There is growing evidence that the new coronavirus outbreak has reached a critical mass and is likely to last for months. Even without an outbreak, the virus will have serious consequences for New Zealand. Ben Heather reports.
It probably started with a club that infects a pet, perhaps a goat or sheep.
Weeks, perhaps years later, in a market full of live animals in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the virus passed from animal to man for the first time. Over the next 14 days, that person developed a fever, followed by a dry cough. By then they had probably infected others.
The first cases of the new coronavirus were detected just over a month ago.
However, outbreaks have been reported in almost every corner of China and cases have been reported in over 20 countries, from Australia to Germany.
A growing number of experts believe that coronavirus should now be classified as a global pandemic, and the number of infected people worldwide is likely to be seriously less reported.
While a case has not yet been reported in New Zealand, the official consensus is that it is probably only a matter of time.
But independently, the epidemic is already hitting New Zealand and New Zealand. The disruption of the Chinese economy and travel restrictions, both here and there, are affecting tourism, education, forestry, agriculture and fishing.
Thousands of New Zealanders in China, only a portion of whom were evacuated by the New Zealand government last week, face long and uncertain expectations in the ghost towns behind the containment lines as the infection spreads.
And then there is the ugly human side of the viral epidemic. News of racism linking Chinese people to infection spread online.
And all this after a little over a month.
While this disease may still be abruptly reduced or the vaccine discovered quickly, this seems less and less likely.
What does a prolonged outbreak mean for New Zealand?
Anatomy of a virus
Whether there is a major outbreak in New Zealand or any other country depends primarily on how effectively the virus spreads and kills.
Variations in the transmissibility and mortality of a virus are the difference between a mild seasonal disease and a global pandemic that wipes out tens of millions of people.
Initial conjectures suggest that a person who contracts this new coronavirus, on average, will infect two or three more people. This would make it more contagious than most flu strains but less contagious than measles.
Another equally uncertain assumption is that this virus kills between two and three out of every 100 infected. It is less deadly than Sars, who was far less contagious, but far more deadly than the flu.
An article published in Lancet last weekend estimated that major coronavirus outbreaks are already occurring in Chinese megacities such as Shanghai and Beijing, which would soon resemble Wuhan, the viral epicenter.
Since these cities are the main gateways to the rest of the world, we should expect outbreaks in places with heavy traffic with China, such as Bangkok and Seoul. Overall, the study said that we should expect cases to double every 6-7 days.
Professor Michael Baker, of the public health department of the University of Otago, said the truth was that there was still “great uncertainty” about how contagious or deadly the new virus is.
But if Lancet’s article was right, the virus would be “very difficult to minimize” even with most extreme quarantine measures. This made determining the mortality rate even more important, he said.
“If there is a risk of a serious pandemic, then we need to know what the consequences of the infection are.”
University of Auckland associate professor Siouxsie Wiles said the coming weeks will be crucial.
“China has reached an unprecedented length to stop this body. The question is how well it has worked.”
If the cases continue to grow exponentially despite China’s best efforts, it is a bad omen for the rest of us.
Contains the spread, counting the cost
If all of the above seems a little apocalyptic, it is worth pointing out that the New Zealand Ministry of Health still believes that an outbreak here is unlikely.
The most likely scenario, according to the Ministry, is that some virus-infected people reach our shores and are quickly isolated and contained. End of the story
There is a moderate possibility that some of these people will infect others, as has happened in some other developed countries, but this must also be contained quickly.
China has been surprised, New Zealand has been warned and has the advantage of having no land borders. If the virus spreads to other parts of the world, we can block incoming travel, as we have already done with visitors from mainland China.
But even if we avoid an outbreak in New Zealand, coronavirus is already costing us.
The tourism industry Aoteroa has estimated that the ban on foreigners from mainland China imposed on Sunday will cost the industry $ 94 million for two weeks.