The novel coronavirus strain that took root in China has now spread to 47 countries, and the first cases of transmission with no obvious source of origin have emerged, raising new questions about how containable the virus will be as it moves into new parts of the globe, The New York Times reports.
A patient in Germany and one in the United States have both been diagnosed with coronavirus despite having no known direct connection to anyone already suffering from the virus. Previously, all of those infected had documented contact with or exposure to someone with the virus, most of whom had been in the Wuhan area of China.
Sixty Americans are now confirmed to have tested positive for the coronavirus, with most cases resulting either from travel to China or time spent on a quarantined cruise ship that was stranded off the coast of Japan for weeks. Forty-two of these cases have been linked to time spent on the cruise vessel.
Besides the aforementioned lone American case in which the mode of transmission remains unknown, two other cases in the U.S. have been the result of person-to-person transmission between family members, and the rest have resulted from travel to the Wuhan region of China. Cases have been confirmed in the states of Arizona, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Mixed messages about risks
The symptoms of the current COVID-19 strain include fevers, coughing, and shortness of breath. Chinese health officials claim that 80% of the cases in that nation have been classified as mild, according to Fox News.
President Donald Trump said in a press conference on Wednesday that “the threat to the American public remains low” and touted America’s superior ability to contain outbreaks.
Trump was relatively nonchalant about the threat posed by the virus, advising everyone to wash their hands frequently and not to panic about the potential risk. He blamed Democrats for the stock market slowdown that has been attributed to the spread of coronavirus, saying they are needlessly stoking fears and exaggerating the problem to gain political advantage.
The president tapped VP Mike Pence to take charge of the federal response going forward. He will be working collaboratively with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and others to coordinate preparedness efforts and combat further spread of the epidemic.
Prevention efforts escalate
Other countries are taking a range of preventative steps to shut down the spread of coronavirus. For example, the Japanese government has decided to close all schools through March, according to NPR, and the Iranian government reportedly canceled Friday prayers in Tehran and elsewhere as the number of coronavirus cases has risen in recent days, ABC News reported.
The U.S. and South Korea also postponed planned joint military exercises after more than 1,700 coronavirus cases were reported in the Asian country, the highest total outside of China, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Over 82,000 people have been infected with the virus worldwide, and more than 2,800 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University’s real-time coronavirus mapping tool.
President Trump has not ruled out taking further measures if the incidence of new coronavirus cases begins to escalate, but so far, the spread in the U.S. has fortunately remained limited.