Since its outbreak in December 2020, the Wuhan coronavirus has affected thousands of people not just in China but also in other countries like the Philippines, the United States, and more. The increasing number of cases has compelled the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare the virus as a global emergency.
However, The New York Times and Vox report that if it continues to spread at its current speed, it could turn into a full-fledged pandemic. What does pandemic mean? It is when a disease causes an epidemic in two or more continents.
Why experts say the 2019-nCoV can become a pandemic
Many in the health and scientific communities have been saying the world is due for another pandemic — the favorite phrase is it is not a matter of “IF” but “WHEN” it will occur. In fact, WHO drafted guidelines on preparedness planning for an influenza pandemic in 2005 and has regularly updated the checklist as recently as January 2018.
Here are the reasons experts say the possibility of the 2019-nCoV to become pandemic is high.
1. The Wuhan coronavirus is spreading rapidly.
According to The New York Times, the Wuhan coronavirus is spreading like influenza. It is highly transmissible (humans can pass it on to another) than severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), which spread more slowly.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, tells The Times, “It’s very, very transmissible, and it almost certainly is going to be a pandemic. But will it be catastrophic? I don’t know.”
It should also be noted that people have recovered from the 2019-nCoV. So far, the most vulnerable are the very young, elderly, or people who have a weakened immune system. If they have 2019-nCoV, they can develop a more serious infection, such as bronchitis or pneumonia.
2. There is no vaccine for the Wuhan coronavirus.
To date, no vaccine that protects against the Wuhan coronavirus has been developed. However, The Guardian reports that at least three pharmaceutical companies and multiple teams of researchers are working on coming up with a vaccine against the virus.
One of these groups is Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases, which said on Friday, January 31, 2020, it has succeeded in cultivating and isolating the Wuhan coronavirus. It will then use the isolated virus to work on a vaccine and a drug against the virus as well as a test kit that can diagnose it quickly.
3. There might be more unrecorded cases of the Wuhan coronavirus.
CBS News reported on February 2 that there are now at least 16,660 confirmed cases of the Wuhan coronavirus worldwide. In China, there are at least 16,514 cases. According to WHO, 360 deaths have been recorded, all in China except for one in the Philippines.
Despite the thousands of cases that have been recorded, The New York Times says that the greatest uncertainty surrounding the outbreak is the number of cases that have not yet been recorded. This is because many individuals might have very mild symptoms, and they are unaware they have been infected by the virus.
4. Countries with weaker health systems might struggle to deal with the virus.
The New York Times reports that while wealthy countries like the U.S. may be more capable of detecting the virus and quarantining its carriers quickly, nations with more fragile healthcare systems (that likely includes the Philippines) may struggle to do so. This means that people in these poorer countries might be more vulnerable to getting infected by and/or spreading the virus.
5. More countries might get affected as people continue to travel and trade.
Travel and entry restrictions have been implemented in various countries with suspected and confirmed cases of the Wuhan coronavirus. Still, as people continue to travel to or trade with nations other than China, the virus might spread more. And with that, “the urgency to find ways to halt the virus and prevent deaths will grow,” The New York Times says.
The Economist also explains that continued travel and trade means the Wuhan coronavirus will not be the last virus to occur. “As humans encroach on new habitats, farm more animals, gather in cities, travel and warm the planet, new diseases will become more common.”