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The new strain of coronavirus that has spread across Asia is causing concern ahead of China's Lunar New Year.
- A new strain of the coronavirus — similar to SARS — is spreading across China and to nearby countries, including the U.S..
- Although it's relatively early on, the virus appears to be fairly infectious and capable of human-to-human transmission, a serious concern given the many travelers expected to visit China for the upcoming Lunar New Year.
- The World Health Organization intends to convene an emergency committee in the near future to determine whether the outbreak should be considered a public health emergency of international concern.
A new coronavirus<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5NzEzMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMjg4Nzg0NH0.zPrTn6A31wVP3RtQChc5zZbwG-zfOnuod0fWT0-2bj0/img.jpg?width=980" id="e99ab" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="af677aaa3088023d298de6c245fc767c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Wuhan coronavirus" />
A photo of the closed Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, which has been linked to several cases of the coronavirus.
Getty Images<p>The virus resembles SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), which killed 774 people in 2002 and 2003 across several Asian countries. Like SARS, the new virus is a coronavirus, so-named because of the bulbous projections encircling the viroid that resemble a royal crown or a solar corona. The Wuhan coronavirus, dubbed <em>2019-nCoV</em>, appears to be an entirely novel strain that has not been detected in humans before. Scientists believe that the virus's primary source was an animal, but it is clear now that the virus is capable of spreading between humans, causing fever, shortness of breath, a cough, and other respiratory issues. </p><p>There is evidence to suggest that the disease could be highly infectious as well; one patient is believed to have infected 14 medical professionals in the hospital where they were being treated.</p>
China's and the WHO's response<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTE0Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0ODk4NjIzMH0.CZDtlFh_ayJ4FXeDtNXhTQza7Dpni-2H-JIKnfcQaXo/img.jpg?width=980" id="2cc39" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="32f52a537e4f23ce86c64eee0518e7c1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="microscopic view of coronavirus by the CDC" />
Handout photo from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows a microscopic view of the coronavirus. According to the CDC.
(Photo by CDC/Getty Images)<p>Although some have criticized the Chinese response as being sluggish, it has acted far more quickly than it did during the 2002 SARS outbreak. After the SARS virus first appeared, the Communist Party of China discouraged state media from reporting on the virus and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/27/world/china-raises-tally-of-cases-and-deaths-in-mystery-illness.html" target="_blank">delayed in reporting information</a> to the World Health Organization (WHO) for months.</p><p>That being said, there is some concern that the Chinese government is underreporting the figures associated with the disease. In an interview with <em><a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/18/asia/china-coronavirus-study-intl/index.html" target="_blank">CNN</a></em>, researcher Neil Ferguson claimed that the number of cases outside of China suggest that more individuals are infected than is being reported. "We calculate," he said, "based on flight and population data, that there is only a 1 in 574 chance that a person infected in Wuhan would travel overseas before they sought medical care. This implies there might have been over 1,700 cases in Wuhan so far."</p><p>"There are many unknowns," continued Ferguson, "meaning the uncertainty range around this estimate goes from 190 cases to over 4,000. But the magnitude of these numbers suggests that substantial human-to-human transmission cannot be ruled out. Heightened surveillance, prompt information sharing and enhanced preparedness are recommended."</p><p>The WHO plans to convene an emergency committee on January 22<sup>nd</sup> to determine whether the outbreak can be considered a public health emergency of international concern, or PHEIC, which is <a href="https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/what-are-the-international-health-regulations-and-emergency-committees" target="_blank">defined</a> as "an extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response." A similar determination was made regarding the 2002 SARS outbreak.</p><p>Under <a href="https://journals.openedition.org/poldev/2178" target="_blank">international health regulations</a>, the declaration of a PHEIC requires states to respond quickly to the emergency. While it is characterized as a last resort, declaring a PHEIC in and of itself offers the WHO few powers beyond the ability to form an advisory <a href="https://www.who.int/ihr/procedures/pheic/en/" target="_blank">emergency committee</a> on the crisis.</p><p>Given that Wuhan is a city of 11 million people and that the virus has already spread beyond China's borders, such a declaration seems merited. With a PHEIC in place, hopefully the WHO will be able to work with the Chinese government to minimize the spread of the disease prior to the upcoming <a href="https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/01/20/virus-china-coverup-government-how-scared-should-you-be-of-the-wuhan-coronavirus/" target="_blank">Lunar New Year</a>.</p>
A notice for passengers from Wuhan, China is displayed near a quarantine station at Narita airport in Japan. Japan's Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare recently confirmed its first case of pneumonia infected with a new coronavirus from Wuhan City, China.
Photo: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images
Quarantines are worth the trouble to keep the next pandemic at bay but they need to be applied intelligently.
- A new essay argues that quarantines are often needed, but require strict guidelines on when they can be used.
- Pandemics are inevitable, and actions that can save lives must be planned now.
- The arguments in this essay will undoubtedly be of use during the next outbreak.
What is a quarantine exactly?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODYzMzkwMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5ODc2Njg5N30.O_NoAoV1sVwKEpmlq6cVRxS6MjWxtU0fzBR9Qls4g8Y/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C122&height=700" id="fb3ee" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7779ac5059618e73bbd1697876c8d133" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Health workers are seen with a young patient under quarantine at the Nongo Ebola treatment unit in Conakry, Guinea on August 21, 2015. The World Health Organization WHO has lost track of 45 people under surveillance, who had been in contact with a patient who contracted Ebola, in Guinea. (CELLOU BINANI/AFP/Getty Images)<p>For the purposes of this paper, isolation and quarantine had two different meanings. As the authors define them: "Isolation separates sick people with a contagious disease from people who are not sick. Quarantine separates and restricts the movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick."</p>
Why would quarantine be a good idea? After all, they aren't sick yet!<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODYzMzkzMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzI1ODg3OX0.RIT9_b3XhEJ5n5Aohr0PkWCBV7Lv8Y9dhHh6zq1EFT0/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C1&height=700" id="7d62a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4065a9a1ceb5bbb228cdc9cc6daeb0de" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
"Typhoid" Mary Mallon, far left, in quarantine. Her refusal to wash her hands while carrying typhoid fever bacteria may have killed fifty people. She was forced into quarantine for the safety of the public.
(Public Domain)<p>The first argument that the authors make is the obvious one, society benefits a great deal from quarantining a person who might be carrying a deadly disease at a relatively low cost to that society and a moderate cost to the person quarantined. A person who is exposed to Ebola <em>might </em>contract the disease and start spreading it before they are aware of their illness. Quarantines try to prevent this by hiding away anybody who might have been exposed to a disease, even if they are asymptomatic. <br></p><p>This <a href="https://bigthink.com/scotty-hendricks/how-much-we-trust-someone-depends-on-their-response-to-this-moral-dilemma" target="_blank">consequentialist</a> stance is the one typically invoked by governments and state agencies when quarantines are introduced, but the authors don't think it is the best ethical foundation. After all, it might be for everybody's benefit to lock away anybody exposed to the common cold for a week to keep infection rates down. This seems excessive, suggesting that the final answer lies elsewhere. </p>