BANGKOK, Thailand -- In China, officials have cancelled air flights
and trains out of Wuhan, a city of 11 million people which is the
epicenter of a deadly coronavirus that has killed at least 25 people
and sickened 830.
All 25 deaths and most of the infections appeared in Hubei province,
including the capital Wuhan.
Other victims fell ill to the disease while visiting foreign
countries, including Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Singapore,
Vietnam, and the United States.
"We have it totally under control," President Trump told CNBC in
Davos, Switzerland, during the World Economic Forum.
"It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control.
It’s going to be just fine."
Elsewhere in China, cities with confirmed cases of people who have
fallen ill from the mysterious virus include Guangdong near Hong Kong,
the capital Beijing, Shanghai which is downriver from Wuhan, and a
handful of other places.
In Wuhan, all public transportation including taxis, buses, and subway
and ferry systems are also no longer operating, in an effort to limit
the movement of people and hinder the spread of the virus.
Panic buying, albeit under control, with long lines at supermarkets
and other supply shops have appeared in Wuhan because people do not
know how long the city will be under quarantine.
Gauze facemasks are mandatory when in public in Wuhan, officials said.
Fear is escalating in Wuhan because not only is the food available to
customers now running scarce, but people are also realizing that with
their city cut off from the outside world, fresh supplies of food and
other basic items will be difficult to arrange.
Transportation in and out will be hampered, making it cumbersome to
restock empty shelves in supermarkets and other shops, especially if
the quarantine continues for an extended time.
Many of the frightened people feeling increasingly trapped in Wuhan
are in the city on vacation, visiting relatives and friends at the
start of a one-week Lunar New Year holiday which began on January 24.
Now they cannot easily go home.
At airports throughout China, Southeast Asia and increasingly
worldwide, health authorities have set up medical gates, questioning
arriving passengers about their current condition and scanning
vulnerable people with a handheld device to determine their
temperature and check for fever.
Sanitation at airports, train stations and other popular areas has
also been stepped up.
Across China, Southeast Asia and at other holiday sites, more than
three billion Chinese have already started to travel to celebrate the
New Year, resulting in long lines in foreign nations with incoming
passengers from China.
Authorities in tourist destinations are concerned that it is difficult
to immediate determine if a traveler is infected because the onset of
the pneumonia-like disease often takes several hours to emerge.
International health experts meanwhile have praised China for its
rapid response to the outbreak.
Unlike Beijing's slow, secretive reaction when the Severe Acute
Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) killed 774 people in 37 countries during
2002 and 2003, China has now moved very quickly to warn the world of
the outbreak, sequenced the virus' genome and made the results public.
Beijing has also rapidly mobilized medical workers throughout the country.
China has the advantage of lessons learnt from previous outbreaks, and
has since constructed modern facilities to deal with viruses,
quarantine and treat victims, and move into vector sites with
investigators and cleanup crews.
The latest theory, about how this coronavirus began, is focusing on
snake meat, sold in Wuhan's Wholesale Seafood Market.
That market also sells edible live wild animals and carcasses,
including chickens, donkeys, sheep, pigs, camels, foxes, rats,
hedgehogs and reptiles.
One theory being pursued is that the virus appeared in bats which were
then eaten by snakes.
Customers then bought snakes live or dead to eat because snake meat is
popular among Chinese and other Southeast Asian people, especially in
winter when it is believed that it keeps people "warm" if eaten.
The earliest cases in Wuhan appeared among workers at the market and
customers who purchased meat there.
Unfortunately for investigators, the market was quickly shut down and
sanitized, making it difficult to determine what animal spread the
Scientists also want to find out how the virus was able to adapt from
cold-blooded reptiles to warm-blooded mammals and humans.
There is no known medication to cure the disease from the virus.
Differing mutations have resulted in a varying degree of severity,
with some people falling ill for several days and recovering, while
others have died.
"The virus does not seem to be as deadly as SARS, which killed an
estimated 11% of the people it infected," Nature.com reported.
Despite the international praise Beijing received for its speedy
response, China's political rivalry with the neighboring island of
Taiwan has caused a serious medical danger concerning the virus.
China has used its diplomatic power to keep Taiwan out of the World
Health Organization's immediate medical alert system and database,
according to the Wall Street Journal.
"Taiwanese officials and medical professionals say they can still
receive information discussed at WHO meetings through informal
channels, thanks to nongovernmental groups and friendly governments,"
the Wall Street Journal reported.
"But they don't necessarily get it in a timely manner, which could be
critical during public-health emergencies."
More than 2.7 million Chinese from mainland China visited Taiwan in
2018, according to government statistics.
At least one ill person in Taiwan has tested positive for the virus.
"Taiwan's 23 million people, as in other corners of the Earth, could
face health risks at any time," Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen said
at a news conference on January 23.
"I again urge the WHO not to exclude Taiwan over political factors."
In Thailand, four people were treated for the virus, including a Thai
woman, 73, who became stricken with a fever after arriving from Wuhan.
"We can control the situation," Public Health Minister Anutin
Charnvirakul told reporters.
"There have not been cases of human-to-human transmission in Thailand,
because we detected the patients as soon as they arrived."
Three other Chinese citizens who displayed symptoms in Thailand were
treated, recovered, and sent back to China.
Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco,
California, reporting news from Asia since 1978 and winner of Columbia
University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. He co-authored three
non-fiction books about Thailand, including "'Hello My Big Big Honey!'
Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews," "60
Stories of Royal Lineage," and "Chronicle of Thailand: Headline News
Since 1946." Mr. Ehrlich also contributed to the chapter "Ceremonies
and Regalia" in a book published in English and Thai titled, "King
Bhumibol Adulyadej, A Life's Work: Thailand's Monarchy in
Perspective." Mr. Ehrlich's newest book, "Sheila Carfenders, Doctor
Mask & President Akimbo" portrays a 22-year-old American female mental
patient who is abducted to Asia by her abusive San Francisco
His online sites are: