By Tenzin Diki , 16th Feb, 2020
As of 11th Feb 2020, there have been 43,112 confirmed cases of the Coronavirus and 1,018 deaths (Johns Hopkins CSSE, 2020). 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a virus that has not been previously identified and is causing an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China. The viral outbreak is not just a huge threat to the health of our human population but also towards the livelihood for people living in the area and the country’s economics in general. In response to this outbreak, China has banned the wildlife trade and put the whole area under a lockdown, both of which are necessary measures.
The COVID-19 is a member of the betacoronavirus family that is believed to have originated in bats. The MERS and SARS outbreaks in 2012 and 2003 respectively were caused by the members of the coronavirus family too. Since the19 is a species of virus unknown to us before this outbreak, medical officials have been struggling to grapple and produce a cure. Currently, research derived from evolutionary analysis points out that the snake is the most probable wildlife animal reservoir for the COVID-19.
China implemented a temporary ban on the wildlife trade after evidence pointed out that the new coronavirus might have been contradicted by animals that tie to the wet market in Wuhan. On the 26th of January, Chinese authorities announced that trading of wild animals will be suspended nationwide (Xinhuanet, 2020). This ban could curb the spreading of pneumonia caused by the novel coronavirus. Research implies that the virus might have transferred to humans from animals that were sold in the Wuhan wildlife wet market. The Wildlife market such as the one in Wuhan sells a range of animals such as snakes, hedgehogs, peacocks, civet cats, scorpions, centipedes and more for sale at the market. Many experts do recommend that the temporary ban currently implemented now be made permanent.
A ban on the wildlife animal trade could potentially also halt future viral outbreaks transferred from animals to humans. It is proven that more than 70% of emerging infections in humans are estimated to have come from animals, particularly wild animals (Khadka, 2020). Not only does the ban prevent further transmission of the novel coronavirus but it also could in the future prevent other viral diseases. Research has proven that the SARS and MERS outbreaks also came from animals from the wildlife markets (civet cats and bats) both leaving a serious toll on the affected population. Even if China does not make the ban permanent, many believe that there should be a list of regulations and restrictions enforced. China has a wildlife protection law that was adopted in 1988 but the list of protected wild animals has not been updated for three decades and critics say the authorities do little to enforce it. However, like any other solution to a problem, this one does too. A lot of people’s livelihoods in China are dependent on trade and this could have a huge impact on their living standards and the Chinese economy as a whole and might also, in turn, lead to black-market dealings. “It would deprive Chinese consumers of a food sector that accounts for 30-59% of their food supplies. Due to a large number of farmers, traders and consumers involved, the abolition of “wet markets” is also likely to lead to an explosion of an uncontrollable black market” (Lynteris and Fearnley, 2020). The Chinese population does depend on the wet life markets as a huge part of their diets and this ban could potentially derive them from it. However, a more pressing matter is the number of people whose lives are entangled deeply in this trade and has been, for some families, passed down through generations and generations. This could lead to a severe deterioration in the living standards of the people involved. Not only that but looking at the cases of the responses to the ban during the SARS epidemic, people could start engaging in the black market deals. More engagement in the black market could endanger the lives of people and also add extra burden to the legal justice system to enforce the laws.
Another measure taken by the Chinese government is implementing a lockdown of people in an attempt to further prevent the spread of the coronavirus. This affects approximately 45-56 million people. “In an attempt to contain the Wuhan coronavirus, China issued the largest quarantine in human history,” said Dr.Lawrence O. Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University (Colarossi, 2020). This response of China has been applauded by the WHO who appreciated China for taking such extraordinary measures against an extraordinary challenge. This quarantine is the largest that has ever been ordered in the history of mankind. But does this quarantine help to fight this disease? Many experts are skeptical about it.
The advantage of this measure taken by the Chinese government is that this has the potential to prevent the spread of viruses largely to other countries. According to the dashboard made by Johns Hopkins Centre CSSE, as of 10th February 2020, cases in China are at 40,196 from a total of 40,787. This could imply that the quarantine and lockdown are working fairly well to prevent the spread of the virus to the outside world other than mainland China.
But this measure of action does have a huge disadvantage. History shows that these large scale quarantines rarely work when it is issued to a large number of people within the country itself. This could impose more burden on the government to make sure that the public gets medical supplies and other aids. The New York Times reported on Feb 14, “Confronting a viral epidemic with a scant supply of protective equipment, more than 1,700 Chinese medical workers have already been infected, and six have died”. This shortage of supplies and especially masks for both the general public and medical workers is very largely caused by the lockdown of the city and the neighboring areas because of the restrictions on transportation. Another disadvantage is the proximity the lockdown creates for the people in the area. Lawrence O. Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University said: “Cordoning off a region like China’s Hubei province pens the sick together with the uninfected” (Colarossi, 2020). The quarantine affects approximately 45-56 million people. China has stopped all public transportations and canceled many national festivals such as the Chinese New Year. While the quarantine and locks down do stop the disease from spreading to the outside world, it is something that is affecting such a large number of people in the country itself. The quarantine makes it easy for the people who are not affected to get affected because they are living in such close quarters with a huge number of people who are already infected. It is also making life a lot more difficult for people who are not financially secure. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), 54.5 percent of Chinese workers such as couriers and construction workers are employed in informal sectors. Without a stable income or contractual insurance, these workers would be the first to be hit. Daily wage workers such as people working on construction sites are normally paid based on the hours they work. Lockdown of a city results in them not being able to work and could lead to huge financial burdens to their families.
These measures are two different solutions that are tackling this viral outbreak from two different perspectives. I do believe that however there are many other ways they could have gone about with these measures or improve them. Both of these solutions are very necessary and have had a huge impact but they were implemented without much thought about the marginalized and poorer community who are in turn the most affected. The measures that the Chinese government took have completely disregarded the people who are struggling to survive day by day and this is why I believe that this was a well thought out strategy. It could very well be that the authorities simply don’t care but regardless many believe that the death count that is currently at 1,670 could have been less had proper measures been taken.
For the general public, there is so much more we can do than just waiting for the government and big organizations. We could start by always washing our hands as frequently as we could. CDC recommends avoiding nonessential travel to China and travel in general by air. When coughing or sneezing cover your mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue – throw the tissue away immediately and wash hands. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty in breathing seek medical care early and share previous travel history with your healthcare provider. We could help the people in China by donating to charities that are working to help the people in China who are struggling to survive.
China has attempted to curb the spread of this recent viral outbreak through banning the wildlife trade and putting the whole area in lockdown and while both of these do have their problems within it, it is a necessary measure to fight against this challenge. Further research into this topic might answer the question of how we could improve the measures taken based on the SARs and MERs outbreak that was caused by the same family of viruses. My support and well wishes stand with the people in and outside China who are fighting this viral illness as well as my appreciation towards the medical and health professionals that are working tirelessly each day for the betterment of the people.
Buckley, C., Wee, S.-lee, & Qin, A. (2020, February 14). China’s Doctors, Fighting the Coronavirus, Beg for Masks. Retrieved February 14, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/14/world/asia/china-coronavirus-doctors.html
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Colarossi, N. (2020, February 3). China put 46 million people on lockdown to contain the Wuhan coronavirus, and now the US is prepared to quarantine people, too. But quarantines throughout history have been riddled with mishaps. Retrieved February 4, 2020, from https://www.businessinsider.com/quarantine-history-following-china-wuhan-coronavirus-lockdowns-2020-1?r=US&IR=T
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Lynteris, C., & Fearnley, L. (2020, February 1). Why shutting down Chinese ‘wet markets’ could be a terrible mistake. Retrieved February 3, 2020, from https://theconversation.com/why-shutting-down-chinese-wet-markets-could-be-a-terrible-mistake-130625
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Sixth Tone. (2019, August 9). China’s Wildlife Conservation List To Undergo Historic Revision. Retrieved February 14, 2020, from https://www.sixthtone.com/news/1004408/chinas-wildlife-conservation-list-to-undergo-historic-revision
Xinhuanet. (2020, January 26). China suspends wildlife trade to curb novel coronavirus. Retrieved February 2, 2020, from http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2020-01/26/c_138735496.htm