Science

The Coronavirus, from the bustle of Chinese wet markets to your doorstep. What happened?

Some of the questions answered in this post (start to end: 10 – min read; recommended(only 1. & 4.): 6 – min read)

  1. What caused the coronavirus?
  2. How did different countries react throughout the course of the pandemic?
  3. What are liberal and conservative viewpoints and approaches on COVID-19 in America?
  4. How did the pandemic affect society?

1: What caused the Coronavirus?

This disease is zoonotic, meaning it was transferred from animals to humans. Scientists believe that the disease likely originated from horseshoe bats. From here, this disease likely mutated and infected a number of other animals once they came in contact with these bats. These ‘other animals’ are called intermediate hosts (the species of these hosts have not yet been discovered by scientists), and they presumably then came into contact with humans, where the virus mutated again and spread among humans.

COVID-19 likely began in China’s “wet markets,” places that hold wild animals, such as armadillos, peacocks, pangolins, and wolf pups alive in terrible, dirty conditions and sell them as food to people. The conditions that these animals are kept in incited the virus mutations that subsequently led to viral human contraction.

China’s wet markets, selling cats, dogs, fish, rabbits, pangolins, bats, and other wild animals.
OneIndia

Here is a shortened timeline of the escalation of the outbreak:

  • December 31, 2019: Chinese officials report to the World Health Organization (WHO) about a cluster of patients showing pneumonia-like symptoms in Wuhan, China. A few days later, this disease was identified as the novel coronavirus.
  • January 21, 2020: The US declared their first case of the coronavirus, a man in the state of Washington who returned from a recent trip from Wuhan, China. Already, there have been reports of the virus from Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea.
  • January 23, 2020: China put the epicenter of the outbreak, Wuhan, China, a city with a population of over 11 million people, on lock-down. People were banned from both leaving & entering the city completely. The use of public transport and cars were suspended on roads. Only one member of a family could leave their home every two days to buy necessities.
Above is construction for the Huoshenshan Hospital, which Chinese authorities built in 10 days in response to the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, along with another emergency hospital called the Lieshenshan Hospital. In total, these two hospitals contained 2,600 beds.
Getty Images

February 11, 2020: The worldwide death toll surpassed 1,000 people. At this point, the majority of deaths and cases were still within mainland China.

March 12, 2020: The WHO officially declared the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic. By then, half of the states within the US have declared a state of emergency and all 27 of the member nations of the EU have reported at least one case of the virus. The NBA suspended the rest of their 2020 season.

At the G7 Conference, shown above, which was held electronically on March 19, world leaders discussed different strategies in combating the spread of COVID-19.
Alvin Llum/Twitter

March 29, 2020: America reached 140,000 cases, more than any other nation, and the number of US cases showed no signs of slowing down.

April 8, 2020: China lifted its lock-down on Wuhan, the previous epicenter of the virus, although safety precautions continued to be taken. A few days later, the sources of the coronavirus, Chinese wet markets, reopened.

April 28, 2020: The US reached 1 million cases and made up a quarter of the world’s deaths from the coronavirus.

June 7, 2020: The US amassed over 2 million cases and 110,000 deaths from the coronavirus.

2: How did different countries react throughout the course of the pandemic?

China: As mentioned before, China imposed lock-downs on Wuhan and some of the areas surrounding it, and when the outbreak worsened, they took more extreme measures. For example, officials went door-to-door to forcefully administer health checks and quarantined anyone who tested positive. In most cities, masks were required when someone left their home. At first, Western countries criticized China for its restrictive approach and doubted the effectiveness of a mass lock-down. However, the Chinese’s methods were successful, as there have been little to no increases in COVID-19 cases in China since the start of the outbreak. As of June 7, China has 70 active cases.

A man crosses a desolate highway in Wuhan, China on February 3, 2020.
Getty Images

Australia: Australia acted much quicker than its Western counterparts; it declared the coronavirus as a global pandemic in February, weeks before even the WHO made its declaration. This meant that Australian hospitals were more prepared to handle the influx of infected patients than their Western counterparts, due to weeks in advance of emergency funding allotted to hospitals to buy necessary items in anticipation of the pandemic. As of June 7, Australia has 455 active cases.

A drive-thru coronavirus testing center in Melbourne, Australia
CNN

Italy: Italy did not take enough preventive measures in anticipation of the coronavirus, so in the weeks after the first case was reported in Italy on January 31 from two Chinese tourists, the virus spiraled out of control. By March 9 , the entire country was on lock-down and already had over 9,000 cases. Nevertheless, the measures they took were too late. By the end of March, Italy had crossed China in both the number of cases and deaths. By mid-April, Italy neared 200,000 cases of the coronavirus, but the number of new cases started to plateau. The number of daily new cases consistently stay below 2,000 and continues to decline. As of June 7, Italy has 35, 262 active cases.

United Kingdom: At first, the UK adopted a “track and trace” policy, where the government would try to track and trace every single person they suspect has the virus. But on March 12, Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated that the UK would instead limit testing only to hospital patients who have shown symptoms. He purposefully disregarded asymptomatic cases, and he stated that he wants to spread the virus in order to help UK citizens reach natural immunity (this immunity after recovery is yet to be proven), and after 60% of the population heals from the virus, reach herd immunity. if the UK didn’t consider more infections as a problem. This threw their citizens into a panic, especially the elderly, for they felt as though they weren’t being protected by their own government.

Finally, 11 days afterwards, Johnson abruptly abandoned his policy and placed a series of strict restrictions, such as banning people from leaving their homes except for essential goods and enforcing fines if people are caught leaving for unessential purposes. As of June 7, the number of active cases in the UK are unknown, but the total number of cases in the UK are 286,194.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Bloomberg

3: What are liberal and conservative approaches and viewpoints on COVID-19?

Liberal: As stated by Aaron M. McCright, a professor who teaches sociology at the University of Michigan, “liberals are more supportive of governmental intervention to protect public health, environmental quality, the poor, etc. In other words, liberals accept some degree of economic regulation, and perhaps slower growth, reduced profits, etc., if it means improving public health, environmental quality, etc.” In the case of COVID-19, the American liberal perspective has valued saving lives over saving the economy, which means they favored establishing stay-at-home orders, shutting down non-essential businesses, and giving stimulus packages to both the people and businesses hit by this virus.

Conservative: As stated by W. Bradford Wilcox, a sociologist from the University of Virginia, “many conservatives are most concerned about protecting the American way of life, a way of life they see as integrally bound up with liberty and the free market.” Most conservative voters, especially President Trump’s core demographic (white, male, blue-collar workers) strongly dislike the lock-downs, because they feel that the stay-at-home orders infringe on their individual freedom. Also, most low-income workers live paycheck to paycheck, so they need the money to come in every month in to afford their necessities, not just food but mortgage/rent and utilities. A stimulus check or two for $1,200 each is not nearly enough, but bringing back the millions of jobs lost because of lock-downs will be. For this reason, conservative lawmakers want to reopen businesses in America to restart the economy because that will benefit the most lives.

People protesting the government to rescind the lock-down orders on April 20, 2020
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

4: How did the pandemic affect society?

Heightened xenophobia against Asians: Since the coronavirus originated from China, non-Asian people around the world connected all Asians as carriers of the virus. Similar to the worldwide treatment of Muslims after 9/11, Asians living around the world have seen increases in attacks, bullying, hate crimes, and discrimination because of the pandemic. World leaders have only accelerated the racism. President Trump called the the coronavirus the “Chinese virus (until he tweeted an apology in mid-March),” Brazil’s education minister tweeted that the pandemic is part of China’s “plan for world domination,” and an Italian governor said that Italian hygiene is superior to those from China, for “we have all seen the Chinese eating mice alive.”

Protesters gather at the Boston Statehouse to rally against the racist comments targeted at Asian communities.
Steven Senne/AP

Greater concern over personal boundaries: Due to the virus, people’s desire to have their personal space will only increase, for they are no longer oblivious from a health standpoint. They may feel uncomfortable doing once-normal and thoughtless activities, such as shaking hands, touching surfaces in public, or being in an enclosed room with strangers. Even after contracting the virus, there is still no guarantee of natural immunity after being infected once.

Greater integration of online tools into daily life: As lock-down orders forced people to use technology to communicate with the outside world for the past few months, some have learned the practical benefits of resorting to online communication. After the pandemic, although some prefer to attend in person, other workers will question whether they even need to wake up early, wear their suit and tie, and commute for an hour to get to work if they can just join a Zoom call from home in their pajamas. And as people prefer to work inside their homes, their fellow employees will realize that a lot of meetings and classes can be summarized in an email.

Not just communication, but businesses have adapted to the pandemic. Fitness companies such as Orange Fitness and Planet Fitness have offered live-stream online exercise classes and at-home exercise plans since stay-at-home orders have opened up time for at-home fitness. Maybe in the future, regular gym-goers could save time traveling to his/her local gym and just use the online workouts provided by these companies.

An Orange Theory at-home workout
Orange Theory

More mental health problems arise: High school seniors are forced to graduate online. The elderly’s chances of death are high; their paranoia forces them to isolate themselves from their friends and family. Doctors and nurses watch as patients flood in, and often, they are forced to choose which life to save. Sometimes, people die before they can even be treated.

Waiters, construction workers, flight attendants, hotel staffers, and retail store employees are out of jobs (more than 36 million people have filed for unemployment in the US since the start of the pandemic) Many of them have families to feed, yet they haven’t seen any money coming in since March, aside from the insufficient stimulus checks. Family households who have lost relatives to the virus feel paramount guilt, for the surviving family members will forever doubt whether they were the one who contracted the disease and indirectly killed their loved one. In addition, the funeral can only have a small gathering, so the mourning families feel shortchanged when saying their final goodbyes.

“I just wish it was something else that took him” – Lawrence (Larry) McManus’s family, as they gathered for the 93-year-old’s funeral. They were allowed to hold his hand at the hospital nor comfort each other due to social distancing guidelines.
John McVitty

The real contagions will spread during these months: depression, loneliness, and fear. And, as with the COVID-19 outbreak, the US is not ready for them. The US mental health department is heavily underfunded. According to the Washington Post, in a letter to Congress early in the pandemic, mental health nonprofit organizations asked for $48.5 billion in total to respond to the to increase in mental health issues among the US population, but they received less than 1% of what they asked for in the emergency stimulus package which gave trillions of dollars in total to businesses.

Increasing gap between the rich and poor: In the years following the pandemic, which has now been called the most devastating economic failure since the Great Depression, the disparity between low and high-income workers will only increase, according to the World Economic Forum. As shown in the graph below, even after the pandemic, the difference continues to widen.

Graph showing the net Gini coefficient, an instrument to measure wealth disparity between low- and high- income workers in the world
World Economic Forum

TL;DR

The main 5 things to know:

  1. The coronavirus originated in Wuhan, China, under terrible animal treatment conditions led to the spread of disease from animals to humans. This specific strand is from horseshoe bats.
  2. COVID-19 appeared in China near the start of 2020, but by April 2020, Wuhan had almost fully recovered from the disease and was removing lock-downs. Meanwhile, the rest of the world rushes to “flatten the curve” of new cases so as not to overwhelm hospitals with too many patients at once.
  3. Most Western countries, excluding Australia, reacted too late to the coronavirus concerns, resulting in an influx of new cases which have already killed tens of thousands as of June 7.
  4. The pandemic elicited unexpected outcomes, such as many Asians in the US facing wrongful discrimination, people feeling a greater inclination to respect each others’ personal boundaries, and mental health issues rising around the world.

Citations:

https://www.sciencealert.com/more-evidence-suggests-pangolins-may-have-passed-coronavirus-from-bats-to-humans

https://www.forbes.com/sites/blakemorgan/2020/05/01/10-examples-of-how-covid-19-forced-business-transformation/#56f453d01be3

https://news.gallup.com/poll/157082/islamophobia-understanding-anti-muslim-sentiment-west.aspx

https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2020/03/19/coronavirus-effect-economy-life-society-analysis-covid-135579

https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/05/12/covid-19-fueling-anti-asian-racism-and-xenophobia-

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/14/business/economy/coronavirus-unemployment-claims.html?auth=login-googleworldwide#

https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/05/04/mental-health-coronavirus/

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/coronavirus-i-just-wish-it-was-something-else-that-took-him-1.4227184

https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/03/coronavirus-pandemic-herd-immunity-uk-boris-johnson/608065/

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/20/opinion/coronavirus-trump-partisanship.html

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/01/most-americans-want-another-stimulus-check-what-stands-in-the-way.html

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2020/3/13/21176535/trumps-worst-statements-coronavirus

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/19/chinas-coronavirus-lockdown-strategy-brutal-but-effective

https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

https://www.thinkglobalhealth.org/article/updated-timeline-coronavirus

https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/sites/default/files/documents/Risk%20assessment%20-%20pneumonia%20Wuhan%20China%2017%20Jan%202020.pdf

https://www.axios.com/italy-coronavirus-timeline-lockdown-deaths-cases-2adb0fc7-6ab5-4b7c-9a55-bc6897494dc6.html

https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/27/health/us-coronavirus-wednesday/index.html

https://www.nytimes.com/article/coronavirus-timeline.html

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/china-wet-markets-covid19-coronavirus-explained/

Featured photo – Cite: Photo by Victor He on Unsplash

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