Coronavirus: What happened to the new killer?

Novel Coronavirus made its appearance in 2012, a new strain of the Coronavirus which causes a number of infections to humans and animals, the most common of which is the common cold but also more pathogenic diseases such as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). After a period of alarm, the chatter has gone quiet...before the storm?

WHO Report: Background and summary of Novel Coronavirus infection - as of December 2012. A comment: From SARS to SARI.

In this column I have, on numerous occasions, criticized the World Health Organization and the international response to Swine Flu, or Influenza A H1N1, which swept the world in 2009; the response was basically to sit back and watch as the flu virus spread, informing the world as to how quickly it was passing from Phase 1 to Phase 6 and then looking on as vaccines were hastily put together and administered. Meanwhile some grew rich with the sale of millions of doses of drugs.

So pardon the alarm when the Novel Coronavirus appeared in 2012 and pardon my skepticism when the World Health Organization states that there have been nine reported cases of Novel Coronavirus infection, occasioning SARI (Severe Acute Respiratory Infection, kidney failure, pericarditis and disseminated intravascular coagulation, depending on the case.

While the WHO concentrates on its findings in Jordan, there have been numerous reports of a cluster of cases in Norway and what the WHO itself refers to as "unconfirmed probable cases", in the plural. The WHO admits 2 cases in Qatar, 5 in Saudi Arabia and 2 in Jordan. Five of these nine severely ill patients have died.

However, how are these things documented? The WHO has claimed that there were two initial cases in Saudi Arabia, one of whom died, and they were unrelated since the victims came from different parts of the country. Then there was a cluster of three cases in the same family (2 died) but another family member living in the same house who developed similar symptoms does not count because he tested negative by Polymerase Chain reaction tests.

I repeat: He had similar symptoms, but does not count.

Both cases in Jordan died, the two from Qatar survived. But what about, in the WHO's own report, "the number of health care workers with pneumonia associated with the considered probable case(s)"?

They don't count either. And those in Norway?

Then we have the expression "There was no history of travel or contact with animals among confirmed or probable cases". We now know that these are hard to document since the original line of "nine cases" appears to be much more and if animals are not involved, then we have either an unknown source of transmission or else human-to-human transmission.

This is borne out in the admission that the appearance of pneumonia among healthcare workers and family members "increases the suspicion that person-to-person transmission may have occurred".

Whatever the reality and however serious this is, obviously we are going to see a repeat 2009-scenario from the health authorities: It is at Phase 1. Now it is at Phase 2. It's at Phase 3 now, ladies and gentlemen. Wow, it's reached Phase 4. Ooh! Phase 5. Whoops! Phase 6.

No travel restrictions, no quarantine, just surveillance. And the Novel Coronavirus is sufficiently serious to have the WHO instructing the affected countries to test for new cases and have enhanced surveillance measures and communication with neighbouring countries. With significant numbers of people travelling to the area for different reasons, watch out for the next pandemic.

Sources: WHO

Department of Communicable Disease Surveillance and Response, Global Influenza Programme

Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey



Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey