A Store, a Chalet, an Unsealed Pipe: Coronavirus Hot Spots Flare Far From Wuhan

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The new coronavirus, though most serious in China, “holds a very grave threat for the rest of the world,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization, said at a forum in Geneva on Tuesday.

  • Updated Feb. 10, 2020

    • What is a Coronavirus?
      It is a novel virus named for the crown-like spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people, and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
    • How contagious is the virus?
      According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is possibly transmitted through the air. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
    • How worried should I be?
      While the virus is a serious public health concern, the risk to most people outside China remains very low, and seasonal flu is a more immediate threat.
    • Who is working to contain the virus?
      World Health Organization officials have praised China’s aggressive response to the virus by closing transportation, schools and markets. This week, a team of experts from the W.H.O. arrived in Beijing to offer assistance.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      The United States and Australia are temporarily denying entry to noncitizens who recently traveled to China and several airlines have canceled flights.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.

As the outbreak’s health implications have mounted, so has its political toll: It is already one of the most significant crises for the central government in decades. China’s ruling Communist Party dismissed two health officials in Hubei, the province at the center of the epidemic, and replaced them with a leader sent from Beijing. They were the first senior officials to be punished for the government’s handling of the outbreak.

This week, the Chinese authorities urged factory workers and farmers to get back to work. But at the same time, other officials warned that there may be new outbreaks in the coming weeks — particularly in three populous provinces, Zhejiang, Guangdong and Henan — as migrant workers return to their jobs after the Lunar New Year break.

They also highlighted the role of clusters, which they defined as two or more infections within a relatively small area, in accelerating the disease’s spread.

Wu Zunyou, the chief epidemiologist of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a news conference on Tuesday that there had been nearly 1,000 clusters in China, with 83 percent occurring within families. But schools, factories, shopping centers and medical facilities also contributed to the spread, he said.

In Tianjin, more than 600 miles from Wuhan, officials have taken drastic steps to contain a cluster of cases linked to the department store in the district of Baodi. An outbreak in that city could be especially troublesome for the central government: It is only a half-hour from Beijing by high-speed train.

At least 33 of the city’s 102 confirmed patients worked or shopped at the department store, or had close contact with employees or customers, according to local health authorities. Of those, many — including the latest patient, a 31-year-old woman announced on Tuesday — had no history of travel to Wuhan.

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