Merely a month after a mysterious respiratory illness arose in Wuhan, China, the world is already in the grip of a global outbreak. Now designated a “public health emergency of international concern” by the World Health Organization, and probably not far off earning the more sinister name “pandemic”, the 2019-nCov coronavirus outbreak has already surpassed its cousin Sars in terms of the number of cases confirmed. Although it has a lower fatality rate than Sars, it’s too early to tell whether 2019-nCov will be remembered as something much more frightening.
So have we learned the lessons of 2003? Are we now in a better position to tackle and ultimately contain this virus? The answer is both yes and no.
Yes, because the Chinese response was relatively swift, open and helpful, compared with 17 years before. The viral DNA signature was determined and published in record time, as were case reports about the illness. Locking down Wuhan and curtailing the mass movement of citizens during a major holiday period look to have been wise moves. But also no, because before coming to its senses the initial government response did hark back to Sars: a kneejerk cover-up, presumably born of an unwillingness to admit that a major crisis could be in the offing. As a result, the scourge went unchecked for days, allowing people to spread the disease widely within China’s borders and, inevitably, outside them.
theguardian.com/4 February 2020