The number of infected people is increasing drastically – because now also probably sick people are counted. But this makes sense, say experts.
Protection from coronavirus and rain: People in Hong Kong Photo: Vincent Yu/ap
It was only a matter of time until the political purge in China would start with the exchange of two party cadres. The calculation behind the measure, which was prominently reported in the state media: Beijing wants to leave the question of blame for the viral outbreak primarily at the level of local government.
But soon the crisis could also put the leadership in a bind. After all, the country is still at a standstill: Although some factories have since reopened to keep the disruption of supply chains in check and to ensure the supply of medical equipment.
However, many schools and universities, the service sector in general and also many medium-sized businesses are still closed. Above all, the loss of earnings for the millions and millions of agricultural workers is likely to cause resentment and frustration.
The ongoing quarantine is also wearing on nerves. The city of Shiyan in Hubei province has issued the most drastic restrictions: With a few exceptions, all residents there are no longer even allowed to leave their homes. Such measures can also be understood as anticipatory obedience by the local government to take the virus control measures decreed by Beijing more than seriously.
Dramatic increase due to change in counting method
At the same time, the situation in Hubei seems increasingly threatening. Only a few hours before these personnel consequences, the health authorities reported bad news: 14,840 people are said to have been infected with the pathogen within the last 24 hours – almost ten times as many as the day before.
However, the massive increase is mainly related to a change in the way the count is done. Benjamin Cowling, an epidemiologist at the University of Hong Kong, explains: "In epidemics, a distinction is made between three categories of patients: suspected cases, probable cases and clinically confirmed cases.
Since Thursday, all probable cases have also been counted among the infected. That’s because an increasing number of Wuhan residents who were quite obviously infected nevertheless showed negative results in tests.
"The key question is how severe the infections of the new coronavirus actually are," the researcher says. For the experts, comparative values are the Sars virus, which has a low transmission and high mortality rate, and conventional flu, which is highly contagious but usually not particularly dangerous. "The new coronavirus is about halfway between those two extremes," Cowling says.
China’s government acts nervous
His university colleague John Nicholls says, "We don’t have a clue about the actual number of people infected because an unreported number are only showing mild symptoms and haven’t been tested." Even though both physicians are basically satisfied with the information policy of the Chinese authorities, many questions remain unanswered – such as why so many hospital employees have been infected so far.
Until now, the authorities in Wuhan have kept those statistics under wraps, but the Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post has now published that more than 500 nurses and doctors in Wuhan alone had been infected by mid-January, and another 600 are listed as suspected cases. Hospitals have been instructed by the Chinese government not to publish the figure – presumably so as not to weaken the morale of medical professionals who are under immense workloads.
The arrest of two citizen journalists in Wuhan also shows how nervous the Chinese government is: among other things, they had published video recordings of hospitals showing body bags lying around on the floor. Initially, the two were only questioned, but now, according to media reports, they can no longer be reached and have been arrested.