- - Thursday, January 30, 2020

Here’s a measure of how seriously China is taking the novel coronavirus, the mysterious pneumonia-like ailment that has killed more than 150 people and infected many thousands in the few weeks since its emergence: 60 million people, mostly in and around the central city of Wuhan, are under quarantine. That’s an astonishing figure.

Here’s another measure that demonstrates the depths of Beijing’s concern: It has sacrificed economic growth, its most cherished goal, in pursuit of stanching the spread of the virus. Beijing is essentially shut down, according to local reports. Land-crossings between Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland have been slashed. Factories across the country are closed.

What do these measures tell us? That the coronavirus is deadly serious — literally. The virus typically presents with fevers and coughs, according to a survey of 99 patients published in the Lancet, the leading medical journal. It is plainly virulent, as evidenced by the fact that more people have been killed by it than have been discharged from treatment. It’s also worth keeping in mind that the number of cases and deaths in China could very well be underreported. The Chinese Communist Party is not well known for its honesty, particularly when it comes to admitting embarrassing facts.

The coronavirus seems to have emerged from a wet market in Wuhan. “99 patients with 2019-nCoV were included in this study, two of whom were husband and wife. In total, 49 (49%) patients were clustered and had a history of exposure to the Huanan seafood market,” the Lancet wrote. But now it has spread far beyond that location. Not only are there thousands of cases across China, but people have also come down with the sickness in Taiwan, South Korea, the Philippines and, yes, the United States. Troublingly, it appears the coronavirus can be passed from one person to another even before they are showing any symptoms.

What is to be done? Airport screenings, quarantines and reduced travel into and out of China seem like prudent courses of action. All are measures currently in place. There’s no need to succumb to hysteria, but this is a situation that bears close scrutiny.

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