EU health ministers are in Brussels today for an emergency meeting on the coronavirus. There have been a handful of isolated coronavirus cases in EU countries, but the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control currently considers the probability of a coronavirus outbreak in the EU to be “very low”. Nevertheless, public interest and concern over the virus is extremely high.
What is the coronavirus? A new respiratory disease was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019. In just a few months, the number of people infected by the coronavirus has increased rapidly to over 60,000. The Chinese authorities have taken drastic measures in response: since January, the inhabitants of several cities (with populations of millions) have been quarantined to prevent the virus from spreading further.
How dangerous is the virus? The fatality rate of the disease is reportedly around 2% (though some believe the actual fatality rate is higher). Regardless, almost all of the fatalities so far have been among elderly people with pre-existing conditions. Children and young people seem more resistant to the virus, and the majority of people infected are over 40 (the average age of patients being 55 according to one study). So far, 82% of cases have been mild, with symptoms requiring no medical intervention.
That’s not to say the coronavirus is not a threat. However, some analysts believe “fantasies about the coronavirus”, including racist stereotyping of Asians, are more contagious than the disease itself. Developed countries with well-funded and well-equipped healthcare systems are much better-placed to respond to epidemics than developing countries, as the Ebola outbreak in the DRC sadly demonstrated. This is not to minimise the challenge of the coronavirus (being seen to hide things or downplay the impact of the virus could end up eroding public trust in the media), but rather to argue the facts as they stand don’t justify a full-blown panic.
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