The coronavirus picture gets clearer with updated infection, death numbers

Hi, Erika Fry filling in for Sy Mukherjee today.

The threat of an impending global pandemic didn’t go away over America’s long weekend. The novel coronavirus outbreak that began late last year in Wuhan, China continued apace with confirmed cases standing at more than 72,000 and deaths nearing 1,900—most of them in China’s Hubei province. Health care workers have been among the most vulnerable; a hospital director in Hubei was among the dead today.

Though many have questioned the effectiveness of such measures, China has redoubled its effort to contain the virus via mass quarantine and travel bans: the New York Times today reported the country has placed 150 million people under lockdown and that half of the nation’s 1.3 billion people face restrictions on movement.

Meanwhile, the virus is now spreading through communities outside the outbreak’s epicenter; in Singapore and Japan, both of which have tallied dozens of COVID-19 cases, leaders have signaled that containment efforts like contract tracing and quarantining may not be manageable.

Further afield, French Health Minister Olivier Véran declared that COVID-19 becoming a pandemic is both “a working assumption and a credible risk,” and UN Secretary General António Guterres, calling it “a very dangerous situation,” flagged concerns about how countries with weak health systems will fare if that happens.

While uncertainty abounds, we do have a slightly clearer picture of the virus and its toll thanks to a recent analysis released by China’s CDC. The report, which looked at 44,672 confirmed cases reported before February 11, found the vast majority—80.9%—were mild. 13.8% were severe and 4.7% critical. While noting the study had various limitations, its authors reported a case fatality rate of 2.3%.

All of this signals more economic fallout ahead. South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in today called the situation an economic “emergency.” Closer to home, Apple said yesterday it would miss its first quarter revenue targets. An analyst told me last week he expects the total cost of this outbreak to be $90-270 billion.

A more precise accounting of the impacts—human and economic—will only come with time. For now, as I wrote recently for the magazine, when it comes to this outbreak and what to expect, even the world’s leading experts simply don’t know.

Erika Fry
[email protected]

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