On December 31, 2019, China reported a virus to the World Health Organization. On January 25, 2020, this never-before-seen virus had claimed the lives of 56 individuals and spread to various countries including Japan, Australia, the United States, and Canada.
According to BBC News, the virus is believed to have originated in a large seafood market that “conducted illegal transactions of wild animals” and sold seafood in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. It is a type of coronavirus—a family of viruses which includes the common cold—and since it is a novel virus, it has been termed 2019-nCoV. Coronaviruses are common in animals, and although it is rare, they can cross over to humans and cause an outbreak.
The virus causes mild to severe respiratory illness and symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. As stated on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure to the virus. It is not yet known how contagious 2019-nCoV is; however, it is believed to be transmitted between humans through “respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.” There is no specific cure or vaccine. However, according to BBC News, “it is believed that only a quarter of infected cases are ‘severe,’ and the dead are mostly—though not exclusively— older people, some of whom have pre-existing conditions.”
CNN reports that China has banned motor vehicles in Wuhan’s city center to contain the virus. Only “vehicles with special permits, free shuttles, and government vehicles will be allowed to move around.” The Chinese government has also banned the sale of all wild animals across the country and is reportedly building a 1000-bed hospital in six days. Several Chinese cities are under lockdown and public organizations such as theatres and cafes have been closed. Lunar New Year gatherings have also been shut down along with tourist attractions such as Shanghai Disney and the Great Wall. Masks are now mandatory in public.
The 2019-nCoV is also currently a popular topic on social media. However, according to CBC News, many of the claims being shared are unverified and untrue. For instance, individuals are tweeting about people collapsing on the streets, authorities covering up deaths, travellers escaping the quarantine, and nicotine being able to cure the disease. It is important to distinguish between fact and fiction considering there were “almost half a million [tweets] on Friday, [January 24]” about 2019-nCoV and misinformation regarding a health issue can spread fear and cause harm.
In terms of the case reported in Canada, the patient is a man in his 50’s who recently travelled from Wuhan City to Toronto and has been admitted to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre with symptoms. To reduce one’s risk of infection, the CDC advises washing one’s hands “often with soap and water for at least twenty seconds, avoid[ing] touching [one’s] eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands, [and] avoid[ing] close contact with people who are sick.” Health officials say that the risk to the general Canadian public is low but advise following the situation closely.