Asia Minute: Differing Regional Reactions to New Coronavirus

Jan 24, 2020

Celebrations of the Lunar New Year will be subdued in many parts of China this year, because of concerns of a spreading virus. That’s also true within the region, where various countries are having different reactions to the outbreak.

North Korea has closed its borders to any visitors. That’s the most extreme regional reaction to the spreading outbreak of a new type of coronavirus with its origins in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

North Korea took the same approach several years ago during an outbreak of the Ebola virus in Africa, but did not in the early 2000’s when Asia was wrestling with an outbreak of SARS – a respiratory illness that is also a type of coronavirus.

SARS killed nearly 800 and infected more than 8,000. And that experience has dominated many regional public health discussions this week.

Singapore’s Prime Minister said Thursday that his country has applied lessons from the SARS outbreak — revising its medical facilities and infrastructure and improving lab work such as genetic sequencing and the sharing of medical information.

Some regional airports have stepped up thermal screening of passengers arriving from any Chinese city.

In Beijing, authorities are scaling back on lunar New Year festivities – cancelling all major public events.

The World Health Organization says the spread of the virus is serious, but limited — at least for the time being.

The group’s director general said Thursday, “Make no mistake, this is an emergency in China. But it has not yet become a global health emergency. It may yet become one.”