What we know about China’s deadly coronavirus outbreak — and what we don’t

JUDY WOODRUFF: As we reported, Chinese officials
are racing to contain a quickly spreading virus that has now killed at least 17 people,
infected hundreds more, and spread to several other countries. William Brangham has this update on the latest. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: In Wuhan, China, the city
of 11 million people at the center of the outbreak, officials today announced the imminent
closure of all public transit and advised residents not to leave the city. This comes just as celebrations of the Chinese
lunar new year are to begin, where, normally, hundreds of millions of people travel from
cities to the countryside. This outbreak of a new pneumonia-like coronavirus
has now sickened hundreds in China, and spread to at least five other countries, along with
one declared case in the U.S. YANZHONG HUANG, Council on Foreign Relations:
I think it’s anything but under control for now. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Yanzhong Huang is a public
health researcher at the Council on Foreign Relations and directs the Center for Global
Health Studies at Seton Hall University. YANZHONG HUANG: There seems to be evidence
suggesting that the virus is increasing its virulence and is spreading very rapidly in
China, and also to other countries. So, we are actually in the initial stages of a major
outbreak. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Airports in many countries
are now using thermal imaging to check passengers for possible fevers, one of the symptoms of
the virus. U.S. health officials said five U.S. airports
are conducting similar screening, and plans are in place to route all inbound flights
from the affected regions in China through those hubs. This passenger arrived in San Francisco from
an affected area in China and is happy with the screenings. WOMAN: I think they did a good job. I think
it’s necessary, because this is a big thing. This is about our health, about the community
health. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: In addition to the travel
restrictions, a partial quarantine is now in effect in parts of Wuhan. YANZHONG HUANG: It’s a very big city, and
it’s in Central China. So consider that sort of China’s Chicago in terms of the location
and also in terms of the importance in China. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: This shuttered live animal
market in Wuhan is one of the places where officials believe the virus first made the
jump from animals to humans. DR. TOM INGLESBY, Director, Johns Hopkins
Center for Health Security: If a virus moves from animal to human, but can’t spread any
further, than the risk of a larger outbreak is very low. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Tom Inglesby is the Director
of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. DR. TOM INGLESBY: We have seen that before
in many different kinds of infectious diseases, where there is a jump, but then people don’t
transmit the illness further. But the concern is when a virus has the capability of spreading
directly from person to person. Obviously, that requires different kinds of interventions
to try to control that virus. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Chinese health officials
confirmed this week that this virus is now spreading from person to person. YANZHONG HUANG: If the virus is gaining the
capacity for efficient human-to-human transmission, it means that all those interactions maximize
the chances of the virus infecting human beings. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: What makes this even more
complicated is that the symptoms of a coronavirus infection are very similar to the flu. People who have the infection have high fevers,
they have a cough, and they have trouble breathing. So far, the people who have died from these
infections tend to be elderly who also had health complications. The Chinese government has faced sharp criticism
for its slow reaction to previous outbreaks, including the SARS epidemic 17 years ago,
where 800 people died and over 8,000 were sickened by a different coronavirus. This current outbreak is believed to have
begun early last month, but health officials there didn’t reveal it publicly for three
weeks. While Tom Inglesby doesn’t agree with all
of China’s moves, he’s glad they’re at least being more transparent now. DR. TOM INGLESBY: Yesterday, the president
of China strongly urged all those who were working on this outbreak to share information
within China and to share it internationally and to share it with the World Health Organization.
You didn’t see that kind of political position back in 2002. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Public health officials
say, we still just don’t know how many cases are out there and how serious they are, to
know if this is a mild coronavirus that won’t take too many lives or something more virulent
that could take a deeper toll. DR. TOM INGLESBY: It’s so new in the outbreak
that we don’t know whether we’re closer to the former or the latter. And we’re going
to need a lot more information to decide that. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: For the “PBS NewsHour,”
I’m William Brangham.

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