by Nathan Sartain
What is the Virus?
The 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is a new type of the coronavirus – an upper-respiratory infection that often causes infection in the nose, sinuses or upper-throat – that has been leaving the world worried. Symptoms are similar to normal infections, and often include runny noses, coughing, and sore throats. So far there are more than 300 confirmed deaths (a 2% death rate), and over 17,000 confirmed cases, with 20% of those classed as “severe.”
What’s Happening in China?
In China, the worry is more mainstream. With face masks sold out across the country and around twenty cities “locked down,” there are now strict restrictions being imposed on entry and exit, as well as domestic transportation.
Davin Si-Chen Lin, a resident of Guangzhou, said: “Fortunately my city, which has a 20 million population, has no lockdown, but the streets are mostly empty because all schools, companies, and services have reopening dates.
“The government strongly suggests people to avoid any public activity, to stay home, and to avoid any public gathering. We are now seeing the economic impact of this outbreak everywhere as the economy of the whole country had paused and many are worried.”
Joey, a Liverpool-based student, commented on the worry, saying: “In Wuhan, lots of people don’t get treatment because there are too many people infected; the medical resources can’t support the patients.”
In the midst of media censorship, many believe that thoughts about the virus aren’t able to be properly represented, and could leave facts out of potential coverage.
Davin said: “Despite the censorship, we keep receiving emotional and sometimes tragic videos from netizens (internet citizens) in Wuhan. So many are questioning the information they saw from the state media which promotes ‘positivity’ and ‘solidarity’. At the same time, I know there is also much fake or exaggerated information on the internet causing unnecessary panic. I think many around me became slightly more sceptical about the information they see on the internet now.”
However, perhaps more sadly, the coronavirus has led to an increase in prejudice towards Asian populations worldwide. With reports that a student was attacked in Sheffield for wearing a mask, naturally, some are scared.
Davin continued: “Some western media have repeatedly revealed the racism against western nationals of Chinese ancestry as a result of the outbreak, while not that many have brought to light the imminent danger and risk of violence and discrimination against Chinese nationals residing or travelling in those countries.”
Has it Spread to the UK?
Only two cases have been confirmed in the UK, with both patients receiving treatment in Newcastle. This in addition to 93 British nationals who are being held in isolation in Arrowe Park, Wirral, after they were allowed to fly home from China. They will be closely monitored for any symptoms, but are allowed to go outside. Furthermore, one man who fell ill whilst on a flight back to the UK is being taken to a hospital facility with test results to follow.
Masks are now selling out around the UK as people continue to panic about the public health emergency. Liverpool John Moores student, Joey, who bought 30 masks, said: “I think people wearing masks here is reasonable, particularly as a Chinese student because there is a large group that have just came back. We are concerned that some may have the history of travelling to Wuhan. But, I think as there are only several confirmed cases, there is no real need to wear masks.”
A pharmacy manager at Kays Pharmacy, who does not wish to be named, discussed customers buying masks: “It must have been Thursday that we started seeing an increase. We sold out in the morning, then we said we should have more by 3, then by quarter to three there was already a queue out the front of the shop.
“A lot of them were buying in bulk to send back to where they are from. We sold over 8000 masks in two days, but there were people buying hundreds. There was one woman who bought a thousand.”
So What Now?
The Department of Health has raised the level of risk to ‘moderate’ which means that although the risk isn’t immediate to the general public, people must prepare for all eventualities.
Kays Pharmacy’s manager, however, downplayed the magnitude of the outbreak, saying: “Not one of us were wearing a mask because at the end of the day – for me –it’s just like another flu. I don’t think the panic is warranted. I think they’re panicking because people are being brought to the Wirral.”
It hasn’t stopped concern, though. There have been a number of reports of GPs being flooded with calls. In Southport, it is claimed some residents phoned claiming to believe they may have caught the virus simply after experiencing a bad takeaway meal. Patients have also expressed concern about avoiding eating Chinese food, interacting with those of Asian descent, and coming into contact with those who appear to have a heavy cold out of fear they may catch the virus.
Of opinions like that, ones that could be perceived as dangerous, Davin Lin says: “The outbreak will eventually be contained by a vaccine, but there is no vaccine for racism and extremism: To be honest, I am more scared of returning to the US or Europe than of the outbreak itself.”
How Concerned Should I Be?
From a UK perspective, distress shouldn’t be at a premium. Public Health England says that there were 124 new admissions into intensive care or high-dependency units in the first week of December for the flu, up 80 from the previous week. There were eight deaths from this number, taking the death toll for a nine-week period up to 15, still 15 more than the coronavirus. So, for as intimidating as the coronavirus may seem, there is no requirement to panic just yet. For now, the government is recommending that the public should take extra care with hygiene, ensure their hands are regularly washed and sanitised, and to try and avoid spreading germs where possible.
However, according to the below diagram, the coronavirus is a lot worse than flu in terms of the basic facts, so it is advisable to take an air of caution towards the health emergency.
If there are any fears that services may be affected by the passengers flying into Arrowe Park, Wirral Council have urged people not to worry.
“All services in the hospital are running as usual including emergency services, outpatients and planned surgery”, said Pat Hackett, leader of Wirral Council.
“Anyone with suspicious symptoms will be taken to the nearby Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen Hospital, which has a high-level infectious diseases unit.”
A spokesperson for Kays Pharmacy says: “They put so much of it on the TV, people are getting worried. They had seen it in the paper that people had been sent to the Wirral and some of them who were sick were going to the Royal Hospital, so they panicked.”
In summary, with just under 400 confirmed deaths worldwide and a near-18,000 cases, it’s understandable to have some worry over the coronavirus. But, with 324/326 tests confirmed negative in the UK, there are no signs to suggest immediate panic. It’s best to take care and ensure your hygiene is kept to a high-standard, but don’t lose any sleep.