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Coronavirus: Anatomy of a Global Outbreak

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Coronavirus: Anatomy of a Global Outbreak

Learn the why behind the headlines.

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When news broke that China built and completed a brand-new hospital in 10 days, it was clear the coronavirus outbreak was no ordinary epidemic. Authorities ordered the construction of a prefabricated, 1,000-bed hospital in Wuhan, the epicenter of the latest outbreak. The 11-million strong city is known as the Chicago of China given its central location and large car manufacturing industry.

According to The Washington Post, dozens of other facilities “have been built from scratch or refashioned from existing hospital wards.”

The last time Beijing slapped a hospital together in a matter of days was during the SARS virus crisis. That epidemic killed 800 in 2002-2003.

Fearing the worst with coronavirus, government officials shut down Wuhan and several other major cities where infections had spread—putting an unprecedented 50 million people on lockdown. Yet, within months, the disease spread across the globe. On March 6, the total number of confirmed cases surpassed 100,000 and the virus has killed nearly 3,400 people. The virus is edging into more and more U.S. states, popped up in at least four new countries and even breached the halls of the Vatican.

Scientists identified the virus as a novel (or new) coronavirus. The name comes from the Latin word for crowns or halos, which coronaviruses resemble under a microscope. The coronavirus family has many types that affect people. Some cause the common cold while others originating in bats, camels and other animals have evolved into more severe illnesses such as SARS—severe acute respiratory syndrome—or MERS—Middle East respiratory syndrome. The novel strain is called COVID-19.

With tens of millions of Chinese ordered to stay put during the Lunar New Year holiday, tourism around the globe took a heavy hit. In addition, fears of the virus outbreak spreading has caused nations across the globe to shut down major sporting events—from soccer matches to cycling races in Europe—and has even raised the possibility of a cancellation or postponement of the Tokyo Summer Olympics on July 24.

What started with a few people catching the virus from a market in Wuhan caused rippling global effects.

Financial Downturn

The world’s economy turns heavily on China’s markets. It represents one-fifth of the global GDP and is the world’s second biggest economy.

“Companies in other countries dependent on Chinese supply chains are already facing a slowdown: Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Italy and the U.S. have all imposed travel restrictions,” Time magazine reported as the number of cases continued to increase.

Oil prices fell 20 percent in January because of a drop in China’s demand, leaving OPEC countries debating whether to cut oil production.

But perhaps the greatest cost will come to “China’s reputation as a reliable trade partner,” Time continued. “In the process, China creates the impression that it has learned little since the SARS crisis, giving the rest of the world reason to try to reduce its dependence on China for growth and production.”

“We’re moving closer to the day when it is China’s increasingly hefty economy, not America’s, that’s most to blame for a global recession.”

The interconnected global economy means U.S. companies have plenty of customers and suppliers in China. Its economy accounts for 6 percent of all revenue for S&P 500 companies over the last 12 months. That is nearly double any other country besides the United States, according to FactSet.

“Markets hate uncertainty, and the coronavirus is the ultimate uncertainty in that no one knows how badly it will impact the global economy,” Alec Young, managing director of global markets research at FTSE Russell, said to The Associated Press.

Struggle to Quarantine

The outbreak also revealed the weak points in individual nations’ healthcare systems. Those efforts have not always been smooth, with violent protests near quarantine centers, banishment to remote islands, and some citizens allowed to leave quarantine early.

Hong Kong quarantined 3,600 people on board a cruise ship for multiple days until health checks were completed. The ship was refused entry at Kaohsiung port after three passengers on an earlier voyage later tested positive for the virus.

Questions swirled around whether Iran could control its outbreak, as the number of reported infections jumped beyond 4,700 on March 6, with 124 deaths. Iran planned to set up checkpoints to limit travel, urged people to stop using paper money and had firefighters spray disinfectant on an 11-mile length of Tehran’s most famous avenue.

In South Korea, officials acknowledged missteps in monitoring visitors from China as 23 cases of the infection were confirmed. Residents threw eggs and other objects at government officials over plans to quarantine about 700 evacuees from Wuhan at facilities in their neighborhoods.

Global health authorities are increasingly worried about the virus’ threat to Africa, where an estimated one million Chinese now live, as some health workers warn they are not ready to handle an outbreak.

The continent is racing to take precautions as hundreds of travelers arrive from China every day. Safeguards include stronger surveillance at ports of entry and improved quarantine and testing measures across Africa, home to 1.2 billion people and some of the world’s weakest systems for detecting and treating disease.

But the effort has been complicated by a critical shortage of testing kits and numerous illnesses that display symptoms similar to the flu-like virus.

The head of the UN’s food agency, the World Food Program, warned of the potential for “absolute devastation” as the outbreak’s effects ripple through Africa and the Middle East.

“The problem is, even if it’s mild, it can paralyze the whole community,” said Dr. Michel Yao, emergency operations manager in Africa for the World Health Organization.

And in the United States, officials in Washington state are so concerned about having space to care for the sick they were expected to close a $4 million deal to take over a roadside motel.

To the south, cruise passengers off the California coast awaited test results aboard a cruise ship. The vessel, with 3,500 aboard, was ordered to stay at sea after a traveler from its previous voyage died of the coronavirus and at least four others were infected.

Challenge to Authority

While the coronavirus outbreak is, at its core, a humanitarian issue, it is also political. China’s ruling Communist Party has faced criticism of its heavy-handed censorship, on display during the outbreak, and other social controls under President Xi Jinping, who took power in 2012 and has accrued more political power than any Chinese leader since Mao Zedong.

There is no indication Mr. Xi faces any serious challenge to his position, but public anger could give opponents in the ruling party ammunition to push back against his autocratic rule.

“In the long term, I think it will damage him,” said Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

But for now, even party figures who might be quite happy to see Mr. Xi weakened feel obligated to rally around him, Mr. Tsang said. “They will not risk allowing a crisis like this to destroy the credibility of the Communist Party itself,” he said.

The party has also faced an outburst of public anger following the death of Li Wenliang, a physician in Wuhan who was reprimanded in December for warning about the virus. Local authorities were accused of discouraging doctors from talking about the outbreak to avoid overshadowing Hubei province’s major political event, a legislative meeting in preparation for the National People’s Congress.

Comments left on Dr. Li’s microblog account accused Wuhan authorities of valuing politics over public safety. Party leaders have tried to divert anger by allowing state media and social media users to criticize local Wuhan officials.

No Vaccine?

Researchers worldwide are scrambling to find a vaccine against the surprise health threat, but there is no guarantee one will arrive in time.

Just days after Chinese scientists shared the genetic map of the culprit coronavirus, researchers at the U.S. National Institutes of Health had engineered a possible key ingredient for a vaccine they hope to begin testing by April.

Scientists from Australia to France, along with a list of biotech and vaccine companies, jumped in the race, pursuing different types of inoculations.

Texas researchers froze an experimental vaccine developed too late to fight SARS but are pushing U.S. and Chinese authorities to give it a try this time around.

All that work is coming at lightning speed compared to past outbreaks. Yet many experts agree it still may take a year—if every step along the way goes well—for any vaccine to be ready for widespread use.

The Animal Connection

Government organizations, healthcare providers and doctors have poured all their resources into stopping the spread of COVID-19. They want to avoid an all-out pandemic.

Yet disease outbreaks keep coming. Why can we not address the causes of these outbreaks?

Review any list of history’s deadliest diseases and note the common thread throughout.

Bubonic plague: The bacteria known as the Black Death killed nearly 25 million in the 14th century—one-third of the world’s population at the time. It originated as ordinary bacteria in the digestive tracts of certain mammals, mostly rodents, that was transferred from host to host by fleas.

Spanish flu: The deadly influenza that infected more than half a billion people in just under two years (January 1918 to December 1920) is believed to have started in birds, transferred to pigs, and then passed to humans.

HIV/AIDS: This virus is believed to have originated from chimpanzee blood to human blood sometime in the late 19th century to early 20th century. It is estimated that up to 44 million people globally were living with HIV by the end of 2018, and 770,000 died from AIDS that year.

Yellow fever: Believed to have originated in primates, the main vector of this disease is mosquitos. Yellow fever virus is estimated to cause 200,000 cases and 30,000 deaths each year, 90 percent of which occur in Africa.

What is not debatable about each of these is that animals were the source of the illness—whether humans ingested tainted meat or came in contact with a creature carrying the pathogen.

Some of the most extreme diseases are zoonotic, which means they derive from animals. COVID-19 falls in this category. A study in the Journal of Medical Virology pinpointed bats as the origin of this respiratory illness, which mutated and was passed onto snakes that likely ate the infected bats.

CNN reported: “In the case of this 2019 coronavirus outbreak, reports state that most of the first group of patients hospitalized were workers or customers at a local seafood wholesale market [in Wuhan] which also sold processed meats and live consumable animals including poultry, donkeys, sheep, pigs, camels, foxes, badgers, bamboo rats, hedgehogs and reptiles.”

Other reports indicate that snakes were sold at the market, which is now closed, where the virus likely jumped to humans.

This is not the first time China has been walloped by a zoonotic disease—the outbreaks SARS and MERS both originated from bats.

Preventing Disease

People will never stop using animals for food and other domestic purposes. Does that make it impossible to prevent zoonotic disease from ever spreading?

Consider this point before we address the answer: For the most part, people know not to eat something that is proven to be poisonous. Plants, for instance, are known to be good or bad for consumption. Most everyone knows not to touch poison ivy, or that certain mushrooms are safe to eat and others are deadly if ingested.

Yet few know there are also parameters for what animals are good for food. That is because the consequences are more subtle.

Therefore God, who made all flesh, outlined these rules in His Word. Though many meats are edible, not all were made “clean.” Ingesting food deemed “unclean” puts one on the path for health problems—disease, physical or mental deterioration, or even genetic disorders.

Leviticus 11 lists qualifications for animals—land, sea and air—that are allowable to eat and others that are considered an “abomination”—filthy, polluted—and thus unfit for human beings’ digestive systems. Among these unclean kinds of flesh are snakes and bats.

Of course, this does not mean clean meats are guaranteed to result in perfect health—mad cow disease and salmonella prove this. But the human record shows those meats God identified as unclean have brought the worst consequences—long-term and short-term.

To learn more about this and other biblical principles whereby you can improve your health, read our booklet God’s Principles of Healthful Living.

Pestilences Foretold

As long as these instructions from God are hidden or outright disregarded, diseases with animal origins will continue to spread. In fact, it will become a bigger concern as the world enters a time Jesus Christ prophesied as having increased disease outbreaks.

When asked, Jesus told the disciples exactly what would occur and what to look for leading up to His Return to Earth. Included in the “signs” or indications of the end was increased “pestilences” or plagues and disease epidemics (Matt. 24:3, 7).

The key is that there would be an upsurge in disease. This is obvious because disease is an age-old problem. Its proliferation, though, is an indication of what the Bible refers to as the “end of the age.”

The coronavirus outbreak represents just a fraction of pestilences raging across the planet. Consider the worst outbreaks of 2019: Ebola continues to plague central Africa, dengue fever took 622 lives in the Philippines, some 28,000 cases of person-to-person Hepatitis A were recorded in the U.S., and measles made a large comeback in America and abroad.

As these continue to get worse, it is a sign the “end” is nearing. This end is a culmination of man’s rule on Earth, where he has had millennia to try his own forms of government and solutions to problems. Look at history—mankind’s solutions do not work! Soon, a loving God will help all alive to learn this lesson and to teach them His way of life. This includes how to avoid disease pandemics.

Our book Why Man Cannot Solve His Problems explains more why humans have not been able to conquer illness, along with all of their age-old problems—crime, war, starvation, illiteracy and needless suffering—as well as how they can and will be fixed.


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