The coronavirus is no laughing matter. And it may be much worse than we’re being told.
The news coming out of China is very misleading. On the one hand, as of Monday, January 27, China reported that the coronavirus – scientifically named 2019-nCoV – has officially claimed at least 106 lives, with several thousand confirmed cases of patients who have been infected. This means the mortality rate is now above 5%, more than twice what it was only a few days ago. But that is only if those numbers are correct, which they are probably not, because China is under-reporting the statistics – by a lot!
In the U.S., six coronavirus patients have been confirmed by the Center for Disease Control in four states – Arizona, California, Illinois, and Washington – and that number has remained constant for the last two days. All of those patients had recently been to Wuhan.
We also have been told that the virus has already spread to at least sixteen other countries around the world, including Thailand, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Canada. And that number is growing.
The official Chinese position is that the virus originated in an open-air meat market in the city of Wuhan in Hubei Province in central China.
But here’s what they didn’t tell us.
Wuhan is also the home of the Wuhan Ultra Biohazard Lab which has been ‘studying’ hazardous pathogens, including the deadly SARS (Severe acute respiratory syndrome) virus, to which this coronavirus is related.
Nature Magazine published an article in February 2017 with the title, “Inside the Chinese lab poised to study world’s most dangerous pathogens.” According to the article, this maximum-security biolab was the first stage of a plan to build a network of BSL-4 facilities across China. According to Nature, “BSL-4 is the highest level of biocontainment: its criteria include filtering air and treating water and waste.” The lab received certification that it met the standards and criteria for BSL4-level pathogens from the Chinese government agency, China National Accreditation Service for Conformity Assessment (CNAS) in January 2017. Was that making the cat responsible for taking care of the mice?
When China built the lab in Wuhan, they said that their intention was to study SARS and Ebola. But even back then, in 2017, American biosafety experts warned that a virus could ‘escape’ the facility that is now apparently Ground Zero in this latest developing crisis. In fact, the Nature article reported that the SARS virus had already ‘escaped’ a number of times from a Beijing lab.
So what went wrong?
In light of China’s long history of skirting regulations and cutting corners, the news currently leaking out of China should be alarming at the very least.
The official Chinese claim that ground zero for this virus was an open-air meat market is dubious at best. Because according to our sources, the true epicenter was, in fact, the Wuhan Ultra Biohazard Lab, where a laboratory accident released the virus, which was then carried into the general population. And now the Chinese are doing everything they can to cover it up and apply damage control to a situation that is fast becoming a global nightmare.
Still, the Chinese are insisting that the animal market is the source. One of the latest official theories coming out of China is that the virus originated from bat soup (yes, that is exactly what it sounds like), which is apparently a local favorite.
Wherever the virus originated, reports from unofficial sources in China are that the number of people who are dying from this virus is far higher than that reported in the press. And one of the ways they are doing it is becoming quite clear. China’s coroners and hospitals are merely recording the deaths of their patients as “severe pneumonia” or “viral pneumonia”, with no further tests to clearly identify the actual cause of death. Viral pneumonia, case closed.
China listed their official numbers at 2,493 cases with 81 deaths. But because of the overwhelming bureaucracy that impedes even the most urgent cases, it can take days or even weeks to diagnose a single case. The reporting mechanisms in China are so limited and so slow, that even if they were being completely honest about the number of people who are sick or have already succumbed to the virus, they would still not be able to report the number of casualties accurately.
First-hand accounts from Wuhan are more than a little disturbing. Some have reported that people are falling down in the streets and dying where they fall. And they also report that the number of dead is in the thousands. Neil Ferguson, a disease modeler at Imperial College London, said, “There are likely to be many times more cases in Wuhan than officially confirmed,” and he estimated as many as 4,000 people may have already been infected in Wuhan. “Clearly, the hospitals are overwhelmed,” he said.
A video by a nurse, posted earlier this week, claimed that there were already 90,000 cases in Wuhan (a city of eleven million people), and throughout China. Photographs from inside a hospital in Wuhan show body-bags lining the halls.
And another British researcher predicted that the coronavirus would infect over 250,000 people in China in under two weeks. These predictions have kindled the fear that China will continue to try to under-represent the true severity of the outbreak until it is too late.
In an effort to stem the growing crisis, the Chinese government has sent more than 900 medical staff and 450 military medical personnel to Wuhan. Another 1,000 medical personnel have been placed on standby.
So what is the real story?
Reports vary, depending on the source. Originally, the reports indicated that this was neither the SARS (Severe acute respiratory syndrome) nor the MARS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) virus but something new, something else. However, according to one report from a highly credible source, 2019-nCoV is, in fact, a weaponized form of the SARS virus that killed almost 800 people across Asia in 2002.
This new form of the SARS virus is much more virulent and seems to have the ability to mutate rapidly from animal to human. Dr. Wang Guangfa, from Beijing’s Peking University First Hospital, confirmed in a social media post on Wednesday that he himself had contracted the flu-like virus, and claimed he contracted it through his eyes.
So theories abound, and the definitive science is not in yet.
Chinese New Year Means Lots of Travel
The timing could not have been worse. The outbreak began just days before the Lunar New Year in China. This is a huge annual holiday, and thousands of Chinese nationals fly from Wuhan to other countries during the two week-long holiday, which is exactly the incubation period for the coronavirus. Since the outbreak began, flights from Wuhan have been landing in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City. Passengers on those flights, as well as those to Singapore, Tokyo, and Hong Kong, are now being screened for 2019-nCoV.
But they are being scanned with thermal sensors, which is supposed to detect fever. Only the problem is that during the fourteen-day incubation period, before symptoms appear, the carrier may still be contagious, even without a fever. There is not yet a test for an asymptomatic patient, there is no cure, and there is no way to protect the U.S. from the coronavirus.
In Hong Kong, the situation reached a “critical point” only two days after the city’s first confirmed case. Most kindergartens, primary, and secondary schools have been closed and will not reopen until February 17. And the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon was cancelled. A labor union representing medical staff even threatened to strike if the government refused to close the border. And a mask ban, which was called in the face of the demonstrations in which many of the protesters wore masks to hide their faces, has now become a controversial issue, since everyone is now being asked to wear face masks to protect them from the virus.
So, in the meantime, the city of Wuhan was locked down on the morning of January 23, and has been sealed, according to the Chinese, with no one able to enter or leave the city. But as many as five million people left Wuhan before the lockdown was put in place, and many of them have flown to other countries – including the U.S. – for their vacations. Altogether China has put more than 35 million and possibly as many as 56 million people on lockdown. But much of the damage has already been done.
The Bottom Line
The world is facing a new crisis, one that trumps trade deals, impeachment, elections, and even war. The irony is that despite our connection with instant communications, social media, and up-to-the-minute news, most Americans are, for the most part, ignoring it. Even the stock markets barely registered the coronavirus crisis, dropping less than 1.5% on Monday.
So the question is, how do we understand this growing danger? The virus seems to have begun its assault on humanity as an animal-to-human transmission. These were the first infections. If the only way that the virus had continued to spread were by animal-to-human transfers, as the Chinese said it began, then the spreading would stop – maybe as quickly as it began – and the world would have dodged a very dangerous bullet.
However, according to the CDC, since the virus was first reported at the beginning of December, it has been found to have mutated to a human-to-human form, making it far more dangerous and potentially far more lethal.
So the outlook for a much wider and more dangerous spread is a very real possibility.
The number of people infected in Wuhan who are now in the U.S. has remained at five. But the asymptomatic two-week incubation period has barely begun. In fact, according to the CDC, there are 110 suspected coronavirus cases in 26 states across the U.S., people who are currently being observed for developing symptoms. According to health officials, that number will only rise. They say that the outbreak in the U.S. is a “rapidly changing situation”. So we still have to wait and see. We are not out of the woods yet. What we may see, in fact, within the next ten to twelve days, is a sudden jump in the number of people infected with the virus. We still have to wait.
China pretends to be forthright about the extent of the epidemic – maybe in an effort to avoid panic or maybe in an effort to save face on the international stage.
But by being lax and careless in its handling of dangerous toxins and in delay in reporting the rapidly growing danger, China has suppressed the full extent of this coronavirus’ deadly progress. And by keeping the mortality rate of the coronavirus artificially low through under-reporting, the overall count will be dangerously misleading. China, more than any other country, may be the first to feel the devastating and deadly effect of the coronavirus, as its population is attacked, without a vaccine and without a cure.
The best we can do is to watch as this story develops, and listen to the announcements from the CDC about the science behind the virus, and the prognosis for Americans. This is, for the moment, a waiting game with dangerous implications.