There is an odd information gap surrounding this virus. We can’t say that it’s particularly harmful yet, as essentially all patients who were treated for it outside of China seem to have recovered nicely or are recovering. Some seem to have only ever had mild symptoms and self-recovered. However, there’s still an information gap.
Until very recently there are a few facts which have been repeated in Western media and by Western governments to reassure people. I’ve even seen some alternative media tout some of these points in order to downplay the situation. Here’s what people are saying: there’s no proven human-to-human transmission outside of China, you can’t transmit the disease if you aren’t showing symptoms, it has a low infection rate, it has a very low mortality rate.
We don’t know that any of this is true, and for most of it we have evidence that it’s not true. Human-to-human transmission has occurred in both Germany and Japan to people who never visited China. Best estimates are the disease is more contagious than the common flu, maybe even more contagious than that. There is evidence that the disease can be transmitted by carriers for up to two weeks, and that they might not show any symptoms at the time. Mortality rates don’t seem high, but data from China suggests the virus isn’t messing around. At a minimum, if the virus is able to spread quickly to many people, that hospital respirator your aunt needs to survive may not be available.
Still, all this means is that we’re in a 1-2 week window (maybe 4 weeks depending on apathy) where the virus is spreading around silently and appears to be no big deal. Airports are scanning for temperature, and so forth (ineffective), but that’s about the only containment measure occurring. It’s almost certain that at this moment a large number of people are currently infected with the virus and are spreading it, but no one knows because they have no symptoms. It’s only a question of how much this is occurring.
After this two week window, the downplaying and apathy won’t be possible anymore. More aggressive containment measures will probably be adopted. Or, alternatively, we might learn that China is simply showing its social and political fragility and the virus is all hype (seems unlikely).
In any event, it’s a good time to prepare. I dunno, buy those masks or something?
Places like Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and Japanese metropolises are at high risk for being the next places for this to get bad. You could add places like Shanghai and Beijing to that list except that the Chinese government is doing something about the virus, effective or not. Japan is doing just about nothing (temperature scans I think). There’s no personal space in Tokyo, so a bad virus that is semi-airborne would be a big deal here I imagine.
It’s too early to ask the next questions, but I’ll mention them in case things progress. Will the US take advantage of China’s crisis and take certain military actions in the Spratlys? Will China distract from its crisis by starting a desperate military action in Hong Kong or against Taiwan? If Tokyo ends up turning out like Wuhan, what would that mean for the world economy? Same for Shenzhen and Shanghai. There’s more at stake than people getting sick. We’ll revisit in a couple weeks, if there’s something to say.