But the government, particularly in Wuhan, has drawn public criticism at home for what some see as a delay in the reporting of cases that evoked the memory of a 2002-2003 outbreak of SARS in which the Chinese government withheld critical information. A top committee of the ruling Communist Party warned officials on Tuesday in a social media post that anyone who sought to hide infections would be “forever nailed to history’s pillar of shame.”
Outside of China, countries including the United States and Australia have stepped up screenings and security measures at airports for travelers coming from China. Experts say there is still a risk that the symptoms of the virus don’t become apparent until after the sick have crossed the border, as was the case in the United States, where the first confirmed case was a resident of Snohomish County, Wash., who had recently traveled around Wuhan.
But some experts are urging the public to remain calm.
“This is a SARS-like event but not as severe as SARS,” said Wang Linfa, director of the emerging infectious disease program at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore. “During an outbreak like this from an unknown pathogen, overreacting might be better than underreacting, but we still have to be realistic.”
Zhu Niancheng, 19, a chemistry major at a university in Wuhan, appeared to be heeding that advice on Wednesday as he sat on a suitcase outside a Beijing train station smoking a cigarette.
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to Wuhan,” he said, as a phalanx of People’s Liberation Army soldiers in green uniforms and black face masks marched behind him.
Asked if he was concerned about his classmates back in Wuhan, the teenager laughed and said, “I’m not really afraid. We just make fun of each other on WeChat, like “yo, you still alive?”
Vivian Wang reported from New York. Christopher Buckley contributed reporting from Beijing. Tiffany May, Ezra Cheung and Elaine Yu contributed reporting from Hong Kong. Zoe Mou contributed research from Beijing.