The sight of a masked Chinese president, Xi Jinping, greeting workers in Beijing’s Chaoyang district yesterday as they returned to work after the lunar new year holiday, his first public appearance in weeks, was designed to inspire confidence in the face of an escalating coronavirus outbreak.
Whether or not that objective is realised remains to be seen, especially as World Health Organisation director, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has warned that recent cases among patients who have never visited China could be the “tip of the iceberg”.
Yesterday’s decision by the online recruiter Indeed to tell its 1,000 staff at its Dublin office to work from home this week because of fears that a staff member may have been exposed to the coronavirus adds to the growing concerns around the outbreak.
Indeed warned that one of its employees in Singapore, who visited Dublin recently, may have been exposed to the virus.
As a WHO expert mission arrived in to China to help coordinate the response to the virus, which has infected more than 40,000 people and killed at least 908, China reported 97 fatalities on Sunday, its largest death toll in a single day since the outbreak was detected in December.
At the same time, a further 60 cases were confirmed on a quarantined cruise ship docked in Japan.
In Britain, as the number of cases doubled from four to eight authorities ruled that the virus constituted a serious and imminent threat to public health, a status that gives authorities additional powers to fight the spread of the disease.
These special powers mean that people can be forcibly detained and sent to isolation units if public health professionals believed there was a reasonable risk they may have the virus.
This may seems draconian but it underlines the scale of the threat.
Our politicians may be, for the moment at least, distracted by how the electorate has judged their stewardship, but health officials should be authorised to quickly publish a plan to deal with the virus when it arrives here — as experts have already predicted it will.
At the moment there is a dangerous vacuum, a lack of knowledge which would exacerbate difficulties when that dreaded moment arrives. By making preparations, psychological and physical, we maximise our chances of controlling events.