By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest
While most people around the world were happily celebrating New Year’s Eve 2020, Chinese officials were alerting the World Health Organization (WHO) of the appearance of several flu-like cases in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province in central China.
The patients were quarantined, and health authorities began trying to trace the source of the symptoms.
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Wuhan Ophthalmologist Was the First Person to Spot the Coronavirus
Dr. Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist working in Wuhan, was the first person to spot the coronavirus in late December. He immediately warned his colleagues about the illness.
On January 1, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified the suspected source of the illness as a seafood market in Wuhan. The market has remained closed since then.
“Using the popular Chinese social media platform WeChat, Li wrote that he had become aware of several cases similar to severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS,” National Public Radio recounted. SARS, another coronavirus, “killed nearly 800 people in a 2002-2003 outbreak that Beijing initially tried to cover up,” NPR said.
Wuhan Police Reprimanded Li for His Coronavirus Social Media Posts and Forced a Retraction
With a similar intent, Wuhan police quickly paid Li a visit and “reprimanded him for his posts,” NPR continued. On January 3, Li signed a statement, no doubt coerced by authorities, in which he acknowledged that he made false statements.
Chinese authorities posted his statement online even as the virus continued to spread in Wuhan and into other areas of China.
China Eventually Acknowledges Coronavirus Outbreak
By January 7, Chinese health officials had identified the virus as belonging to the same family of viruses including the common cold and SARS. China gave it the temporary name of 2019-nCOV.
Days later, Li himself was hospitalized with the coronavirus. He died of the illness last Sunday, February 9. “And even in death, he is now forcing the dictator of China [President Xi Jinping] to conduct an emergency public-relations campaign in the face of a growing demand for free speech,” James Freeman wrote in the Wall Street Journal.
Death Toll in China Reaches 1,016 Victims as Outbreak Continues
From the first reported cases in Wuhan, the virus spread rapidly. By February 10, the death toll from the coronavirus in China totaled 1,016, an increase of 108 from just a day earlier and far surpassing the number of fatalities from the SARS epidemic of 2002-2003.
“The number of confirmed infections in China also grew, to at least 42,638 from about 40,000 a day earlier,” The New York Times reported. Wuhan’s Hubei Province recorded 2,097 new infections, compared with 2,618 a day earlier.
Tianjin Department Store Blamed for Some Cases
A department store in in Tianjin, a city of more than 15 million southeast of Beijing, was cited as responsible for nearly one-third of the 102 confirmed coronavirus cases there.
“Officials estimated that 11,700 customers had visited the shopping complex during a period in late January. The authorities said that those customers would be quarantined, and that the store itself, which they did not identify, had been sealed and disinfected,” the Times added.
COVID-19 Now Official Name of Coronavirus
The WHO announced on Tuesday that it has officially renamed the coronavirus as COVID-19.
Under international guidelines, the WHO said it “had to find a name that did not refer to a geographical location, an animal, an individual or group of people, and which is also pronounceable and related to the disease,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Twitter.
“With 99 percent of cases in China, this remains very much an emergency for that country, but one that holds a very grave threat for the rest of the world,” Dr. Tedros warned.
Over 20 Countries to Date Have Reported Coronavirus Outbreaks
January ended with 23 countries, including China, reporting outbreaks of the contagious disease, according to a compilation by Pharmaceutical Technology. Among them were the following events:
- On January 11, a 61-year-old woman in Wuhan becomes the first known casualty of the virus.
- Thailand reports its first case of coronavirus on January 13.
- South Korea reports its first case on January 20.
- U.S. health officials confirm the first coronavirus case on January 21. The victim, in his 30s, was admitted at a hospital in Washington State upon his return from China. Five days later, the U.S. announces that a special flight from Wuhan to San Francisco on January 28 would evacuate all American citizens from Wuhan.
- Canada reports its first “presumptive” coronavirus case on January 25.
- Japan, Taiwan and Germany report their first cases of coronavirus domestic transmission on January 28.
- On January 29, Germany confirms four cases of the illness. Four family members in the UAR contracted the
- On the same day, Russia reports its first suspected case. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin signs an order to immediately close the 2,700-mile border with China.
- On January 30, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirms the first case of person-to-person transmission of the coronavirus in the U.S.
- On February 3, a Qantas flight from Wuhan carrying 243 Australian citizens and permanent residents, including 89 individuals under 16, lands at RAAF base Learmonth in Western Australia.
- On February 6, the U.S. embassy in Beijing confirms that an American citizen died in Wuhan. It was the first known death of a U.S. citizen due to the new coronavirus.
- On February 10, Britain declares the coronavirus outbreak a “serious and imminent threat to public health.” Four new cases were diagnosed in the UK, doubling the total number of confirmed cases to eight.