The coronavirus is now present on all continents except Antarctica, and for the first time, it is spreading faster outside China than in the country where it was first detected.
In large cities where people live and work side by side, the prospect of an epidemic is a real concern. Here are some of the challenges – and an overview of how cities around the world have responded so far.
Public transport systems create a perfect environment for the transmission of viruses. Viruses are thought to spread primarily when droplets of body fluid land on common surfaces after a person has coughed or sneezed.
Studies analyzing flu seasons have suggested that people using public transportation during flu epidemics are up to 6 times more likely to get an acute respiratory infection. This is why the authorities, from South Korea to Italy and Iran, have ordered mass cleaning of the surfaces inside trains, buses, and stations.
Events that attract large crowds, such as sporting events, are visible sites of potential contagion, and they are already affected by the coronavirus. The outbreak led to the postponement of the Formula 1 Grand Prix from China to Shanghai.
Six matches in the Asian Champions League have also been delayed, affecting four Iranian teams. In Europe, rugby and football matches involving Italian teams were suspended. But the most significant disruption to the global sporting calendar could be the Tokyo Olympics, scheduled to begin on 24 July. So far, only the torch relay before the games has been reduced, but the International Olympic Committee has not ruled out canceling the games if the coronavirus turns into a severe pandemic.
Besides sport, religious events are also subject to restrictions. Saudi Arabia has announced that it is suspending the entry of foreign pilgrims to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
Increasingly, governments are advising schools to put in place plans to combat the coronavirus. In some nations such as Japan, Thailand, Iran, and Iraq, schools and universities have been temporarily closed to cope with the epidemic.
The United States and the United Kingdom are not advising closures, but four schools in England have canceled all classes for a “deep clean-up” after students returned from ski trips to Italy. Parents who have recently traveled with their children to the most affected areas – including Iran, China, Hong Kong, South Korea, South East Asia, and Northern Italy – are advised to stay indoors and not send their children to school.
Coronavirus affects business practices in some of the world’s most important technology centers. In San Diego and San Francisco, both of which have declared states of emergency, employees are advised not to shake hands with visitors to their companies.
Facebook has canceled an annual marketing conference scheduled for March, and several major sponsors and exhibitors have withdrawn from one of the world’s largest cybersecurity conferences in San Francisco.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published guidelines recommending that employers encourage teleworking or working from home, especially if they have fever or symptoms of respiratory problems.
Raising public awareness of the importance of measures such as handwashing is a critical element in the fight against coronavirus transmission, U.S. health officials say. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, everyone should :
- wash their hands regularly
- cover their mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing
- Avoid contact with people who have symptoms of respiratory illness.
- Avoid unprotected contact with live wild or farmed animals.
Since there is no treatment or cure for the new coronavirus, hospitals are trying to relieve the symptoms. It is advisable to put patients in isolation and to ensure that the staff wears protective clothing when dealing with potential cases.
The American and British authorities predict that in the event of a massive epidemic, hospitals could delay non-urgent procedures and increase telephone consultations. There is concern about how some hospitals will cope with an increase in the number of patients when their services are already overburdened.
In the United Kingdom, people coming from the affected areas are invited to quarantine themselves. The Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the current outbreak, remains isolated, as do the most affected cities in northern Italy.
The Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the current epidemic, remains isolated, as do the most affected towns in northern Italy, but experts say that as the virus spreads around the world, these restrictions will become less effective.
They are also difficult to replicate elsewhere. “Few countries, if any, could lock down cities logistically as China has done,” Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said on Twitter.
According to the U.S. official, “locks could cut families off from each other, interrupt the delivery of medicine to people, disrupt the distribution of food and necessary supplies.” “They could block the movement of doctors, nurses, and medical supplies to hospitals, as has been reported in China,” said Tom Inglesby.