What’s in a name? Officially, the disease designated COVID-19 is caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2. The 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) was also a viral respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus, the SARS-associated coronavirus (SARS-CoV). SARS was first reported in Asia in February 2003. As the name implies, COVID-19 is a relative of that SARS coronavirus. CoV stands for “CoronaVirus”, 19 is 2019, 2 is the 2nd outbreak of SARS-CoV. The first outbreak was the SARS epidemic of 2003. It spawned a film called Contagion, one of the most realistic and timely virus pandemic films out of the hundreds that have been made. Timely? Here’s the big clue to my title: A 2003 viral pandemic movie prefigured 2020’s viral pandemic! Still don’t get it? The virus SARS-CoV-1 caused the disease called SARS in 2003, but the disease could have been named COVID-03. The virus SARS-CoV-2 was first discovered December 2019, thus named COVID-19. Last night I watched on Netflix the first two installments of the 2016 TV show, Containment. At 31 minutes into the 2nd episode, the CDC identifies the pandemic virus as H7N2, an “avian influenza”, and puts a picture of the virus on the screen; it is a CoronaVirus! The symptoms are mainly respiratory, though the extensive bleeding makes for more dramatic TV. The fatality rate is 100%. I will get back to the show at the end.
COVID-19 is zoonotic, meaning it jumped from animals (in this case, bats) to humans. You’re going to hear a lot of media propagandists claim that “we don’t know the origin of the virus.” That’s pure obfuscation. True, we don’t know how bats originally acquired the virus in the wild. But that’s not the issue; the issue is how the virus jumped to humans (a “zoonotic spillover”). And regarding that “jump,” we know exactly where it happened: at a Wuhan “wet market” where exotic animals are sold for food in the most appallingly unclean conditions. That’s where the “jump” occurred.
In 2003, the CDC’s Daniel DeNoon asked the following question: “Will SARS come back? From WebMD archive, 2003: A year ago, severe acute respiratory syndrome — SARS — was unknown. Like a winged dragon, it suddenly emerged from China, taking only a month to spread death from Asia to North America. And like a sleeping dragon, it’s now nowhere to be found. Unless, of course, it wakes again. Will it?
The ancient city of Foshan sits in the Pearl River delta of southeast China. Foshan is home to some 320,000 people. In November 2002, people in Foshan began coming down with an unusually severe pneumonia. By January 2003, this pneumonia had spread to the nearby — and larger — city of Guangzhou. But it wasn’t until mid-February that the World Health Organization got its first official report of 305 cases and five deaths from an unidentified respiratory disease. By then, SARS had taken flight — literally. The worldwide epidemic began when a doctor who had been treating SARS patients flew to Hong Kong and checked in at the Metropol Hotel. In just a few days, he infected at least 17 other hotel guests. They carried the disease to Toronto, Vietnam, and Singapore.
Donald E. Low, MD, chief microbiologist at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Toronto, was in Hong Kong at that time. His hotel was down the street from the Metropol. “I flew back the next day, and the SARS patient [who carried the disease to Canada] was on the same plane the next day,” Low tells WebMD. “In that one day, SARS moved across the globe from Hong Kong to Toronto.” On March 12, 2003, the WHO issued a global SARS alert. Eventually, SARS spread to 26 countries on five continents. More than 8,000 people fell ill. There were 774 confirmed SARS deaths — about a 10% case-fatality rate. What ended the SARS epidemic was early identification and isolation of SARS patients. It took heroic efforts from health officials in Hong Kong and elsewhere, who refused to allow anyone with a fever to board any form of transportation. Moreover, air travel to cities with ongoing SARS outbreaks virtually ceased. As it turned out, SARS wasn’t as easily spread as it first seemed. Most cases could be traced to “superspreaders” — a few people who became especially ill with especially large doses of especially infectious virus.
Experts agree only on this: It won’t be the last worldwide killer epidemic.” DeNoon quoted the WHO as saying that this future “killer epidemic” is “especially” inevitable because “in China there has been no attempt to segregate exotic animals in the marketplace. These animals have been allowed back into the markets and are still a threat.” The timeline is important. SARS became a global menace in 2003. The Chinese government attempted to end the wildlife markets that year…and that same year, the markets came back. In fact, the return of the wet markets in 2003, while the world was still struggling with SARS, surprised even the China-friendly WHO. In January 2004, SARS reappeared in China. The wildlife market ban was repealed in August 2003, and five months later, the Chinese had ushered in a new round of the disease.
Wuhan, the first epicenter of this latest global outbreak, began lifting its two-month lockdown over the weekend of March 28th. The city restarted some subway service, reopened its borders and allowed families to reunite. The move is part of Beijing’s choreographed campaign to mark a turning point in China’s fight against the deadly virus, which has spread around much of the world and has infected over 732,000 people as of Monday morning. Of those, 34,686 people have died (compare those figures to SARS 2003: 8,000 cases, 774 deaths). Despite China’s propaganda pushers being all smiles for the international community, residents told Radio Free Asia that Beijing’s claims that there were only 2,500 deaths in Wuhan is far from reality.
For more than a week, seven large funeral homes that serve Wuhan have been handing out the cremated remains of about 500 people to their families every day. When added, the figure puts the official number the Chinese government has claimed into question. “It can’t be right … because the incinerators have been working round the clock, so how can so few people have died,” said Zhang, a Wuhan resident who only gave Radio Free Asia his last name. “They started distributing ashes and starting interment ceremonies on Monday.” Another online estimate is based on the cremation capacity of funeral homes in Wuhan, which runs 84 furnaces with a capacity over a 24-hour period of 1,560 urns. That estimate puts the number of estimated deaths in Wuhan at 46,800. Another resident of the Hubei province – where Wuhan is the capital – told RFA that the majority of people there believe more than 40,000 people died before and during the lockdown. That’s tens of thousands more than the government has claimed.
When coronavirus first hit China, the country repurposed its surveillance state into a contact tracing and quarantine enforcement machine. The infrastructure was in place. Facial and license plate recognition, contact tracing and phone tracking, proximity reports from public transportation, apps to determine quarantine status and freedom of movement, and social media to inform on rule-breakers. Described as “excessive coronavirus public monitoring,” it is expanding China’s already pervasive use of biometric people tracking technologies.
The infamous (to us….and anyone whose life is impacted by Covid-19) wet markets have been, and still are, a breeding ground for zoonotic viruses. Horseshoe bats and exotic mammals, such as civets and pangolins, which act as hosts to the dangerous viruses that bats carry, are often sold at these markets and consumed by local Chinese people. But that hasn’t convinced China to permanently shut down the markets. According to the Daily Mail, wet markets have reopened across China after China’s communist government publicly declared victory over COVID-19. At one market in Guilin, a southern Chinese city, a Daily Mail correspondent watched as cats and dogs were waiting to be sold for their meat. In another market in Dongguan, a second Daily Mail correspondent photographed signs advertising the sale of bats, scorpions, snakes, lizards, and other exotic wild animals. “Everyone here believes the outbreak is over and there’s nothing to worry about any more. It’s just a foreign problem now as far as they are concerned,” one of the correspondents said. “The markets have gone back to operating in exactly the same way as they did before coronavirus,” the Dongguan correspondent said. “The only difference is that security guards try to stop anyone taking pictures which would never have happened before.”
So the answer to DeNoon’s 2003 question “will SARS come back?” is: yes, it did, in 2004; 2020 it’s back in a more virulent and transmissible form; the cause and country of origin is the same. What can we say, then, about China and globalization? Looking back on decades of medical and public health history in China, from leprosy prevention after 1949, SARS in 2003, and COVID-19 in 2020, a typical timeline emerges: deny the disease outbreak, Central Committee recognition, national tackling, and finally forced large-scale isolation. Meanwhile sick or suspected quarantine patients have collectively become victims under the slogan of national epidemic prevention. The Chinese government allows the unsanitary practices and filthy conditions of wet markets, then lies about and tries to cover up the inevitable outbreaks, intimidates or outlaws media coverage, shifts blame to other countries, and while knowing the truth about their own mortality rate from the virus by using the world’s most extensive surveillance, under reports those deaths by more than 90%, finally preventing photographs of the markets that bred the disease!
So what am I saying? China should either close down all wet markets and ban the eating of exotic animals (associated with Coronavirus “zoonotic spillover”) permanently, or be treated like an international pariah state. That’s who they are right now. Their “internal” political practices and cult of control and secrecy have IMPERILED THE WHOLE WORLD. Only it isn’t just their government this time. It wasn’t the government that demanded re-opening of their infection farms (wet markets)–they allowed it. The people who patronized those markets and ate civet cats, bats and pangolins wanted the right to do that. The virus? “It’s just a foreign problem.” No, you folks invited it. SARS 2003-8,000 cases. SARS 2019-732,000 cases. SARS next-how many cases?