Birth of a pandemic: in the first weeks of the coronavirus epidemic in Wuhan | News from the world


What is Covid-19?

It is caused by a member of the coronavirus family who has never been seen before. Like other coronaviruses, it comes from animals. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared it a pandemic.

What are the symptoms caused by this coronavirus?

According to the WHO, the most common symptoms of Covid-19 are fever, fatigue and a dry cough. Some patients may also have a runny nose, sore throat, stuffy nose, and aches and pains or diarrhea. Some people report losing their taste and / or smell. About 80% of people who get Covid-19 have a mild case – about as severe as a common cold – and recover without needing special treatment.

According to the WHO, about one in six people fall seriously ill. Seniors and people with underlying medical conditions like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, or chronic respiratory conditions are at higher risk for serious Covid-19 disease.

In the United Kingdom, the National Health Service (NHS) has identified the specific symptoms to look for as either:

  • high temperature – you feel warm to the touch on your chest or back
  • a new, continuous cough – this means that you have started coughing several times

Since this is viral pneumonia, antibiotics are useless. The antiviral drugs we have for the flu will not work and there is currently no vaccine. Recovery depends on the strength of the immune system.

Should I go to the doctor if I cough?

Medical advice varies around the world – many countries impose travel and residence bans to try to prevent the spread of the virus. In many places, people are told to stay at home rather than seeing a hospital doctor in person. Check with your local authorities.

In the UK, the NHS advises that anyone with symptoms stay at home for at least 7 days. If you live with other people, they must stay at home for at least 14 days, to avoid spreading the infection outside the home.

How many people have been affected?

The National Health Commission of China confirmed human-to-human transmission in January. As of April 6, more than 1.25 million people have been infected in more than 180 countries, according to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

There have been more than 69,500 deaths worldwide. Just over 3,200 of these deaths occurred in mainland China. Italy was the most affected, with more than 15,800 deaths and more than 12,600 deaths in Spain. The United States now has more confirmed cases than any other country – more than 335,000. Many of those who died had underlying health conditions, which the coronavirus complicated.

More … than 264,000 people are said to have recovered coronavirus.

The wholesale seafood market in Huanan in central Wuhan was the kind of place where people often got colds. Vendors began settling in at 3 a.m., plunging their hands into buckets of cold water as they cleaned and prepared products for customers who arrived each morning.

The sprawling market of more than 20 streets spanned both sides of a main road in an upscale district of the commercial district of Hankou. Meat racks were hung on hooks or knocked over on plastic mats. The workers were walking in rubber boots. Sewers lined the sidewalk alongside shops selling everything from live poultry to seafood and cooking ingredients. It was crowded but clean.

So, in mid-December, when Lan, who was selling dried seafood in one of Huanan’s more than 1,000 stalls, was not feeling well, he was not thinking about it.

He stayed at home to rest, but after losing 3 kg in a few days, he decided to go to his usual hospital for a check-up.

From there, he was sent to a hospital specializing in infectious diseases and was admitted on December 19. He remembers how the staff praised his positive attitude. “I was just a little sick. I was not afraid at all, “said Lan, who asked not to disclose his full name.

Lan could not know then that he was among the first cases of a new highly contagious coronavirus that would kill more than 2,500 people in his city and engulf the world, infecting more than 1.6 million people so far and killing more than 95,000. The World Health Organization has described the Covid-19 outbreak as the worst global crisis since the Second World War. “I thought I had a cold. I had no idea, “he said.

Coronavirus infections began to appear in Wuhan in December – and apparently as early as November – but Chinese authorities did not inform the public that the virus could pass between humans before the end of January.

A makeshift intensive care unit in February at the Red Cross hospital in Wuhan where many patients were in critical condition.

A makeshift intensive care unit in February at the Red Cross hospital in Wuhan where many patients were in critical condition. Photography: Gerry Yin / The Guardian

Today, as China celebrates what it claims to be the victory over the disease, the number of infections and deaths worldwide is increasing. Australian, American and British officials have accused Beijing of suppressing the information, allowing a localized epidemic to turn into a pandemic.

Beijing says its strict bans have saved the world time that health officials in some countries have chosen to waste. But interviews with early patients, medical workers and residents, as well as leaked internal documents, testimony from whistleblowers and research studies, show delays in the first weeks of the epidemic, government faux pas that would have far-reaching consequences.

Human-to-human transmission

By the end of December, before Lan recovered from more than 20 days in hospital, Wuhan had heard of a mysterious illness. Netizens released screenshots of a WeChat conversation on December 30, in which a Wuhan Red Cross hospital doctor, Liu Wen, alerted colleagues to confirmed cases of contagious coronavirus in another hospital . ” Wash your hands! Face masks! Gloves! Wrote the doctor.

On the same day, an ophthalmologist from Wuhan Central Hospital, Li Wenliang, told a group of former WeChat medical classmates that seven people from his hospital had contracted what he believed to be Sars, the epidemic that has killed more than 600 people in mainland China and Hong Kong. in 2002-03.

In mid-February, a makeshift intensive care unit at the Red Cross hospital in Wuhan.

An intensive care unit at the Red Cross hospital in Wuhan in mid-February. Photography: Gerry Yin / The Guardian

An “urgent notification” from the Wuhan Health Commission warning of “successive cases of unknown pneumonia” was also leaked and posted on December 30. The statement ordered hospitals to “strengthen responsible leadership” and ensure that no one “does not disclose information to the public without authorization.”

Under increasing pressure the next day, the health commission said the researchers were investigating 27 cases of viral pneumonia, its first official opinion on the virus. There was no “clear evidence of human-to-human transmission,” the statement said, describing the epidemic as being linked to the seafood market and assuring the public that all patients have been quarantined and their contacts placed under observation. “The disease is preventable and controllable,” he added.

A day later, on January 1, the Huanan seafood market was closed and the Wuhan Public Security Bureau announced that eight people had been “punished” for spreading rumors. Authorities have also instructed hospitals to screen for market-related pneumonia. It was not until January 20 that market vendors were asked to undergo temperature checks and blood tests.

But on the other side of the Yangtze River, about 10 kilometers away, people who had never been to the market fell ill. During the second week of January, 22-year-old Coco Han developed a cough that she could not shake.

Coco Han, 22, in Wuhan.

Coco Han, 22, in Wuhan. Photography: Gerry Yin

After a week, she went to her local clinic on January 20 and underwent a CT scan. The results showed an infection of the lungs. A nurse in a combination of hazardous materials escorted her to another hospital for further tests.

Han’s mother joined him in a crowded waiting room where those waiting began to panic. Han had a mask but his mother hadn’t thought of wearing one, given government assurances. A young woman in line in front of them passed out and Han’s mother hugged her, telling her not to look.


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