The coronavirus outbreak is apparently under control even in the particularly severely affected city of Wuhan. But China and neighboring countries are facing a new problem. And experts disagree on how the virus will continue to behave.
For the first time since the outbreak of the novel corona virus in early January, China has reported no new local infections nationwide. However, the number of infected people who came back to the People’s Republic from abroad rose – which fuels fears of a possible second wave of spread.
As the Beijing Health Commission announced on Thursday, 34 new “imported cases” were registered, that is, diseases that were detected in people entering China. It was the highest increase in the number of sick people who had entered from abroad.
For the most part, these returnees are not foreigners, but Chinese who come back home, among other things, because they assume that the worst has now been overcome. A total of 189 imported cases have been identified to date, the Commission said.
In order to prevent the spread of the introduced cases as far as possible, strict quarantine measures apply to people arriving from abroad.
Chinese President Xi Jinping warned Wednesday that virus control and economic development remain a “challenge” against the background of the worsening global outbreak. At a meeting of the Politburo Standing Committee, the head of state urged people to remain vigilant and to make “tireless efforts” to prevent and fight the epidemic.
The meeting also called for “determined efforts” to continue to protect Hubei Province and its capital, Wuhan, where the virus originally broke out. Prevention and control in key regions such as Beijing must also be strengthened. With Chinas economy facing increasing downward pressure, party committees and governments at all levels are said to “maintain social order” and promote economic development.
Similar to the Chinese mainland, there were fears in the Chinese special administrative region of Hong Kong that the virus could spread through returnees. The financial metropolis has also tightened its quarantine regulations since Thursday.
Authorities still see signs that the peak of the coronavirus pandemic has passed. While the number of infections and deaths worldwide is increasing rapidly, medical experts from the Chinese government have been confident that the strict measures to contain the virus will be sufficient to bring the outbreak in the country under full control in a few weeks.
Chinese experts extremely optimistic
Other Chinese doctors downplay the fear spread in many countries that the pandemic could develop into a seasonal disease similar to the flu, or that a second, even more deadly wave of infection could be threatened. “I’m not particularly worried about a second outbreak, an outbreak in China,” said deputy director of the epidemic department at Beijing Union Medical College Hospital, Cao Wei. On Monday, she said it took China another month to make a final judgment on the situation. The measures initiated should, however, be sufficient to end the domestic outbreak.
Chinese experts such as Cao base their confidence on experiences with the respiratory disease SARS, which was successfully combated in 2003 after strict government measures. This includes government advisor Zhong Nanshan, who played an important role in fighting SARS. The coronavirus pandemic could be over in June if other countries took the necessary measures, said the 83-year-old. The deputy head of the Chinese Institute for Cell Biology, Gao Zhengliang, also spread optimism. In his view, China has already taken 99 of the 100 steps necessary to defeat the virus.
The World Health Organization (WHO) appears to support the optimists. In their view, a peak in new infections was reached at the end of February. Western experts are skeptical. The head of the Institute of Molecular Biology at the University of Queensland, Ian Henderson, admits that China has taken “extraordinary” measures. But there remains the danger of a second outbreak, this time brought in from abroad.
Henderson rejects references to the devastating three flu waves that over 50 million people succumbed to in the early 20th century. The then “Spanish flu” was spread by another virus. However, other experts believe that the Covid 19 infections could recur regularly like flu waves. Henderson also sees a central problem: “When it comes to the behavior of the virus, we are still poking around in the fog.”
“Cluster” outbreak in South Korea
South Korea is again fighting an increasing number of coronavirus infections. On Wednesday, 152 additional cases were recorded, the health authorities said on Thursday. Since Monday, the number of cases has been climbing again after the downward trend in the past week. A total of 8565 people have been tested positive for the corona virus so far. The number of deaths associated with the Sars CoV-2 pathogen increased by seven to 91.
Yoon Tae-ho of the Disaster Management Center said there is still an increase in “cluster infections” and isolated cases. The authorities recently recorded, among other things, new accumulations of cases in church congregations and clinics as well as an increasing number of infected immigrants.
The majority of the newly reported cases of infection are again concentrated in the southeastern city of Daegu and the surrounding region. The largest cluster in the country is among followers of the Christian sect Shincheonji Church of Jesus, which is strongly represented in Daegu and also has connections to China.
In another cluster outbreak in Daegu, more than 70 inmates and caregivers had recently contracted the novel corona virus in a nursing home for senior citizens in Daegu.
The authorities in South Korea see an increased risk due to the global epidemic caused by infected travelers from abroad. Since Thursday, the increased entry controls for incoming people, including South Koreans from around the world, have been in effect.
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