia, was thought to have originated at a wholesale seafood market in the Chinese city of Wuhan. It was first reported in late December. The World Health Organization said it appears the outbreak began in an animal source.
On Sunday, China’s National Health Commission said the source of the virus remains unknown and that its transmission path hasn’t been completely traced. Symptoms include fever and difficulty in breathing, and there is no vaccine for this new virus yet.
As of Tuesday evening, authorities have confirmed more than 400 cases, with most of those occurring in the Hubei province of China and its provincial capital of Wuhan, a city of 11 million people.
The outbreak was also spreading to other cities, with 14 cases in southern province of Guangdong, five in the capital Beijing, five in the eastern province of Zhejiang, two in Shanghai and two in Tianjin City.
Cases have also been reported in Thailand, South Korea and Japan. Taiwan confirmed its first case Tuesday evening in a 55-year-old Taiwanese woman who had returned from Wuhan the night before.
On Tuesday, the WHO warned the coronavirus was likely to spread. “More cases should be expected in other parts of China and possibly other countries in the coming days,” said WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic. Asked by Reuters why the WHO expected higher numbers, Jasarevic said new cases would appear as China steps up monitoring.
The outbreak comes ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday period this week, when millions of Chinese will travel domestically and overseas — heightening the risk of more transmissions. The WHO, which does not advise travel restrictions at this time, said it will convene an emergency committee on the virus on Wednesday to consider declaring an international health emergency.
How does it compare with SARS?
The outbreak has sparked alarm because the disease is in the same family of viruses as severe acute respiratory syndrome. SARS, which emerged in China in 2002 and was identified in 2003, killed nearly 800 people worldwide. It hit Asian cities such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Taipei and Beijing the hardest and triggered a severe downturn in the region.
“I remember the SARS outbreak very, very clearly and the impact it had. These things have an enormous hit on economies,” said Rob Carnell, Dutch bank ING’s chief economist, adding that some countries even slipped into recession. “It is not inconceivable that if Wuhan becomes more widely spread, and starts to claim more lives, that it will result in a similar response,” added Carnell.
At the time, the rapid spread of SARS was blamed on a lack of transparency by the Chinese authorities. In an opinion editorial published Sunday, state tabloid Global Times wrote, “In the early moments of SARS, there was concealment in China. This must not be repeated.”
This time, however, experts say China has moved more rapidly to deal with the crisis and that the virus appears to be less lethal than SARS. Chinese President Xi Jinping said Monday that containing the spread of the coronavirus should be a “top priority,” according to state media.
“Government and World Health Organization reports indicate that the virus is both less virulent and less deadly than SARS. The response from Beijing is also far faster this time than it was in 2002-04,” said Rory Green, economist for China and South Korea at research firm TS Lombard.
Carnell warned that if consumers get spooked, the impact on the economy could be significant. “Things like this ... stop people from undertaking economic activity. You don’t go out. You don’t travel. You don’t eat out,” he warned. “You don’t even need lots of people to die or even get sick. You just need people to be worried about that to have a very very massive impact, and potentially quite a long-lasting impact.”
He pointed to SARS as an example: Tourists stopped traveling to places where there were outbreaks, commuters stopped taking public transport and worked from home instead, and consumers stayed away from malls and restaurants.
At the peak of SARS, Green noted, domestic tourist growth in the second quarter of 2003 fell 45% year on year, and revenue from that activity plunged 64%. He said, however, that the impact this time should be less than that of SARS, given that it seems to be less virulent.
“Given the Wuhan coronavirus is less serious and the government response has been faster and stronger, the impact on the economy will certainly be less than SARS,” he said. “At present our outlook is for the disease to drag on retail sales and tourism but for consumption growth to remain on trend at 7%.”