Coronavirus update

Coronavirus update, by David Evans.

The official figures from China almost certainly understate the problem, perhaps grossly. The Chinese Government is a dictatorship with a long record of deception. It arrested doctors for tying to spread the news and warn people. Reports of cremations without funerals, forcibly concentrating confirmed cases, and many locked-down cities point to something more serious than the official figures would indicate. Watch what they do, not what they say.

That said, the trend in the official figures is encouraging, with the first hints of a slow down. Confirmed cases had been growing at 50% a day two weeks ago, slowed to 20% last week, and 11% today.

Elsewhere in the world, containment already might be sufficient. The main problem is the period of a few days when an infected person shows no symptoms but can infect others. If there are few such people outside China, it might be contained. Each day that passes without a large increase in confirmed cases outside China gives hope. But in the longer term, there are already tens of cases outside China confirmed, so perhaps there are many more unconfirmed, and they are spreading the virus. Time will tell.

It is now seven days after flights from China were banned from Australia, as with much of the West. The full incubation period is 14 days, but the average is around six days. So if the virus had escaped to the West, we would be seeing many new cases presenting by now — but we don’t. Instead, most of the small number of new cases are immediate family members of people who flew in from China, usually from Wuhan.

Hong Kong and Singapore are reporting quite a few cases. Hong Kong is going to jail people who breach quarantine and come in from China.

Another problem is that the coronavirus seems to affect people either mildly or strongly. The mild form is not much more than a cough, so victims would not go to seek medical help. But presumably they could pass it on. The strong form causes lung and breathing problems, and victims need hospital treatment. The latter has a death rate of around 4% maybe, if they get care in a functioning ICU. Western healthcare can handle a few patients, but if it gets overwhelmed then few will receive ICU care and the death rate goes way up.

Also troubling is that some victims react instead with abdominal pains and nausea. In one such case, a Chinese patient infected ten healthcare workers and several other patients before it was realized they had coronavirus.

(Imagine being a Chinese doctor at a Wuhan hospital. Your chances of catching the virus are reasonably high, especially if you make a slip with procedure or the awkward protective gear. You’ve been seeing lots of people die for weeks now, and it’s only getting worse. You’re tired and stressed, and an endless stream of sick and dying people need your attention. And your government will punish you if you talk about it.)

This is much more deadly than the seasonal flu, but a lot less lethal than SARS. However, it is much more infectious than SARS.

There are several medium strength hints that the coronavirus was was made in a laboratory, but not proof. I predict no one will own up to it, and it will be an unproven conspiracy theory for years. We’ll never get a definitive answer on that one.

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) is in China’s pocket. He is an Ethiopian official who arranged large loans from China, and Ethiopia is already struggling to repay. So discount the WHO as a sock puppet for the Chinese Government.

In the meantime, the world could limit the spread by not traveling unnecessarily — and most travel is unnecessary (think video-conferencing, no tourism for a few months). Public events could be cancelled, and school closed in areas with any infections.

Five Britons contract coronavirus in French ski resort. By Marina Depetris.

Five British nationals including a child have been diagnosed with the new coronavirus at a French mountain village …

In total, 11 people, including the five who tested positive, have been hospitalised in southeastern France …

The group … shared neighbouring apartments in a chalet and temporarily hosted a British man believed to have contracted the virus at a business congress in Singapore before his short visit to France in late January