If the current infection rate continues, the coronavirus will exceed the number of total worldwide cases of SARS.
The coronavirus, a highly contagious, pneumonia-causing illness that infects the respiratory tract, is now responsible for 132 deaths in China as of Wednesday and 6,132 infections worldwide, with the number of cases tripling since the weekend, health officials in China said.
It has already surpassed 5,327, the total number SARS cases reported in China during that 2002-2003 epidemic. SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, infected 8,098 people worldwide with approximately 774 official SARS-related deaths.
There is one silver lining: SARS had a fatality rate of 9.6% compared to the current fatality rate of 2.1% for the coronavirus. However, that death toll is expected to rise as the days and weeks progress, and doctors scramble to come up with a vaccine for the virus.
Chinese President Xi Jinping told a World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus this week, “Chinese people are currently engaged in a serious struggle against an epidemic of a new type of coronavirus infection. The epidemic is a demon, and we cannot let this demon hide.”
The focus on Wuhan, the Central Chinese city where the virus is believed to have been first diagnosed in December, and rumors about whether it began in a food market there, have led to reports of racism against Chinese people and the sharing of xenophobic comments online.
Wuhan mayor Zhou Xianwang said 5 million people had left the city before travel restrictions were imposed ahead of the Chinese New Year. Ma Xiaowei, the director of China’s National Health Commission, said that the virus had an incubation period of 10 to 14 days.
China has taken major steps to help prevent the spread of the virus. Officials in Wuhan, a city of 11 million residents that is widely regarded as the epicenter of the illness, last week closed the area’s outgoing airport and railway stations and suspended all public transport.
Chinese officials have since expanded that travel ban to 16 surrounding cities with a combined population of more than 50 million people, including Huanggang, a neighboring city to Wuhan with 7.5 million people, effectively putting those cities on lockdown.