It started off in Wuhan, but now the deadly coronavirus has spread to every region in China and is creeping across the planet.
Already the death toll has climbed past 200 while nearly 10,000 people have become infected by the 2019-nCoV disease.
“The whole world needs to take action,” Michael Ryan, the head of the World Health Organization Emergencies Program, told a media briefing in Geneva.
As the outbreak intensifies in China, the epidemic continues to spread across the world. Confirmed infected cases have been reported in Japan, South Korea, India, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Nepal and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Australia, the United States, Canada and France.
“Chinese health officials have confirmed that the new virus can spread between people, but do not believe it to be as serious as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) or MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome),” China’s state-run media reported on Thursday.
Still, the pace of the infection rate is causing “acute” concern, with President Xi Jinping declaring “war” on the “demon” virus.
Earlier this week, the number of people contracting the disease in mainland China outstripped the 5,327 confirmed cases during the SARS epidemic between 2002 and 2003, according to the National Health Commission in Beijing.
“Stopping the spread of this virus both in China and globally is the WHO’s highest priority,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the WHO, reiterated on Tuesday after expressing regret for what he called a “human error” in the organization’s assessment.
Since then, major international companies such as Starbucks, McDonald’s, KFC and Pizza Hut have closed their outlets in parts of the country. Fashion chains H&M, Gap and Old Navy have followed suit.
Tech giants Apple, Amazon and Google have announced travel restrictions to and from China, while Shanghai Disney Resort and the InterContinental Hotels Group have temporarily shut down their operations.
Global car companies such as Renault and Honda will also keep the gates locked at their Wuhan factories.
To illustrate the scale of the crisis, mass airlifts are taking place to bring home foreign nationals while international airlines, including British Airways, United Airlines, American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Air India and Lufthansa, have canceled or suspended flights to the Chinese mainland until next month.
Businesses in the world’s second-largest economy have also been badly affected.
“We can only speculate what [the] ultimate impact – both human and economic – the virus will have, depending on how far it ends up spreading. The most important channel of economic impact will likely be the hit to Chinese consumer spending,” Roland Rajah, the director of the international economy program at the Lowy Institute, said.
“How big of an impact for the Chinese economy might this prove? Comparing it to the 2002-03 SARS outbreak suggests the shock could be substantial. If the Wuhan coronavirus crisis proves around the same scale as the SARS episode, then China’s economy could conceivably be looking at economic growth dipping from 6.1% to something in the 4% [to] 5% range this year, even on the government’s rosy number,” he continued.
“What might the impact be on the global economy? China accounts for about a fifth of world output on a purchasing power parity basis – the IMF’s preferred measure – meaning a Chinese slowdown would directly knock off 0.3 percentage point from the Fund’s latest global forecast of 3.3% for 2020 (made only last week),” Rajah added on the Sydney-based think-tank’s website.
To recap, the outbreak started last month in Wuhan, a sprawling metropolis of more than 10 million people, nearly 2 million more than New York or London. The capital of Hubei province is now under siege from a silent predator, officially known as 2019-nCoV, which was found lurking in a seafood market.
Last weekend, Beijing announced plans to seal off 15 cities. Up to 56 million people, which is nearly the population of South Africa, have been put into quarantine after a travel ban was imposed.
“The pandemic is now a test of China’s governing capacity as it seeks to mobilize all resources to curb the spread of the virus,” an editorial in the state-run English-language China Daily warned this week.
Curbing the spread of the coronavirus has now become the main priority not just in China but the rest of the world.