(C. Jardin) #1
1 February 2020 | New Scientist | 5

A DEADLY new virus is spreading
rapidly around the world. In a matter
of weeks, we have seen almost
3000 people infected across at least
12 countries, and more than 80 deaths.
But epidemiologists are warning that
it has the potential to spread further
and claim more lives.
We know the airborne virus can
spread between people, and Chinese
researchers studying it have warned
that it seems to be able to spread before
symptoms show. That might explain
why it is spreading so much faster than
SARS did back in 2003 (see page 8).
As New Scientist went to press,
reports of the first possible cases
of person-to-person transmission
outside China were beginning to
emerge. If SARS, MERS, Ebola or swine
flu have taught us anything, it is that

we need to be prepared. The reaction
of national and international health
agencies is key. The controversial
decision by the World Health
Organization to hold off on declaring
a public health emergency of
international concern is one it may

come to regret – the agency is still
facing criticism for its delayed response
to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
In the meantime, China is due
some credit. The country has swiftly
responded to the outbreak. Local health
agencies reported the first suspicious
cases back when there were only a

handful of them, and the world has
been updated on a daily basis since.
The food market at the centre of the
outbreak was shut and disinfected as
soon as it was identified as a possible
source. Chinese researchers not
only sequenced the genome of the
new virus in a matter of days, they
also immediately shared their results
with the international community.
As a result, diagnostic kits exist in
multiple countries.
China’s lockdown of several cities
is unprecedented, and certainly isn’t
foolproof: it is impossible to fully stop
the movement of people. But it is a big
step in stemming the virus’s spread.
Other countries, including the UK,
have insisted they are prepared to deal
with any outbreak. Let’s hope we won’t
find out if that is true. ❚

Best we be prepared

Fast action will help the world contain the new coronavirus

The leader

“ Chinese researchers
sequenced the new virus in
days and swiftly shared their
results internationally”

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