Since December 31, 2019, the Chinese city of Wuhan has been at the center of the world’s attention as the origin of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). There have now been 73 332 confirmed cases globally, with the virus’ death toll reaching 1870 in China, and three in other countries. This has prompted the World Health Organization (WHO) to rate the virus as “high risk” globally, and “very high risk” within China .
Hong Kong’s leading public health epidemiologist is now concerned that if it cannot be controlled, sixty to eighty percent of the world’s population could become infected with the virus. This number is based on estimates by most experts that each person who is infected with coronavirus will likely go on to infect an average of 2.5 people .
Professor Gabriel Leung, the chair of public health medicine at Hong Kong University, explains that with an epidemic of this size, even a fatality rate as low as one percent could result in a massive death toll. He warned in a paper in The Lancet in January that eventual independent outbreaks in cities around the world are inevitable .
According to Leung, the first priority is to find out the exact scale of the growing worldwide epidemic, and the second is to find out whether or not the measures that have been put in place in China have been effective at controlling the spread of the disease .
Drastic Measures in China
The Chinese government has put extreme emergency measures in place throughout the country in an attempt to control the potentially deadly virus.
Schools and colleges around the country have delayed the start of their next semester, and commercial establishments, government bureaus, and offices have been shut down in order to prevent people from traveling back and forth to work to contain the spread of the virus .
Mobility restrictions are being placed on residents in cities throughout the country, social meetings and gatherings of any kind are prohibited, mandatory medical examinations are being handed out, roads are being shut down and light rail and bus routes are operating on a reduced schedule. Retirement homes and rehabilitation facilities are also on lock-down .
It is of utmost importance that experts know whether or not these restrictions have been working, and if they have, how they can be implemented in other areas.
“Let’s assume that they have worked,” said Leung. “But how long can you close schools for? How long can you lock down an entire city for? How long can you keep people away from shopping malls? And if you remove those [restrictions], then is it all going to come right back and rage again? So those are very real questions,” .
What if China’s Lockdown Didn’t Work?
If the drastic measures that have been put in place in China have done nothing to reduce the spread of the virus, it could mean that the coronavirus is impossible to contain. If this is the case, the focus will have to switch from trying to contain the virus to attempting to diminish its effects .
For the time being, however, Leung insists that containment measures are absolutely necessary and that regular testing of people who were in contact with the virus or who showed symptoms is required .
How to Protect Yourself
The best way to protect yourself is to be vigilant with your usual cold-and-flu prevention practices: washing your hands regularly, using your elbow or a tissue to cover your nose or mouth when coughing or sneezing, not getting too close to people, and avoiding touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
It is also important to seek medical care if you have a fever, a cough, and are having difficulty breathing, especially if you have been in contact with someone who has recently traveled to China .
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