Time to be on alert

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Time to be on alert

It has been confirmed that a new type of coronavirus originating from Wuhan, China, can be transferred from person to person. The case has caused alarm at airports and harbors in Korea and China during their Lunar New Year’s holidays which stretches from Jan. 24 to 27 in Korea and for a longer period in China. On Tuesday, Korea’s Center for Disease Control (KCDC) announced that a Chinese tourist from Wuhan was found to have been infected with the virus. Three Koreans showed similar symptoms of the respiratory disease.

As a result, concerns are rapidly growing over the possibility of chaos — and the loss of many lives — similar to that of the outbreaks of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003 and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in 2015.

The so-called “Wuhan pneumonia” has spread fast to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong Province, and Hong Kong since the outbreak of the lethal virus infected a Chinese woman during a visit to a seafood market in the inland city. The virus has now spread to Thailand, Japan and Korea, popular attractions for Chinese tourists. The World Health Organization has convened an emergency meeting to deal with the fatal virus.

China cannot avoid responsibility for not promptly responding to the virus. Chinese public health authorities have been unwilling to disclose information about the infection. In China and Hong Kong, 774 people died from SARS partly due to the laid-back attitude of Beijing. The health authorities are under attack for not checking the body temperature of passengers in railway stations and airports in Wuhan until 17 days after the outbreak of the pneumonia. The Chinese woman who was discovered to have been infected with the lethal virus managed to pass through a check point at an airport in Wuhan on Sunday.

Despite Seoul’s request to Beijing for detailed information about the pneumonia, China did not offer anything except putting information about the genetic code of the virus on a global influenza information-sharing site. We are disappointed at China’s insensitivity. Our government must urge Beijing to share related information with us and bolster its quarantine effort.

Our government should be extra careful during the Lunar New Year’s holidays in particular. As many as 100,000 Chinese tourists are expected to visit Korea during the holidays. Eight non-stop flights take off from Wuhan to Korea each week.

Unfortunately, medicines to effectively treat the Wuhan pneumonia have not been developed yet. The KCDC must deal with it proactively, including instructing people to wash their hands often and wear masks when they go outside. Our government must control the virus before it is too late.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 22, Page 30
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