T

he Chinese New Year, also known as Lunar New Year, is a massive celebration in China beginning January 25th but often lasting more than two weeks. In 2020, it was estimated the holiday would account for about 3 billion trips from all over the world as people travel to and from China to be with their family and friends. It’s considered the largest human migration in the world.

This year, things are a bit more complicated. The emergence of coronavirus 2019-nCoV in Wuhan, China, just months before this large-scale migration has health officials scrambling.

coronavirus wuhan

How Contagious is the Coronavirus?

The 2019-nCoV strain has similarities to other coronaviruses in that it’s a respiratory illness that causes fever, shortness of breath, and coughing. It’s mainly spread through the air, but can also be transmitted through contact, and it has a current estimated infection rate of between 1.5 and 3.5.

Once a person is infected, the coronavirus can take between 2-14 days to show any symptoms. That means that travelers participating in Chinese New Year celebrations might not even know they’re carrying the virus until two weeks later. Without showing symptoms, they’re not likely to be checked out by a medical professional or quarantine themselves from their families, friends and coworkers back home, spreading the illness even farther.

Since the first diagnosis of this new strain of coronavirus only a few months ago in Wuhan, it has spread to at least 26 countries with nearly 10,000 cases and more than 200 deaths as of Jan. 31 (and counting).

The heavy travel and public celebrations during the Chinese New Year brought people into contact with hundreds, if not thousands, of others. Many of them might have even been infected, whether they were showing symptoms or not, posing particular challenges for public health officials hoping to contain the spread.

The 2020 Travel Season

Given the potential contagion which 2019-nCoV presents, it has been advised that people remain in their homes and stay away from busy areas like public celebrations. Prior to the outbreak, the 2020 Chinese New Year was gearing up to be the heaviest travel season yet, with an additional 10,000 trips over last year’s figures.

Cities that have been hit the hardest by the virus are currently under lockdown. Public transportation and trains have been stopped and transport links have been shut down in 13 Chinese cities so far. While those precautions might stop some people from traveling and spreading the illness farther, it does little to stop people who can drive themselves in and out of infected areas.

Potential Global Impact

Infectious disease

With potentially 3 billion people from all over the world heading into the epicenter of this coronavirus, it’ll be important for public health officials to deploy all precautions and tools to help halt the disease before it grows into a true epidemic.

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