Gong Xi Fa Cai to everyone celebrating the lunar new year. We hope you had a wonderful time with family and friends, and we wish you good fortune, prosperity and peace in the year of the metal rat. As for the news, with 80-plus people reportedly dead in China and thousands more infected across the globe, no other story commanded more attention over the long weekend than the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak. That’s why in today’s newsletter, we decided to zero in on the crisis and look at what’s been happening here and in Wuhan, what people can do (and what you absolutely mustn’t!), and how the outbreak could have a major impact on the economies of China and the world.

Going viral

Condensing corona

There’s a lot we still don’t know about the Wuhan virus, but what we do know is that even though the World Health Organization has yet to declare it a global epidemic, as of this morning, the death toll stands at 81, with close to 2,800 cases of infection confirmed in China. Across the world, meanwhile, more than 50 cases have been reported, with four of those coming from Malaysia.

But wait, what exactly is a coronavirus? Where did the latest strain come from? How is it spread? What happens when a person does get infected? Here’re some facts to clue you in:

  • Firstly, coronaviruses have nothing to do with the world’s favourite Mexican beer or the outermost part of the Sun. What they are are a family of viruses that can cause respiratory illnesses.
     
  • Examples of coronaviruses include MERS a.k.a. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (nama saintifik: MERS-CoV) and SARS a.k.a. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (nama saintifik: SARS-CoV).
     
  • Coronaviruses can affect humans, but generally, they circulate among animals. Sometimes, though, like with SARS and MERS, they can jump from animals to humans.
     
  • In the case of the new strain, which the United States’ Center for Disease Control and Prevention calls the 2019 novel coronavirus (nama saintifik: 2019-nCoV), the virus is believed to have jumped from bats and snakes. However, while the CDC of China believes the virus likely came from “wild animals at the seafood market” in Wuhan, it isn’t sure of the exact source.
     
  • As for symptoms of the disease, the Wuhan coronavirus symptoms are similar to any other upper respiratory infections. Meaning it may seem like a regular cold at first i.e. runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat and fever. 
     
  • As for how people can contract it, generally, the virus is spread through the air (from coughs and sneezes), close personal contact, or from contact with objects or surfaces infected with viral particles. 

The scary thing about 2019-nCoV though is that folks can spread the disease before symptoms start to show. Worse, at the moment, no vaccine or specific treatment is available. Yeah, China is using the anti-HIV drugs Lopinavir and Ritonavir to treat patients. However, while experts hope these meds will work on 2019-nCoV the same way they do with HIV – by blocking the virus’ ability to bind with healthy cells and reproduce – there’s no guarantee.

So how do we protect ourselves and our loved ones? 

The CDC has some recommendations:

  • Avoid contact with people who display symptoms.
  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water, and scrub them for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser when possible.
  • If you travelled to China in the last 14 days and feel sick, seek medical attention.
  • Do not travel while sick.
  • If you’re displaying symptoms, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing. AND GO TO THE HOSPITAL!

Oh, and two more things: DON’T PANIC and DON’T SPREAD FAKE NEWS! The situation is bad enough without people spreading misinformation about the Wuhan virus having kononnya originated from a biological weapons lab. Seriously, we don’t need that shit.

The situation at home

Malaysia wasn’t super fast in responding to the crisis. In fact, PM Mahathir Mohamad at first said the situation was “not yet critical”. Two days later, though, with four confirmed cases, one instance of patients dodging quarantine and attempting to flee the country, and a case of suspected virus carriers entering the country as tourists, it was clear the government needed to be bold.

The big result is a suspension of all immigration facilities, including the issuance of visas, for China nationals from Wuhan district and Hubei province. Visas will be issued once the situation goes back to normal, but for the time being, if you’re from Wuhan or anywhere in Hubei, you ain’t getting into Malaysia.

Additionally, the Malaysian embassy in Beijing has set up an emergency response team to monitor and report on the situation and communicate with Malaysians registered with the embassy in Beijing, or our consulates in Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Kunming, Nanning, Shanghai and Xi’an.

Should the government have acted sooner, though, like, oh maybe Kim Jong-un Land, which imposed a total ban on tourists arrivals last week? Perhaps. After all, even though China had already imposed a lockdown of Wuhan, five million residents still managed to leave the city before the travel restrictions came into force.

Still, despite what Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim a.k.a. TMJ may like to believe, we’re pretty damn sure that, had they been the ones running the show, the Barisan Nasional fellas would have acted just as slowly as the Pakatan Harapan peeps (remember their ‘sterling’ job with MH370?).

Anyway, the bottom line is that, despite Maddey’s initial selamba-ness, the relevant ministries and department have all now sprung to action, with more thermal scanners placed at entry points (no sleeping on the job has, as yet, been reported) and as many as 26 hospitals ready to handle cases.

Is it enough? Perhaps not. But, for the time being, the government is at least attempting to contain the problem.

Incidentally, social media has been a really nasty place over the past week, with way too many xenophobic and racist posts. We get that folks are worried. But that’s no excuse to be bigoted. We’ve never ever condoned the use of the Sedition Act or draconian legislation like it, but you gotta wonder whether, besides warning the rakyat about spreading fake news, the authorities should also make sure folks rein in the xenophobia and racism.

The health of the economy

In 2003, when the SARS pandemic hit, it affected the whole world, not just China. According to a 2004 analysis, on top of the 800 lives SARS claimed, the disease also managed to wipe US$40 billion from the world’s economy? 

The question now then is: what kind of impact will 2019-nCoV have?

For a start, Wuhan is going to be affected big time. And unluckily for China and the rest of the world, Wuhan is not any old city. The capital of Hubei province (population 11 million) contributes significantly to China’s GDP. It’s the centre of transport and industry for central China. More significantly, more than 300 of the world’s top 500 companies have offices/manufacturing plants in Wuhan. And among these are Microsoft and Groupe PSA, the French car manufacturer of the Citroen and Peugeot brands.

The prevailing expert opinion is that any impact on China’s economy from the virus outbreak is going to be short term. But, regardless of whether the bad times aren’t gonna last long, businesses are already feeling it. Case in point, China’s largest travel agency Trip.com, which saw stocks plummet immediately after offering customers free cancellations on booked hotels, car rentals and attraction tickets in Wuhan.

Then, of course, there’s the issue of global impact.

Back in 2003, when SARS hit, China accounted for 6% of the global GDP. Today, the figure is more like 15%! So US$40 billion losses in 2003 could well translate to … oh, who’re we kidding, we can’t do the math! But what we can tell you is things seem terrible when you look at the current numbers, remember the world’s previous experience when dealing with MERS and SARS, and consider the World Bank’s weeks-old warning of slow global economic growth in 2020.

In Malaysia, there’re already fears the outbreak and ensuing travel ban will cripple tourism here (Happy Visit Malaysia Year 2020, y’all!). However, like with everywhere else, much, much more could well end up being affected the longer the crisis goes on.

“It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.”

- Mahatma Gandhi -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • Teen sensation Billie Eilish bagged five awards at the 2020 Grammy Awards, including gongs for Song, Record and Album of the Year. Eilish, 18, made her debut album, When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? with brother Finneas O’Connell. Finneas scored awards for Producer of the Year and Best Engineered Album (Non-Classical).
     
  • Basketball icon Kobe Bryant and 13-year-old daughter Gianna were among nine people killed in a helicopter crash near Calabasas, California. Kobe, 41, a five-time NBA champ, was taking Gianna to play in a basketball game at his academy.
     
  • And in today’s WTF news, a woman in a cake-eating competition died after she “shovelled a lamington into her mouth”. Goes to show that while you can have your cake, eating it can sometimes kill you. 
     
  • Are you one of those that are rooting for Bernie Sanders, everybody’s favourite grumpy uncle, to be the Democratic choice to take on Trump in this year’s US presidential elections? Well, he – or more accurately, his army of bullying, trolling and doxxing supporters – may not be the nicest, sweetest people on God’s green earth.

ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER

This weekday newsletter is brought to you by Trident Media, a group of Malaysian journalists with 60 years of combined media experience in four countries across TV, print and digital media.

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Trident Media · Seksyen 35 · Shah Alam, Selangor 40470 · Malaysia

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