How the Coronavirus Spread Around the World
tIn the past, trade ships were the traditional means to spread disease around the world. In 2020, planes, trains, and boats are how it is done.
109 attendees converged at a single Singapore hotel for an international sales conference last month. Everything seemed to go well at the conference, but its impact did not show itself until when the attendees took the coronavirus home with them on airplanes. This incident started a chain reaction that infected another 20 people in Asia and Europe some of whom were at the hotel and others who came in touch with attendees.
Some of the infected had taken trains and multiple planes to get home while health officials used global communications channels to share names of the possibly infected to stop them from traveling any further. All involved worked hard to create an “activity maps” that showed their journey. Schools and markets were closed in the areas where the attendees lived to try to further limit the spread.
It takes a lot of work to track down such a small and diverse group of people. However, it is necessary to stop the outbreak of a contangious disease from spreading rapidly. “There’s a lot of classic, boots-on-the-ground epidemiology going on right now tracing these cases,” says Dr. Matthew Ferrari, associate professor of biology at the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics at Pennsylvania State University.
“There are basically no gaps in the activity map,” says Pream Raj, an assistant director in the Singapore Health Ministry’s communicable-diseases division. In Singapore, he and his associates are seeking help from hospitals and from the police to locate the likely infected and see where they have stayed and who they have come in touch with.
Someone brought the disease to the conference, but who?
The crisis began back in December of 2019 when officials classified it as a different strain of coronavirus. It quickly expanded in China, where 75,000 people had been infected according to the World Health Organization, and there have been 1,073 confirmed cases outside China. The WHO says more than 2,200 people have died.
When the four-day sales conference hosted by the Servomex Group at the Grand Hyatt Singapore began on Jan. 19, there were no confirmed cases of the virus. The guests came in from throughout the world and were festive due to the Lunar Festival. Some participants were obviously from China, health officials later learned. “We informed them pretty early on,” Mr. Raj says, “before it started to balloon.”
Singapore authorities haven’t reported deaths among the conference-goers. They still don’t know how the virus got there, Mr. Raj says.