The Wuhan Coronavirus outbreak has caused immense global impact as the virus spreads internationally, hitting different counties in America, Europe and Australia. The World Health Organisation has declared this outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). The Virus is known to spread from human-to-human, with initial spreaders not having symptoms of pneumonia or fever. This presents a large problem with the containment of the virus, as spreaders can unknowingly infect others in close proximity. The virus is 96% similar to Bat Corona Virus and also 79.5% similar to SARS-CoV (2003) and in the same family as MERS-CoV. This has led to a global media coverage and raised awareness of methods to prevent the spread of this disease. However, there has also been a huge amount of fake news and misinformation being spread on this issue. This is an updated list of reputable news sources detailing what’s really happening with the virus. Additional reports from CaiXin indicate numbers of infected could be much greater than reported as there is a lack of test kits to confirm cases of the virus.
This interactive map by the CSSE at Johns Hopkins University marks the locations of all the known cases of the Wuhan Corona Virus (2019-nCoV). It tracks new cases reported by the WHO, CDC, NHC and Dingxiangyuan. A second map by internet giant Tencent is also available for more up to date China data. It is important to note that whilst Wuhan is the epicenter of the infection, it is known that 48% of Wuhan residents have left the city (5 Million is the official number reported) prior to the quarantine.
For more maps and a live feed of verified Hong Kong, Southeast Asia and World news on the outbreak, check out https://thewuhanvirus.com/, a website created and run by Thebaselab, a group of Hong Kong high school students.
China rushes to build Xiaotangshan (小湯山) hospitals
One of the newsworthy engineering feats coming out of China recently was the construction of Huoshenshan (火神山) in 7 days. For a live feed of the hospital’s construction, check out this video. Whilst the hospital has been built, footage taken from inside the building shows bars on the windows and doors that only open in one direction.
Many Chinese cities are also rushing to build their own hospitals to cope. The concept and design is based on China’s experience with SARS in 2003 where they rapidly constructed Xiaotangshan (小湯山) hospital in Beijing. Hence, this time round many cities and provinces such as Zhengzhou, Guangzhou and Shenzhen etc. are building their own “Xiaotangshan” hospitals. In particular it is reported that Guangzhou’s “Xiaotangshan” hospital will be completed in 7 days (11th February 2020).
World Health Organisation (WHO) Emergency Status
WHO has declared this outbreak as a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern”. This is after multiple instances of the virus spreading internationally via human-to-human interaction.
The WHO has also on 10th February 2020 announced that they will send a team of its experts to Beijing China to exchange ideas on how to contain the virus.
According to research done by Reddit user Kakarot50, there are certain facts which raises suspicion that the Coronavirus originated from one of the labs of the Wuhan Virology Institute. In short:
- Back in 2017, researchers at the Institute claim to have edited the bat genome using CRISPR-CAS technology. This would mean that they had more than 2 years to further edit the bat genome and create or explore variations for viruses.
- The Institute’s Senior Researcher had a sole grant dedicated to the research of bat viruses. And a huge part of the research was concentrated on studying coronaviruses.
- News reports say that the Institute was around 32 km from the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market where the Coronavirus was said to have originated. In fact, according to Baidu maps, one of the Institute’s buildings is only 20 km from the Market.
- On the Institute’s webpage, there are pictures of researchers handling bats/ bat samples with little or no protective equipment.
However Kakarot50’s findings do not definitively point to the Coronavirus originating from the Institute’s labs.
This research paper also seems to suggest that there may be man-made elements to the Coronavirus. UPDATE: this research paper has been commented on by the scientific community as being rushed, not peer reviewed and the findings “at most a coincidence”. The paper has now been retracted.
Information on the outbreak
For a look at how Coronavirus spread outside of China, check out the Financial Times’ graphic showing the Chinese cities and countries affected for the period between 3rd January 2020 to 20th January 2020:
The Coronavirus was initially discovered in Wuhan in December 2019. In this article by Caixin.com, it was noted that there is a discrepancy between the number of people infected and those according to the Wuhan Municipal Health and Health Commission.
Initially, all fingers were pointed at the Mayor of Wuhan, Zhou Xianwang for delayed or inaccurate reporting of information. He has since gone on Chinese state television channel CCTV to give his side of the story in an interview on 27 January 2020.
Zhou admitted that information on the Coronavirus was not disclosed in a timely matter and did not effectively use the information to improve on containing the spread. He also said that he and the Communist Party Secretary of Wuhan would be prepared to hand in their resignation as an apology over the incident.
However Zhou also revealed that as a local government official, he can only publicise information on the Coronavirus after obtaining authorisation from the Beijing central government.
During the initial stages of the outbreak in December 2019, 8 Wuhan doctors tried to warn of this new virus that was later discovered to be Coronavirus. Of these doctors, Dr. Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist at Wuhan Central Hospital saw that 7 patients who were quarantined at his hospital seemed to have a virus similar to SARS. On 30 December 2019 he messaged his medical school classmates in a chat group on Weibo warning them about an outbreak and advising them to wear protective clothing.
4 days later on 3rd January 2020, he was summoned to the Public Security Bureau where he was accused of “making false comments” that had “severely disturbed the social order”. He was also asked to sign a letter and warned not to continue such activities. The other 7 doctors were similarly warned.
On 8th January 2020, Dr. Li himself was unknowingly infected by one of his patients. At the time, Wuhan officials only thought that the virus would be transmitted through infected animals and there was no guidance in place to protect medical professionals. Dr. Li began developing symptoms 2 days later.
At the end of January, and after several rounds of tests, Dr. Li posted online that he was confirmed to be infected with Coronavirus.
Dr. Li was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit in early February 2020. Due to his condition, he was only able to conduct his interview with CNN via. text message on Weibo.
According to Standnews Hong Kong, there are reports from Chinese media that Dr. Li’s condition worsened in the past few days and had died from the disease on 5th February 2020.
China’s National Health Commission is looking into whether Coronavirus can be spread through patient’s faeces. This is possible given its similarity to SARS, which was spread in a similar way.
There are also concerns that Coronavirus can be contracted in the womb. This was after a newborn was tested positive 30 hours after birth to a mother who was a confirmed patient.
It was already previously found that the Coronavirus was spread through respiratory droplet transmission e.g. from saliva when talking to someone infected or in close proximity when they sneeze. Or sharing a hotpot or BBQ meal together. And contact, e.g. touching surfaces after someone who was infected. But currently it is not known how long the virus can survive once it has left the human body.
For some insight on how the virus spreads, check out the chart prepared by the Hong Kong Sustainable Development Research Institute based on data from the Department on Health on confirmed Coronavirus patients.
Mathematical models predicted over 75,000 infected in Wuhan alone
In an updated study done by the University of Hong Kong and published in the Lancet, the estimated number of infected patients is around 75,815 in Wuhan alone. And that the numbers double every 6.4 days. The study is conducted by Professor Gabriel Leung’s team at the Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine in HKU.
Additional models have found that current quarantine measures will not contain the virus nor halt it’s spread. For more information, check out this paper by Jonathan Read Et al.
For more models on the spread and risk assessment of Coronavirus, check out “Event Horizon-2019-nCov” completed by members of the Computational Epidemiology Project Group at the Robert Koch Institute, the Research on Complex Systems Group at the Institute of Theoretical Biology and the IRI Lifesciences at the Humboldt University of Berlin.
This research is a collaborative effort of members of the Computational Epidemiology Project Group at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin and the Research on Complex Systems Group (ROCS) at the Institute for Theoretical Biology and the IRI Lifesciences at Humboldt University of Berlin.
Are Chinese crematoriums running 24 hours a day?
Reports were also being circulated online that Chinese crematoriums are extending their operating hours. Below is an announcement dated 25th January 2020. Whilst the name on the seal is censored, as reported by New Tang Dynasty Television, Chinese netizens speculate it was from Qingshan crematorium in Wuhan city. Paragraph 3 of the announcement says that from 10:00am on 25th January 2019, the Crematorium would stop providing viewings and funeral rites and services. Instead, they will only provide the basic service of immediately transporting the deceased for cremation and storage of ashes 24 hours a day.
Wuhan shuts its borders
The Coronoavirus was first publicly reported by the Wuhan government on 30 December 2019. On 23 January 2020, to prevent further spread of the Coronavirus the Chinese government announced a shutdown of all passenger traffic from Wuhan city. This was later extended to other cities in Hubei province where Wuhan is located. According to local Civil Aviation authorities, over 112,000 people flew out of China during the period from early December 2019 to 20 January 2020. There are no statistics on whether they were affected by the Coronavirus or if they had since returned to Wuhan.
This does not include the Wuhan residents who travelled to other locations in China which, according to the Civil Aviation authorities is over 854,000 persons.
Planes still departing after the Wuhan border shutdown?
According to investigations by Next Magazine in Hong Kong, despite the Wuhan borders being shut on 23rd January 2020 from 10:00am, it seems that there were still flights in and out of Wuhan. These are their findings:
According to FlightRadar records, on 28th January 2020, Loong Air flight GJ8798 departed from Shijiazhuang to Hangzhou.
However, when looking at the flight map, the flight actually departed somewhere South-west of Macheng city, which is around 110km from Wuhan.
Comparing the flight path with Google maps, it does seem to suggest the flight actually departed from Wuhan and not Shijiazhuang.
The coordinates under “Position info” i.e. Latitude 30.789 Longitude 114.213 also corresponds to a location near Wuhan airport.
Further, according to the records the flight time was 1 hour. The flight in question, an Airbus A320 should have taken 2 hours if indeed it was flying from Shijiazhuang to Hangzhou. However, if the flight was in fact from Wuhan to Hangzhou as speculated, it would only be a 1 hour flight.
Curiously, when Next Magazine searched the records for flight GJ8798 a few days later, Wuhan was stated as the origin, but no information is provided on its destination.
In their interview with Jeremy Tam, a Hong Kong Legislator and airline pilot, Tam made some observations on the flight:
- The Airbus A320 is a commercial airplane and flying out of Wuhan. So it seems illogical that it would be used for transporting supplies.
- Would they instead be transporting medical staff or officials out of Wuhan? If so, did these persons go elsewhere after the plane landed?
The Diamond Princess, together with its 2,666 passengers and 1,045 crew are being quarantined for 14 days after an 80 year old Hong Kong passenger that travelled on the cruise in January 2020 tested positive for Coronavirus. As at 10th February 2020, 135 passengers were tested positive for Coronavirus.
Meanwhile the World Dream was forced to return to Hong Kong after it was told it was not permitted to dock in Taiwan as scheduled. This was after it was found that 8 passengers from a previous cruise on the same ship were infected. On 9th February, tests on the 1800 crew members who may have been in contact with the infected passengers were completed. As none of them tested positive, all 3,600 passengers and crew on the cruise were permitted to disembark.
Improved test kits have been developed
With news that hospitals in Wuhan are running low on test kits, there is some good news. A team from the University of Science and Technology have developed a portable test kit that can identify Coronavirus in patient’s body fluid samples within 40 minutes. This is much faster than using traditional test kits which take around 90 minutes to 3 hours to identify the virus.
Currently this new test kit is being used in 2 cities in China and at least 1 is being sent to Hubei province, where Wuhan is located.
Development for a vaccine for this deadly strain of Wuhan Coronavirus is currently underway internationally – with China, United States and Hong Kong independently developing a vaccine. On the 28th of Jan, Hong Kong research scientist Yuen Kwok-yung stated he has already produced a vaccine. However, it would take months of animal testing and at least another year to conduct clinical trials on humans before it is fit to use. He also said the risks of rushing a vaccine out is that it might not be effective against the virus.
In Thailand, a Coronavirus patient appears to have been successfully treated using a combination of antivirals generally used to treat the flu and HIV. The local health ministry is awaiting research results to prove their findings.
Can drugs for treating Ebola work for Coronavirus? This is one angle that scientists are now looking at.
Gene Sequencing Report
Full gene sequencing of the virus has already been completed by Chinese scientists. Full images of the virus are also shown in the image above. Corona viruses have thin cell walls covered by positive RNA strands (hence the name-sake). In a pre-released paper in BioRxiv, the group compared the genetic sequence to other known viruses and found that it is 96% similar to Bat Corona Virus and also 79.5% similar to SARS-CoV.
The full Genome of the virus is also available to the general public. This information is crucial for world nations to develop test kits that can positively identify the virus. Test kits are made to tag specific parts of the virus’s genome, thereby giving a positive result when bound to the virus. It is known that in China, test kits for the virus are running low on supply, thereby limiting the ability to detect the virus. Such detection is crucial for early identification and quarantine of the victim.
Mining genomes of the Coronavirus is also crucial for finding clues as to its origins. This is crucial to really stop it at its source and prevent any spillover from the current outbreak.
For a closer look at the structure of the Coronavirus, check out Dr. Gabriella Jonasson’s article.
Corona virus is spread by binding the the patients lungs. As there is no direct cure for the virus, prevention is the best defense measure against it. If you are sick, wearing a surgical mask will stop the spread of the virus as it filters coughs and prevents water particles carrying the virus from entering the air. However, surgical masks are not 100% effective in protecting the wearer – as there are holes in the mask allow unfiltered air through it. Even though its not 100% effective, surgical masks help reduce infection by preventing the wearer from touching their noes – a potential method for the virus to enter the lungs. Special masks like the N95 mask are shown to be more effective, but only if worn properly with a tight fit around the face.
Villages in China are also taking matters into their own hands by isolating themselves. As seen in this segment from Sky News, some villages have built surrounding walls to severely limit the people going in and out. Or creating their own checkpoints and taking people’s temperature before allowing them access. These self-containment measures can be seen all across China, including outside the epicentre of the Corona Virus in Wuhan.
In a Business Insider report, the Chinese government is suspected of suppressing reporters who wanted to cover the virus outbreak. The report cited an incident on Jan 14 where reporters from TVB in Hong Kong were questioned after taking footage from hospitals and asked to delete the footage.
In this news segment from Hong Kong Cable Television, a man filmed a van containing 8 dead bodies outside a hospital and the situation inside several hospitals in Wuhan. Later that evening, several people in protective gear came to his home and demanded to take his temperature since he had been in a hospital and the video shows him being taken away. According to him, he was taken to the local police station and be believes he was released several hours later because news of his arrest was being circulated online.
The popularity of social media in China has given rise to citizen journalists. One of the most popular of these journalists is Chen Qiushi, a lawyer who deliberately travelled to Wuhan before the lockdown to cover what’s going on. Here you can find Chen Qiushi’s YouTube channel and Twitter. One of his videos features an account by a Mr. Fang, another citizen journalist who was detained and his computer and laptop confiscated by authorities.
Fake news about the virus
Fake news covering the outbreak is rampantly growing in various social media circles – with some making harmful claims. Updated list of disinformation spreading about the coronavirus. The South China Morning Post also published a FAQ about the virus including whether herbal or folk remedies work against it.
Chinese President Xi Jinping returns to the public eye after 8 days
President Xi had not made a public appearance since 28th January 2020 when he met the chief of the World Health Organisation Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. This lead to many speculations on his whereabouts and even his health.
On 5th February 2020, President Xi reemerged into the public eye to welcome the Prime Minister of Cambodia Hun Sen to Beijing. During the meeting, Xi also emphasised the importance of the enforcement of laws. Specifically those involving trade in wild animals and management of public health incidents. Such incidents include offences which would jeopardise disease control, violence towards medical staff, counterfeiting of medical supplies such as surgical masks and notably “spreading of rumours” would be severely curtailed.
On 10th February 2020, President Xi inspected the Beijing neighbourhoods and spoke to local residents about public health measures and availability of daily necessities.
China’s stock markets reopen to huge losses.
Measures to halt the virus including travel bans, flight refunds and market closures will have a negative impact on the Chinese Economy. Stock markets in China were suspended until the 3rd February 2020, presumably to avoid panic selling due to the Coronavirus.
To mitigate the risk of a stock market crash, the People’s Bank of China announced it would inject the equivalent of USD $174 billion into the market to ensure sufficient liquidity supply. This injection would be by way of reverse repo operations, meaning that the Bank will purchase shares with an agreement to sell at a higher price at a later date. And was the largest single-day reverse repo operation the Bank has ever conducted. The
China’s Securities Regulatory Commission also directed brokerages to bar clients from short selling their borrowed stocks when the market resumed.
Despite these measures, the stock market opened today to huge losses. Some stocks even dropped around 10%.
All in all, the SSE Composite Index of the Shanghai stock market fell almost 8% on its opening day.
Analysts believe that stocks for companies providing goods or services which require Chinese citizens to travel will be hard hit. These would include for example, travel companies, airlines or even coffee shops. On the other hand, prices for stocks for online retailers, video games and web services are likely to go up as more people stay at home.
Meanwhile the aviation industry is hard hit. Hong Kong’s local airline, Cathay Pacific is asking all of its 27,000 employees to take 3 weeks unpaid leave between March and June. Currently the airline will cut its overall flight capacity by 30% and 90% of its Mainland China flights. United and American Airlines have already announced they will suspend all flights to Hong Kong and Mainland China.
Although Chinese stock markets reopened giving cryptocurrency traders some form of indication, the sentiment on Weibo is still a “wait and see” approach. There is still some optimism, with some netizens pointing out that Bitcoin is on the rise and that even with the Coronavirus epidemic, trading can happen 24 hours a day.
Others point out that Bitcoin mining may be the only asset which is unaffected by the outbreak. But warns that patience is required, since one’s perception of the bottom may not actually be the case.
A few days after the Chinese stock market reopened it seems that investors are moving onto Bitcoin and gold as investments. This may be to avoid exposure to traditional investments such as real estate and stocks, which value can be swayed by outside factors. And as pointed out by the netizens mentioned above, Bitcoin can be traded anywhere without interference 24 hours a day.
As a result, we’ve seen Bitcoin prices going strong at US$9,779.65 and gold prices at US$1,566.10 per ounce as at 8th February 2020.
Guangdong and Shenzhen both enacted emergency legislation permitting local governments to temporarily use or take a person’s landed properties, facilities or vehicles for the purposes of combating the spread of the virus. As well as requiring corporations to provide supplies and necessities. So far there hasn’t been much reaction to this on Weibo, but will it inspire people to consider looking into alternative assets like cryptocurrencies?
Manufacturing and repairs of mining units will be delayed
Chinese cryptocurrency news site ChainNews reports that mining unit manufacturers Bitmain, Canaan Creative and MicroBT have all issued announcements to postpone production, delivery and after-sale services. The largest of these manufacturers, Bitmain, as well as Canaan Creative both announced that they would restart operations on 10th February 2020. Meanwhile, MicroBT will resume a day earlier on 9th February 2020. All companies have attributed their delays to the Coronavirus epidemic. There are also concerns that due to the slowdown in production, prices in mining machines will increase, and existing inventory may be looted for profit.
According to a Weibo post by Jiang Zhuoer CEO of Laibite Mining Pool, police went to his mining pool in a remote suburb. The police forced him to switch off all his miners and forbade his mines to resume work. Jiang says the mine were running during the new year and the staff live on site- hence there were no newcomers to the site. And whilst he considers it understandable to frequently monitor the staff’s condition and whereabouts to prevent any virus spreading, he does not understand how shutting off the mines would be beneficial. Jiang’s Weibo post on the incident also shows several police cars stopped outside his mine and his staff rounded up outside.