ACCORDING to the Johns Hopkins coronavirus tracker, the total number of confirmed cases now approaches 77,000, of which over 600 are outside the Chinese mainland. Of the latter, only 11 have died so far.
However, it is clear that the virus is lethal to more than East Asians. Two Iranians have succumbed, and it seems they had not travelled outside their country. They died in Qom, 90 miles from the capital Tehran, and two other patients have been diagnosed there since, plus one in Arak (who happens to be a doctor from Qom), bringing the total of cases to five.
Qom is a magnet for pilgrims, so there is some question as to whether piety may outweigh prudence. Twenty million visitors, both domestic and foreign, go annually because it is not only a holy city but ‘the largest centre for Shi’a scholarship in the world’. Conversely, millions of Shi’ite pilgrims travel from Iran to Iraq each year to the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala. Iraq has now taken the precautions of suspending flights to Iran and closing their mutual border, but we shall see how effective and sustained these measures will be.
Here is the toll to date, in sequence, for the world outside mainland China:
(1) February 2: A 44-year-old Chinese tourist from Wuhan (the town at the centre of the outbreak), died in hospital in Manila, capital of the Philippines; he was ‘thought to have had other pre-existing health conditions’.
(2) February 4: A 39-year-old Hong Kong man died there of heart failure, having been diagnosed on January 31 with the virus. He is said to have had a ‘long-term illness’.
(3) February 13: A woman in her eighties died in a Japanese hospital where she had been since February 1; her son-in-law is a taxi driver and has also been confirmed infected.
(4) February 15: An 80-year-old Chinese tourist from Hubei province (of which Wuhan is the capital) died in Paris after weeks in hospital.
(5) February 15: A 61-year-old male taxi driver from central Taiwan died in hospital there from Covid-19-related pneumonia and sepsis; he had a history of Hepatitis B and diabetes. Many of his passengers had come from China, Macau and Hong Kong.
(6, 7) February 19: Two Iranian citizens died in Qom, northern Iran; both were elderly and with underlying health conditions. They ‘were not known to have left Iran’ but as said above, Qom is a major religious destination for pilgrims and scholars.
(8) February 19: A second Hong Kong victim died there, a 70-year-old man with ‘underlying illnesses’. He had visited mainland China on January 22 via the island’s border checkpoint at Lok Ma Chau.
(9) February 19: A 63-year-old South Korean man died in hospital there and was diagnosed posthumously with the virus. Many new cases have been registered in the South Korean city of Daegu, where a South Korean woman is thought to have infected a Christian congregation; she is said to be in her early 60s and with no recent record of overseas travel.
(10, 11) February 20: Two Japanese citizens died in hospital in Japan, having been taken off the Diamond Princess cruise ship (quarantined near Yokohama) the previous week. Both were in their 80s with underlying health conditions. The infection may have been spread on the ship by a Hong Kong resident who had briefly visited the Chinese mainland before boarding at Yokohama on January 20. He disembarked at Hong Kong on January 25, reporting to a hospital on the island, where he was diagnosed with coronavirus. The ship’s itinerary from 1 December 2019 is here. The latest cruise was to have been 29 days long, starting in Singapore.
The pattern of lethality is similar to that for ‘ordinary’ flu: Covid-19 hits the old and infirm disproportionately. That said, we also see how easily it seems to spread and, thanks to modern communications and mass travel, how far – not only across the Far East but the Middle East, Australasia, Europe, North America, India and Egypt. So far, nothing has been reported from sub-Saharan Africa, or central and southern American states; but we are hardly three months into this outbreak and not all countries may be quick to diagnose cases correctly.
There is no room for complacency, as Charles Hugh Smith explains here.