A leading virologist who helped tackle the SARS epidemic in Asia in 2003 has warned that a new strain of deadly coronavirus from China could lead to an outbreak at least 10 times worse than the health crisis 17 years ago.
Dr Guan Yi, director of the State Key Laboratory of Emerging Infectious Diseases at the University of Hong Kong, confessed to Chinese media that the situation in Wuhan – where the virus originated – was already ‘uncontrollable’.
He also claimed that the Chinese authorities missed the ‘golden period’ to control the virus and prevent it from spreading.
‘I have experienced so much and never felt scared. Most [viruses] are controllable, but this time I am scared,’ Dr Guan told the press, predicting the worst was yet to come.
A third city in China is going into lockdown as officials battle to stop the spread of the deadly new coronavirus that has killed 17, left hundreds seriously ill and potentially infected thousands. Pictured, passengers arrive from the city of Wuhan – where the virus originated – arrive at Narita Airport in Chiba, Japan, today. One case has been confirmed in Japan
In the picture taken yesterday, workers are seen producing face masks at a factory in Handan in China’s northern Hebei province. The Wuhan government has ordered all residents to wear the medical product after the virus broke out in the city, leading authorities to lock it down
Dr Guan Yi (pictured), director of the State Key Laboratory of Emerging Infectious Diseases at the University of Hong Kong, claimed that the situation in Wuhan was already ‘uncontrollable’
The expert, who was in Wuhan this week, claimed he had to ‘escape’ from the city yesterday after noticing the ‘jaw-droppingly’ lack of preventative measures enforced by the local authority.
The new fatal virus, which emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan last month, has killed at least 17 people, sickened more than 590 and caused the central government to put the provincial capital of 11million under lockdown.
Its symptoms are typically a fever, cough and trouble breathing, but some patients have developed pneumonia, a potentially life-threatening infection that causes inflammation of the small air sacs in the lungs.
Scientists in China have recognised its similarity to SARS, which turned into a global killer between 2002 and 2003.
SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, is caused by the SARS coronavirus, known as SARS Co, and first emerged in China in 2002.
By the end of a nine-month outbreak, the virus had spread to several other Asian countries as well as the UK and Canada, killing 775 and infecting the worst was yet to come.
The new virus, which can cause pneumonia, is poorly understood. Scientists now fear it may have spread to humans from snakes or bats.
Passengers from an international flight have their temperature checked as they pass a thermal scanner monitor upon arrival at the Adisucipto International Airport today in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Countries around Asia have stepped up health checks at airports and train stations
Children wear protective masks queue at a check-in counter at the Changi Airport in Singapore today. One person was diagonsed with the virus in Singapore today
People queue for receiving treatment at the fever outpatient department at the Wuhan Tongji Hospital in Wuhan. The city’s government said the number of fever patients had surged
Dr Guan and his team were the first to identify the SARS coronavirus during the epidemic and track down its source to wildlife, particularly the masked palm civet.
He also took the lead to urge the government to ban wildlife markets, which prevented a second outbreak of the virus.
In an interview with Chinese news outlet Caixin, Dr Guan feared that ‘much more’ people from Wuhan had been infected by the new virus than the total number of SARS cases, and many of them had already left Wuhan because of the Chinese New Year.
He doubted the effect of putting Wuhan under lockdown right now, claiming that the sources of infection had ‘spread out completely’.
WHAT IS SARS?
Severe acute respiratory syndrome is caused by the SARS coronavirus, known as SARS CoV.
Coronaviruses commonly cause infections in both humans and animals.
There have been two outbreaks, which resulted in a highly contagious and potentially life-threatening form of pneumonia.
Both happened between 2002 and 2004. Since 2004, there have not been any known cases of SARS reported anywhere in the world.
The World Health Organization (WHO) continues to monitor countries throughout the world for any unusual disease activity.
Where did it originate?
In China in 2002. It’s thought that a strain of the coronavirus usually only found in small mammals mutated, enabling it to infect humans.
The SARS infection quickly spread from China to other Asian countries. There were also a small number of cases in several other countries, including four in the UK, plus a significant outbreak in Toronto, Canada.
The SARS pandemic was eventually brought under control in July 2003, following a policy of isolating people suspected of having the condition and screening all passengers travelling by air from affected countries for signs of the infection.
During the period of infection, there were 8,098 reported cases of SARS and 775 deaths. This means the virus killed about one in 10 people who were infected.
People over the age of 65 were particularly at risk, with over half of those who died from the infection being in this age group.
In 2004 there was another smaller SARS outbreak linked to a medical laboratory in China.
It was thought to have been the result of someone coming into direct contact with a sample of the SARS virus, rather than being caused by animal-to-human or human-to-human transmission.
How does it spread?
In small droplets of saliva coughed or sneezed into the air by an infected person. If someone else breathes in the droplets, they can become infected.
SARS can also be spread indirectly if an infected person touches surfaces such as door handles with unwashed hands.
Someone who touches the same surface may also become infected. The virus may also be spread through an infected person’s faeces.
For example, if they do not wash their hands properly after going to the toilet, they may pass the infection on to others.
Symptoms of SARS
SARS has flu-like symptoms that usually begin two to seven days after infection. Sometimes, the time between coming into contact with the virus and the start of symptoms (incubation period) can be up to 10 days.
The symptoms of SARS include:
- a high temperature (fever)
- extreme tiredness (fatigue)
- muscle pain
- loss of appetite
After these symptoms, the infection will begin to affect your lungs and airways (respiratory system), leading to additional symptoms, such as:
- a dry cough
- breathing difficulties
- an increasing lack of oxygen in the blood, which can be fatal in the most severe cases
Treatment for SARS
There’s currently no cure for SARS, but research to find a vaccine is ongoing.
A person suspected of having SARS should be admitted to hospital immediately and kept in isolation under close observation.
Treatment is mainly supportive, and may include:
- assisting with breathing using a ventilator to deliver oxygen
- antibiotics to treat bacteria that cause pneumonia
- antiviral medicines
- high doses of steroids to reduce swelling in the lungs
There’s not much scientific evidence to show that these treatments are effective. The antiviral medicine ribavirin is known to be ineffective at treating SARS.
Wuhan, a major transport hub in central China, yesterday blocked all of its means of transport. Huanggang, a nearby city, is going into lockdown today.
But Dr Guan said the locals were not paying attention to the epidemic.
‘Even though the central government issued orders [to urge people] to pay high attention a couple of days ago, the local health and prevention [authorities] have not upgraded the measures at all,’ he told the reporter.
Viral footage purports to show a fashionable Chinese young woman biting one of the wings of a cooked bat at a fancy restaurant. The deadly coronavirus could come from the animal
Pictures emerging on Twitter shows soup cooked with a bat. Bats are used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a series of illness, including coughing, Malaria and Gonorrhea
A third city in China is going into lockdown as officials battle to stop the spread of the deadly new coronavirus that has killed 17, left hundreds seriously ill and potentially infected thousands.
Major Lunar New Year events in Beijing have been cancelled, authorities in Ezhou have shut down train stations, and Huanggang has announced it will suspend public buses and trains as well as ordering cinemas and internet cafes to close their doors.
The development comes as Wuhan – the city at the centre of the outbreak – remains in lockdown, with all flights in and outbound cancelled, residents banned from leaving and scenes of chaos as desperate families fight for food supplies.
Official figures show almost 600 patients have been struck down by the disease – but scientists yesterday warned as many as 10,000 people could have been infected in Wuhan alone. Experts said they couldn’t rule out the SARS-like virus already being in the UK. Others have said no virus has spread this far this quickly since SARS in 2003.
Chinese officials are disinfecting whole streets and parks with clouds of gas and chilling footage has emerged of roadside quarantine tents, hastily erected to isolate suspected cases. One resident told the BBC the atmosphere in the city felt like ‘the end of the world’.
A worker sanitises the square in front of the Hankou Railway Station today. The hub was closed after the city of Wuhan was locked down following the outbreak of a new coronavirus
Commuters wearing face masks as a precautionary measure to protect against the possible spread of a SARS-like virus outbreak at an MTR subway station in Hong Kong today
Travellers have spread the coronavirus to seven countries already, including the US. European health officials fear the never-before-seen virus will reach the continent, with the UK and other nations already on high alert.
It was revealed on Tuesday that an American man infected with the deadly virus – which Chinese officials have warned will mutate and become deadlier – came into close contact with at least 16 people before he was put in isolation.
According to health officials, the unnamed man from Washington state, who is in his 30s, wasn’t diagnosed until Monday, January 20 – five days after he returned from China.
The World Health Organization is facing increasing pressure to declare the crisis a public health emergency, like it has done for Ebola and Zika in the past. Health chiefs will meet again later today to make a final verdict.
Wuhan’s Health Commission said the city is ‘witnessing a fast growing trend of fever patients’ and hospitals are facing bed shortages because of the virus, which has still yet to be named.
Last night British government ministers ordered a clampdown on flights from Wuhan, and took the extraordinary measure of effectively quarantining passengers from China.
The virus, which can cause pneumonia, is poorly understood. Scientists now fear it may have spread to humans from snakes or bats.
One professor yesterday warned the outbreak has a death rate similar to the global Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918, which went on to kill more than 50million people. Data suggests two in 100 people who catch the virus will die.
Coronavirus: What we know so far
What is this virus?
The virus has been identified as a new type of coronavirus. Coronaviruses are a large family of pathogens, most of which cause mild respiratory infections such as the common cold.
But coronaviruses can also be deadly. SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, is caused by a coronavirus and killed hundreds of people in China and Hong Kong in the early 2000s.
Can it kill?
Yes. Seventeen people have so far died after testing positive for the virus. Most patients die from complications including pneumonia and swelling in lungs. Severe pneumonia can kill people by causing them to drown in the ‘fluid’ flooding their lungs. The virus also causes swelling in the respiratory system, which can make it hard for the lungs to pass oxygen into the bloodstream – leading to organ failure and death.
What are the symptoms?
Its symptoms are typically a fever, cough and trouble breathing, but some patients have developed pneumonia, a potentially life-threatening infection that causes inflammation of the small air sacs in the lungs. People carrying the novel coronavirus may only have mild symptoms, such as a sore throat. They may assume they have a common cold and not seek medical attention, experts fear.
How is it detected?
The virus’s genetic sequencing was released by scientists in China to the rest of the world to enable other countries to quickly diagnose potential new cases. This helps other countries respond quickly to disease outbreaks.
To contain the virus, airports are detecting infected people with temperature checks. But as with every virus, it has an incubation period, meaning detection is not always possible because symptoms have not appeared yet.
How did it start and spread?
Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says.
The first cases identified were among people connected to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan.
Cases have since been identified elsewhere which could have been spread through human-to-human transmission.
What are countries doing to prevent the spread?
Countries in Asia have stepped up airport surveillance. They include Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines.
Australia and the US are also screening patients for a high temperature, and the UK announced it will screen passengers returning from Wuhan.
Is it similar to anything we’ve ever seen before?
Experts have compared it to the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The epidemic started in southern China and killed more than 700 people in mainland China, Hong Kong and elsewhere