While the virus itself has killed fewer people than the seasonal flu, the danger lies in the human element of the response to the virus. The Chinese government is facing major criticism around the globe and from its own citizens over its initial response to the outbreak. Its culture of secrecy and order delayed the release of information and hampered experts' abilities to address the issue early on. This is leading some people to worry about the Chinese government's ability to address the crisis altogether.
A New York Times investigation pieced together the early government response to the outbreak.
The government’s initial handling of the epidemic allowed the virus to gain a tenacious hold. At critical moments, officials chose to put secrecy and order ahead of openly confronting the growing crisis to avoid public alarm and political embarrassment.
A reconstruction of the crucial seven weeks between the appearance of the first symptoms in early December and the government’s decision to lock down the city, based on two dozen interviews with Wuhan residents, doctors and officials, on government statements and on Chinese media reports, points to decisions that delayed a concerted public health offensive.
In those weeks, the authorities silenced doctors and others for raising red flags. They played down the dangers to the public, leaving the city’s 11 million residents unaware they should protect themselves. They closed a food market where the virus was believed to have started, but didn’t broadly curb the wildlife trade.
Some places like Hong Kong are demanding a stronger response to prevent the outbreak from spreading.
Some experts are warning the spread of the coronavirus likely cannot be contained. Here's what former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dr. Thomas R. Frieden told the New York Times:
It is “increasingly unlikely that the virus can be contained,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who now runs Resolve to Save Lives, a nonprofit devoted to fighting epidemics.
“It is therefore likely that it will spread, as flu and other organisms do, but we still don’t know how far, wide or deadly it will be.”
Some are worried the virus will spark a racist backlash against Chinese and other Asian people. There's a lot of misinformation, often with a racist tinge to it, that is spurring panic over the outbreak. It's something to take seriously, but so far, it doesn't seem to be that bad.