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  • This is what cities

  • in the world's most populous country

  • look like during this new coronavirus outbreak.

  • Millions of people in China

  • have been ordered to stay indoors

  • or banned from traveling

  • in an attempt to stop the disease from spreading.

  • But from the city of Wuhan,

  • where the first patient came from,

  • coronavirus infections have spread

  • to several continents.

  • So, why is it so hard to contain these outbreaks?

  • And, are we ready for the next one?

  • This strain of the coronavirus

  • is believed to have spread

  • from animals to humans,

  • and then from humans to humans

  • by droplets from sneezing or coughing.

  • The World Health Organization says

  • that, so far, it has a low mortality rate.

  • The flu, for example, kills thousands of people every year.

  • But this coronavirus strain is new,

  • and it is infectious, which is why

  • it's being taken so seriously.

  • As of February 2020, about 60 million people,

  • more than the entire population of Spain,

  • are being quarantined in their homes in China.

  • It's a massive feat. But some fear

  • that isolating that many people together could backfire.

  • First of all, you can't wall off a germ.

  • Simply impossible.

  • Lawrence Gostin is a professor

  • of Global Health Law at Georgetown University

  • and a director at the World Health Organization's Center

  • on Global Health Law.

  • Can you imagine if you were forced

  • to be congregated in with 50 million people

  • in a hot zone of contagion, how you would feel?

  • You'd feel you're a guinea pig.

  • You would feel panicky.

  • You would worry about getting food,

  • water, essential medicines,

  • that you couldn't get to a hospital,

  • and you were walled off from the world.

  • Professor Gostin worries

  • about a breakdown in public trust.

  • If the public doesn't trust the solutions

  • being offered by officials,

  • then they aren't solutions at all.

  • For example, in the West African Ebola outbreak,

  • many people stopped reporting

  • when they were getting sick.

  • They didn't trust the foreign health workers

  • who were cordoning patients off from the rest of society,

  • especially since many were dying in quarantine.

  • And so the outbreak continued to spread.

  • Many people were infected and more died.

  • But even if there is full cooperation

  • between officials and the population at risk,

  • it's hard to contain an outbreak like the coronavirus.

  • We're less safe because we're globally interconnected

  • in a way that we've never ever been before.

  • In 1950, 750 million people

  • lived in urban areas globally.

  • Today, that number is more than 4 billion.

  • People are living closer together,

  • many in overcrowded areas, making it easier

  • for disease to spread from human to human.

  • And our modern transport infrastructure

  • means a virus that would have been geographically

  • contained in the past can now get from one side

  • of the globe to another in just a few hours.

  • In 2003, another coronavirus epidemic called SARS

  • spread from China.

  • There's actually four times greater

  • international travel by Chinese citizens

  • now than there was during SARS.

  • But transport technology

  • is generally a good thing,

  • and people will keep moving to urban areas.

  • What's more, viruses are always mutating into new strains.

  • So, in reality we can't avoid outbreaks.

  • We just need to get better at dealing with them.

  • We tend to lurch from complacency

  • to panic and overreaction.

  • And so, when we're in a major outbreak,

  • like we are now with the coronavirus,

  • we tend to react and overreact

  • and try to just catch up and respond.

  • But then, as soon as things calm down,

  • we withdraw funding, we withdraw planning,

  • we withdraw preparedness.

  • So, isn't it a much, much better way

  • to prepare for an epidemic

  • and to prevent it and detect it early?

  • So, if the solution

  • is to be proactive rather than reactive,

  • what can we do?

  • Until a vaccine is discovered

  • for this strain of the coronavirus,

  • you can protect yourself and others

  • by covering your mouth

  • when coughing or sneezing,

  • washing your hands frequently,

  • and, if you develop symptoms,

  • avoiding contact with others

  • until you're cleared by a doctor.

  • That's what you can do.

  • But governments need to do more,

  • and they need to do it together.

  • There's no real way to force a government

  • to work with global health organizations

  • if it doesn't want to.

  • For example, during the SARS epidemic,

  • Chinese officials hid the extent of the outbreak

  • from both the Chinese public and the world.

  • That led to many more people being infected.

  • This time around, lessons seem to have been learned.

  • China informed the World Health Organization

  • and its own citizens of this new coronavirus

  • relatively quickly.

  • It also sequenced the virus's genome

  • and shared that information

  • with scientists around the world,

  • who have begun working on trying to find a vaccine.

  • - We used to not have effective vaccines.

  • We didn't have effective antiviral medications.

  • Now, we can rapidly develop those.

  • So, yes, we are very much less safe,

  • but we have the technical capacity to be safer.

  • But the problem with any defense,

  • is that it's only as strong as its weakest link.

  • And we live in a world where access to healthcare

  • and healthy environments is not equal.

  • If you asked any thoughtful epidemiologist,

  • "What is the single greatest predictor

  • of a human being's health?"

  • He would say, "The postal code."

  • Where you live matters. And it's not just

  • the differences in health systems

  • and public health infrastructure

  • between high-income and low- and middle-income countries.

  • There are also vast inequities within countries

  • for those who are living in well-heeled neighborhoods

  • and those that are living in squalor.

  • This is simply immoral, unjust.

  • That's a problem,

  • even in the world's richest country

  • where many people avoid going to the doctor

  • because of how expensive American healthcare can be.

  • That's tragic enough by itself.

  • But in an epidemic, it might be disastrous.

  • If we're going to be proactive in our fight

  • against these outbreaks,

  • improving healthcare quality for everyone

  • might be the best strategy we've got.

  • Health equality matters,

  • and it matters a lot - not just for the individual,

  • not just for the community, not only for the country,

  • but for the globe.

This is what cities

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Why It's So Hard To Contain The Coronavirus And Other Outbreaks

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