With the coronavirus epidemic spreading rapidly across China and other countries, many people are concerned about how to protect themselves. What are the symptoms after infection, how is it being transmitted, and when should you see a doctor? Is this going to affect my life in Vietnam or your visit to my second home of choice?

With over 9,770 people being infected (as of January 31), the coronavirus is being taken very seriously by governments and international organisations. The WHO declared the virus a global health emergency on January 30, with the organisation’s director announcing that the decision came amid concerns for countries with weaker health systems. As of January 31, China’s death toll has already risen to 213 people, a rapid increase of 25 per cent in just one day. Numbers like these are scary enough. So, what should you know and do to protect yourself and your loved ones?

What is the Wuhan coronavirus?

You might remember hearing the names severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (Mers), which were both also caused by coronaviruses that came from animals. The Wuhan coronavirus is similar but has never been seen before. This coronavirus originated in a Huanan seafood wholesale market in Wuhan city centre, an international education hub with more than 11 million people. Like other coronaviruses, the Wuhan one also originated from animals.

According to many stories on social media, some Chinese were eating living animals, particularly bats, which caused them to get somehow infected with the new type of coronavirus, the 2019-nCoV. I can’t say whether these stories are actually true. But it wouldn’t the first disease born out of unsanitary eating habits.

What are the symptoms after infection?

The new coronavirus causes pneumonia, an inflammation of the lung tissue that is caused by a bacterial infection and can be especially dangerous for the elderly and people with poor general health. People that have fallen ill after being infected with the virus suffer coughs, fever, and breathing difficulties. Other symptoms might include a runny nose, headache, sore throat, fever, and a general feeling of being unwell. Severe cases can lead to organ failure. The US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believes at the moment, that symptoms caused by the Wuhan coronavirus “may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 after exposure”, based on previous experience with other coronaviruses such as Mers.

How is the Wuhan coronavirus transmitted?

China’s national health commission confirmed that human-to-human transmission is a possible way of transmitting the virus, which explains why it is spreading so quickly. Similar to other human coronaviruses, the Wuhan coronavirus is most commonly caught through

  • the air by coughing and sneezing
  • close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
  • touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes before washing your hands
  • and, rarely, faecal contamination.

What can you do to protect yourself?

Unless you have recently been to China, and more specifically to the Wuhan greater area, there is no reason to panic over a cough. Health departments advise that it is not necessary to see a doctor unless your coughing is persistent and is accompanied by other symptoms such as chest pain, breathing difficulties, and feeling of being unwell.

There are currently no vaccines available to protect again human coronaviruses such as the new one from Wuhan. You can reduce the risk of infection by washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; avoiding to touch your eyes, mouth, and nose with unwashed hands; and avoiding close contact with sick people.

While some say wearing a face mask can help, the CDC only recommends face masks for people who are already sick with the coronavirus or believe they may be infected to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to anyone else whilst seeking medical advice. Caretakers and people who live with infected persons should also wear a face mask. However, the CDC has currently not announced any recommendation for the general public to start wearing face masks.

In addition, the WHO recommends that people with symptoms of acute respiratory infection should practice cough etiquette and stay away from other people, cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or clothing, and wash hands as described above. Travellers to China should not visit live bird and animal markets, including wet markets.

If you want to keep track of the numbers, the John Hopkins CSSE has established an online dashboard that summarises all recorded cases and is regularly updated.

Should you be worried when coming to Vietnam?

In all honesty, so far the new coronavirus does not affect my life very much. Apart from the fact that my school has just announced today to move the start of our next semester to February 10 (instead of February 6) while excluding Chinese students until February 24, there hasn’t been anything directly affecting my life (so far). Should there be any updates, I’ll let you know.

I heard that many hotels suffer cancellations at the moment, with some of them offering face masks to their staff and guests. While it certainly worries many people, Vietnam has only registered five positive cases of 2019-nCoV at the time of writing this article (January 31, 2020).

In a country where several thousand people die yearly of traffic accidents, food poisoning, and other common causes, the current zero-death rate of a new virus wouldn’t bother me too much, to give you a personal opinion. However, this is my own opinion, and you might have a family to worry about. I could understand if you decide against coming to Vietnam at the moment, but don’t think that there is much reason to worry as long as you take basic safety precautions.


Parts of this article will also be published in the print issue of Timeout magazine in February 2020. Timeout is the lifestyle and travel magazine of Vietnam Investment Review under the Ministry of Planning and Investment..