The origins of the Wuhan virus – Key things to know

The Wuhan virus, a coronavirus which originated from Wuhan (capital of the Hubei province) is spreading throughout South-East Asia (with cases being reported globally). With more than 20,000 cases confirmed to date in China alone, the virus represents an imminent health threat. The situation is precarious as there is uncertainty surrounding whether the virus will mutate (which makes controlling its spread more challenging). Making a targeted vaccine has been estimated to take up to a year.

1. The viral prodrome

Individuals infected with the virus can remain asymptomatic for up to 2 weeks. Infected individuals may display mild symptoms of a budding viral infection such as a cough, sore throat or general malaise. The insidious nature of onset is precisely what makes the virus difficult to pick up in the inchoate stages. Vigilance towards symptoms and contact tracing can help control the spread of the virus. The majority of reported fatalities have occurred in the elderly population with co-morbidities such as cardiovascular disease.

2. Where it all began

Several theories have been purported but the virus is believed to have originated from bats. The source of this virus has been attributed to a wet market in China, however new evidence shows that the individuals infected with the virus at the very start of the outbreak were not directly exposed to the market environment [1]. The virus is transmitted from human to human via droplets (through coughing, sneezing or contact with infected saliva).

3. The local situation

Countries neighbouring China have been the most heavily affected so far including South Korea, Taiwan and Nepal. The constant air travel between countries means that the United States, Australia and France have had detected cases as well [2]. There have been strict travel impositions implemented in Wuhan, which restrict travel from the city. Isolating approximately 11 million individuals as a large-scale preventative measure may not necessarily have the intended consequences. According to expert opinion, healthy individuals within Wuhan might be disproportionately at risk due to the isolation as a result of being unable to leave [3].

4. What is expected to happen

A virologist involved in the discovery of SARS virus, Guan Yi, expects the current situation to escalate. He has added that “even with a conservative estimate, the outbreak could be 10 times bigger than the SARS epidemic — with a reach of more than 80,000 cases.” There are several ways to control the rapid spread of the virus including more tight isolation conditions for infected patients, hospitals equipped to deal with an outbreak of this scale and raising awareness about the virus itself.

5. The evolution of the virus

National Development Minister of Singapore, Mr. Lawrence Wong underscores the importance of being mentally prepared for an outbreak of the Wuhan virus [4]. The difficulties of preventing spread are amplified by the fact that it is unclear whether the virus is infectious at the asymptomatic stage. If the virus has an indolent phase of infection (with no obvious signs of infection), gradual evolution of the current situation can be expected. Extensive contact tracing and testing of individuals who have come into direct contact with confirmed cases may aid better control of the virus.

[1] Palmer, Garrett, Garrett, Garrett, Cook and Walt (2020). Don’t Blame Bat Soup for the Wuhan Virus. [online] Foreign Policy. Available at:

Don’t Blame Bat Soup for the Wuhan Virus
[Accessed 4 Feb. 2020].

[2] Boseley, S., Devlin, H. and Belam, M. (2020). What is coronavirus and how worried should we be?. [online] the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 4 Feb. 2020].

[3] (2020). Scale of China’s Wuhan Shutdown Is Believed to Be Without Precedent. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Feb. 2020].

[4] CNA. (2020). Outward Bound Singapore camps on Pulau Ubin to be used as quarantine facility. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Feb. 2020].

Cover photo: Photo by CDC on Unsplash

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