The Covid-19 coronavirus has infected nearly 90,000 people and has killed 3,000 to date, continuing to spread fear and encouraging some countries to take extreme precautions.
Many details regarding the virus’ origin, the number of people it is poised to infect, how deadly the virus is, and when a vaccine could be developed remain unclear. However, leading public health experts estimate the death rate is about 1%, which makes the coronavirus’ fatality rate akin to that of a severe flu. Despite claims made by President Trump indicating a vaccine will be available in the near future, experts say the soonest a vaccine will be made available to the public is 14 months.
Though epidemiologists have yet to confirm one way or another, many are beginning to label Covid-19 as a pandemic given the virus has infected people on every continent except Antarctica.
According to CNN, Italy has reported the most coronavirus cases of any country outside Asia. Eleven towns near Milan and Venice have been placed on lockdown, a bus carrying Italian tourists was blockaded in France, and an Italian traveler spread the coronavirus to the Caribbean. Additionally, multiple US airlines have stopped flight service to Milan. More than 1,000 people have tested positive and the current death toll is at 34. Schools, theatres, iconic landmarks, and stadiums have been emptied out and shut down. Ash Wednesday masses, Roman Catholic services that signal the beginning of the Lenten season, were canceled in many major Italian dioceses.
As Italy is a predominantly Roman Catholic country, the recent absences of Pope Francis have been extremely alarming. The pontiff has not made public experiences for three days now and was last seen coughing and blowing his nose. The Vatican has confirmed that Francis is ill, but assures he is recovering at the Vatican’s hospital. It is unsure whether or not His Holiness has the coronavirus.
Italy is not the only country that had to cancel important religious services. Iran, which considers its Friday prayers integral to shaping policy as well as reinforcing the bond between the country’s Supreme Leader and its majority-Muslim constituents, made the monumental decision to cancel Friday prayers for the first time in years. Iran’s leaders were under fire for their downplaying of the disease’s scale but were forced to change their rhetoric when the country’s Health Minister tested positive for the virus. Iran has blamed President Trump for the disease, claiming he sent the virus to the country.
President Trump himself is casting blame onto U.S. Democratic politicians, whom he accuses of “politicizing the coronavirus.” This comes after several politicians have questioned the veracity and efficacy of President Trump’s public addresses, meant to inform U.S. citizens about the state of the virus in the country and around the world as well as what the government is doing to protect constituents from infection.
In a public address Feb. 26, President Trump announced the creation of a new coronavirus task force, to be headed by Vice President Mike Pence. Though this temporary agency has been created, some, including most of the candidates for the Democratic presidential nominee, have pointed out that the Trump administration made major cuts to the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) funding. The CDC is beginning to manufacture coronavirus testing kits, but the tests have repeatedly failed to detect the virus, prompting cities like New York to manufacture their own kits.
Trump administration officials advise Americans to take necessary health precautions like regular hand washing, avoiding those who appear ill and staying home if sick. However, they warn that more cases of the virus will continue to be detected in the country, which just reported its fourth death in Washington state. Thus far, all cases tested in Maryland have come back negative. Despite this, Governor Larry Hogan warns about the possibility of shutting down state schools, businesses, and activities in the event the outbreak becomes more readily threatening. Many Maryland lawmakers are advising households to stock up on essential groceries.
Several states, including Washington, have already declared states of emergencies, and, like China, Iran, Italy, France, and Japan have begun shutting down public gathering spaces.
The stock market has also responded quite volatilely, reflecting worldwide panic over the disease. Though the U.S. economy did not go into recession, the stock market’s value recently dipped more than 1,600 points, falling at a rate not seen since the infamous 2008 Recession. Reports from today indicate the economy is stabilizing again.