Ebola, swine flu, avian flu or anything else in the past decade, this looming epidemic is of a much larger scale and severity, and potentially more catastrophic. In China alone, the number of infections for this novel coronavirus has already surpassed that of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) in 2003.
Part of the nerve-racking threat is that this virus, unlike Sars, is infectious even during its incubation period, before symptoms present, which means infected people have been travelling and spreading the disease without knowing they have it. The mayor of Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, recently admitted that five million residents, equivalent to Singapore’s entire population, had left the city before the lockdown began on January 23. Wuhan’s location in the heart of China, with its extensive and highly developed transport network, meant that the virus quickly spread out, right before the world’s busiest travel season: the Spring Festival holidays. For the coronavirus, both location and timing were perfect.