In the last few weeks, a novel coronavirus has broken out and spread out of control. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses; the symptoms that any given virus in the family can cause range from the common cold to ailments far more serious, like severe acute respiratory syndrome. Like SARS and MERS, most of the virus family infects animals, but some have recently evolved to infect and spread to humans.
There has been a recent outbreak of respiratory illness due to the coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. Soon after the initial outbreak, the Chinese authorities found that the virus had caused more than a thousand cases of illness outside of Wuhan. China has taken strict measures to limit the amount of people moving in and out of the country in order to minimize the spread of the illness, especially during the busiest travel period of the year—the Lunar New Year. Even so, some fear that this will not be enough to stop it. So far, there have been more than 2,800 infections and 82 deaths; Beijing has quarantined more than 50 million people. However, despite these measures China’s health minister has reported that the coronavirus is increasing in and has the potential to be contagious even before people start showing symptoms, meaning that seemingly-healthy people could already be infected.
But, despite the attempts to contain it, the disease is still persistently spreading. According to a scientific assessment of the spread of disease, even with an optimistic 90% quarantine, there will still be more than 59,000 infections and 1,500 deaths. In fact, it is starting to spread to other countries. Health officials confirmed that five cases of the pneumonia-like illness were found in the US and that infections have also been found in various countries such as France, Japan, Nepal, Thailand, South Korea, Cambodia, Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam, Canada, and Sri Lanka. Medical officials are still trying to understand how the virus is spreading and how dangerous it actually is. In Canada, there was a confirmed case of the virus in a couple who had arrived in Toronto from their trip in Wuhan. The man is currently under isolation in Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital and his wife is in isolation at their home.
In order to combat this fast-spreading illness, medical corporations have begun efforts to develop a vaccine. According to Paul Stoffels, Johnson & Johnson’s chief scientific officer, “Multiple efforts are needed to make sure that at the end, one vaccine or two or three make it — because we are not sure at all.” He also said that it would most likely take 8-12 months before they could begin testing the vaccine on people. Luckily, the National Institutes of Health expect to have a vaccine undergoing tests in humans in 3 months. Several international companies and research institutes having been trying to develop a vaccine as well—the Norway-headquartered Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations has announced new initiatives to get “vaccine candidates into clinical testing as quickly as possible.” Johnson & Johnson has sent 100 boxes of Prezcobix, an HIV drug, to the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center to research whether it has any effect against the coronavirus. Other similar efforts have been made to test already existing experimental antiviral drugs if they could help the sick in the short-term.
Despite the severity of the disease, citizens of Wuhan are still trying to stay optimistic. The city has been under travel lockdown since January 23 and 5 million of the city’s 11 million residents have already left. In Wuhan, residents have been trying to encourage each other from their apartments by chanting messages of support. On Monday, videos were posted on social media showing citizens in high rise buildings continuously shouting the words “Wuhan jiayou,” a positive Chinese phrase that can be translated as “Hang in there, Wuhan” or “Do your best, Wuhan.” Even in bad times, it’s imperative that people stay positive and try to move forward. The coronavirus may be moving fast, but so can positivity.