Health officials in China are seeking to control the outbreak of a new type of coronavirus that they say can spread from human to human. Similarities with SARS, a deadly virus that plagued the region and spread globally in 2002, have put public health experts on high alert. The World Health Organization has convened a meeting of experts to discuss the possibility of declaring the outbreak a global health emergency.
Allen Carlson, associate professor of government at Cornell University, is an expert on Chinese politics. Carlson is currently working on a project exploring the issue of nontraditional security – such as challenges posed by natural disasters or infectious diseases - in China’s emerging relationship with the rest of the international system.
“The shadow of SARS is haunting China as it wrestles to bring under control yet another infectious disease outbreak within its borders. Just like in 2003, it appears that Beijing may have initially downplayed the health threat now emanating from Wuhan. And, again, both in China, and in airports around the world, temperature monitors and quarantine measures are being put into effect in an effort to contain the spread of deadly illness.
“However, to date, the scope and severity of the Wuhan coronavirus does not appear to be equal to that of SARS. It is reasonable to assume that the Chinese government learned from its earlier, initially ineffective, handling of SARS and is acting in a more transparent and proactive manner in Wuhan today.
“It is, though, premature to tell if this is the case, and, the recent sharp rise in reported cases, not to mention the news that the virus may now be capable of human to human transmission, are worrying.
“The Chinese authorities then must act in an expedient and open manner in confronting this emergent public health threat. Doing so should include welcoming, extensive coordination and cooperation with both the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control.
“There is no reason, yet, to believe we are facing a full-blown epidemic in China."