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What Happened When a Country Was Quarantined and Locked Down Due to a Coronavirus Outbreak

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Initially the coronavirus outbreak started with 186 persons and 38 died, a ghastly shocking mortality rate of 20.4%.  A public health emergency was considered. Right away World Health Organization (WHO) authorities realized doctors weren’t prepared to manage such an urgent situation.  Patients were crowded in emergency rooms and multibed hospital rooms; family members visited freely, facilitating a second spread of the virus.  Doctors narrowly focused on treating patients rather than managing the epidemic from a larger point of view. The socioeconomic impact of the outbreak was great. Yet the numbers of infections and deaths from coronavirus were smaller than the numbers from tuberculosis or seasonal influenza. In spite of this

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Initially the coronavirus outbreak started with 186 persons and 38 died, a ghastly shocking mortality rate of 20.4%.  A public health emergency was considered.

Right away World Health Organization (WHO) authorities realized doctors weren’t prepared to manage such an urgent situation.  Patients were crowded in emergency rooms and multibed hospital rooms; family members visited freely, facilitating a second spread of the virus.  Doctors narrowly focused on treating patients rather than managing the epidemic from a larger point of view.

The socioeconomic impact of the outbreak was great. Yet the numbers of infections and deaths from coronavirus were smaller than the numbers from tuberculosis or seasonal influenza.

In spite of this fact, the public’s perceived threat caused by coronavirus was much more serious than those of other infectious diseases. The coronavirus epidemic was a simple public health problem at that time that was to be minimized, but revealed vulnerabilities in the overall economy and society beyond the health sector of the country.  The country as a whole viewed itself under a life-and-death threat. Yet immediately over its borders, life was normal.  The infectious viral epidemic soon became a social epidemic, fueled by modern electronic communication (twitter, other  social media).

The failure to transparently communicate relative risk (the chance out of 1000 that an individual would come down with illness that would result in death) resulted in the public’s overreaction to the outbreak. At the outbreak’s peak, schools and kindergartens were temporarily closed and many public events were cancelled or suspended.

News reports said more than 1000 schools closed, many people are wearing facemasks, and animals in zoos that were thought to have transferred the coronavirus in another country were isolated and quarantined.

In retrospect none of those measures made much sense, scientists say. The outbreak was largely confined to health care workers, patients, and family members at the hospitals that treated patients, but nothing suggested there was a risk of being infected at school or on the street (what is called “in the community”).

While animals were thought to be the origin of this coronavirus outbreak elsewhere, the initial case in this country was a 68-year-old business traveler who had visited four Middle Eastern countries. “There is no reason to believe animals (camels) in this Asian country of origin are spreading the disease” in this country. “People need to understand that this virus was not circulating in the community,” emphasized a follow-up report.

A criticism of the handling of this so-called epidemic was that politicians grandstanded and commented frequently on the outbreak while few scientists involved spoke out publicly.

One irresponsible medical authority said publicly: ““Thirty-six cases in less than a month is a lot. This virus seems to be highly contagious.”But other infectious disease specialists around the world doubted that.

Eventually World Health Organization authorities recommended the government reopen schools, “as there has been no linkage of coronavirus transmission with school attendance or elsewhere.”

The economic consequences of a mismanaged “epidemic” resulted in a steep decline in the number of foreign tourists (-41%) compared with the same month of the previous year.  The country involved lost US-$10 billion, which was expected to cut 0.1% off the gross domestic product growth rate in 2015. This enormous social cost reflects the hard costs of mismanagement of an epidemic that was less of a threat than seasonal infectious disease.

According to the WHO, “there is no evidence that coronavirus can be transmitted before symptom development or in early symptomatic stages.” Therefore, the WHO did not recommend quarantine nor isolation of asymptomatic contacts during this period.”

The country involved was the Republic of Korea.  The strain of coronavirus was identified as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).  Korea learned from its experience in 2015 and managed to minimize the public fear and overreaction in the recent COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak of 2020 without shutting down its economy, said a report in The New York Times.

The entire account of this “epidemic” entitled “Costly Lessons From the 2015 Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus Outbreak in Korea” was published in the Journal of Preventive Medicine & Public Health, November 2015.

U.S.-based health authorities, especially the Centers for Disease Control and the US news media, which are accused of fear-mongering, need to read and adhere to WHO communication guidelines for infectious disease epidemics.

An analytic critique in Nature magazine said: “The episode was tragic, but its economic and social impact was disproportionate. If the world is to respond effectively to infectious-disease outbreaks, then the authorities, the media and communities must pay more attention to risk communication….

“One important question — and lesson to learn — is how the authorities failed both to convey the limited threat posed by MERS, and to persuade the media and public that they had the outbreak under control.

When MERS struck, the authorities foolishly declined to identify the affected hospitals publicly, allowing rumors — amplified by social media — to fill the space… Disease outbreaks are frightening, and overreaction to a virus that can kill is an understandable human response. It is one that needs to be understood and managed,

This puts great responsibility on the shoulders of the press and politicians, and often we see that some are not up to the job.”

With all of the proposed lockdowns and business closures in the US as it deals with the threat of a COVID-19 coronavirus “epidemic,” and public health authorities as well as news pundits and politicians failing to allay public fears, a Korean doctor had opportunity to observe whether COVID-19 coronavirus is infective during its incubation period (before symptoms arise) on an isolated island population.  The doctor concluded: “The epidemiological findings support the claim that the COVID-19 virus does not have infectivity during the incubation period.”

Regarding the 2015 MERS coronavirus outbreak in Korea, one report said the only winners in this fiasco “were those selling the ubiquitous and superfluous face masks.”

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