COVID-19 Timeline: January 2020

July 27, 2021

At we have kept up with the spread of COVID-19 and the related bioethical questions that this pandemic brings. The posts that follow highlights news from January 2020 and were originally posted at These posts focus on the bioethical issues that medical professionals, bioethicists, public health officials, and scientists grappled with as SARS-CoV-2 swept the globe.

January 3: “China Pneumonia Outbreak: Mystery Virus Probed in Wuhan” by BBC News

Chinese authorities have launched an investigation into a mysterious viral pneumonia which has infected dozens of people in the central city of Wuhan. A total of 44 cases have been confirmed so far, 11 of which are considered “severe”, officials said on Friday. The outbreak has prompted Singapore and Hong Kong to bring in screening processes for travellers from the city. It comes amid online fears the virus could be linked to Sars, or severe acute respiratory syndrome.

January 8: “WHO Says Mysterious Illness in China Likely Being Caused by New Virus” by Helen Branswell, Stat News

The World Health Organization confirmed on Wednesday that Chinese authorities believe a new coronavirus — from the family that produced SARS and MERS — may be the cause of mysterious pneumonia cases in the city of Wuhan. The Chinese government has not yet publicly stated that a coronavirus is the cause of the illness, which has infected at least 59 people. But the Wall Street Journal reported that was the case earlier Wednesday, citing unnamed sources.

January 15: “Chinse Health Officials Can’t Rule Out Person-to-Person Spread of New Virus” by Associated Press, Stat News

The possibility that a new virus in central China could spread between humans cannot be ruled out, though the risk of transmission at the moment appears to be low, Chinese officials said Wednesday. Forty-one people in the city of Wuhan have received a preliminary diagnosis of a novel coronavirus, a family of viruses that can cause both the common cold and more serious diseases. A 61-year-old man with severe underlying conditions died from the coronavirus on Saturday.

January 20: “Deadly Mystery Virus Reported in 2 New Chinese Cities and South Korea” by Javier C. Hernández, The New York Times

The authorities in China reported a third death from a mysterious virus and more than 130 new cases over the weekend, including ones found in Beijing and southern China for the first time. One new case was also reported in South Korea on Monday. The jump in cases raised questions about how the virus is being transmitted and added to concerns about the spread of the illness ahead of China’s busiest travel season.

January 21: “Washington State Man Who Traveled to China is First U.S. Victim of Coronavirus” by Julie Steenhuysen and Dan Whitcomb, Reuters

A Washington state man who recently traveled to China has been diagnosed with the coronavirus, becoming the first confirmed U.S. case of the newly identified illness that has killed six people in China and sickened some 300 others across Asia.

January 21: “WHO Raises Possibility of ‘Sustained’ Human-to-Human Transmission of New Virus in China” by Helen Branswell, Stat News

The World Health Organization on Tuesday raised the possibility that the new virus spreading in parts of China may be transmitting in an ongoing, sustained manner between people — which, if confirmed, would make it significantly more difficult to stop. The agency’s Western Pacific Regional office, which covers China and neighboring countries, said on Twitter that new information “suggests there may now be sustained human-to-human transmission.”

January 22: “Cases of New Viral Respiratory Illness Rise Sharply in China” by Ken Moritsugu, Medical Xpress

Chinese health authorities urged people in the city of Wuhan to avoid crowds and public gatherings, after warning that a new viral illness that has infected more than 400 people and killed at least 17 could spread further. The appeal came as the World Health Organization convened a group of independent experts to advise whether the outbreak should be declared a global emergency.  The number of new cases has risen sharply in China, the center of the outbreak. Seventeen people have died, all in Hubei province, since the outbreak emerged in its provincial capital of Wuhan late last month, officials announced Wednesday night. They said the province has confirmed 444 cases there.

January 22: “Chinese City Stops Outbound Flights, Trains to Fight Virus” by Ken Moritsugu, Associated Press

A Chinese city of more than 11 million people planned to shut down outbound flights and trains Thursday as the world’s most populous country battled the spread of a new virus that has sickened hundreds of people and killed 17, state media reported. Everyone in the city of Wuhan was to be restricted to some degree. The state-owned People’s Daily newspaper said no one would be allowed to leave. The official Xinhua News Agency said no one would be permitted to leave without a specific reason.

January 22: “Health Officials Confirm First US Case of China Coronavirus, Expand Screening” by Malay Mail

CDC officials said the agency is preparing for more US cases of the coronavirus that originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, and raised its travel alert for Wuhan to a level 2, calling for enhanced precautions. Under that alert level, the CDC recommends travelers to Wuhan should avoid contact with sick people, animals or animal markets. “We do expect additional cases in the United States and globally,” Dr Nancy Messonnier, a CDC respiratory diseases expert said on a conference call with reporters.

January 22: “WHO Postpones Decision on Whether to Declare China Outbreak a Global Public Health Emergency” by Andrew Joseph, Stat News

The World Health Organization on Wednesday delayed a decision on whether to declare the ongoing outbreak of a novel virus that originated in China a global health emergency, with the head of the agency saying experts needed more information first. Following a meeting of a WHO emergency committee, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director-general, said he had asked the committee to continue the discussion Thursday.

January 23: “The WHO Declines to Declare China Virus Outbreak a Global Emergency” by Andrew Joseph, Stat News

The World Health Organization on Thursday declined to designate the ongoing outbreak of a novel virus in China a global health emergency, saying that, for now, health officials are sufficiently equipped to combat the outbreak there and in other countries and that the agency does not need the additional authorities that come from such a declaration.

January 24: “Coronavirus: Chinese Hospitals in Chaos as Lockdown Spreads to Affect 33m People” by Faraz Shauketaly, Independent

Hospitals in the Chinese city of Wuhan have been thrown into chaos and the movement of about 33 million people has been restricted by an unprecedented and indefinite lockdown imposed to halt the spread of the deadly new coronavirus. At least 10 cities in central Hubei province have been shut down in an effort to stop the virus, which by Friday had killed 26 people across China and affected more than 800. The World Health Organisation described the outbreak as an emergency for China, but stopped short of declaring it to be a public health emergency of international concern.

January 24: “Coronavirus: Death Toll Reaches 41 in China with First Cases in Europe” by Rebecca Ratcliffe, Lillian Yang, and Denis Campbell, The Guardian

China has expanded an unprecedented lockdown during the country’s most important holiday to 13 cities and at least 36 million people, as efforts to contain the deadly new coronavirus were stepped up around the world and the first cases were reported in Europe. Restrictions on movement were widened on Friday in China in an effort to stop the spread of the disease. Late on Friday, authorities confirmed a further 15 deaths and 180 new cases of coronavirus, bringing the total number of fatalities to 41 people and more than 1,000 affected.

January 24: “CDC Report Second U.S. Case of Novel Virus Spreading in China” by Helen Branswell, Stat News

A second case of the new infection emerging from China has been discovered in the United States — a woman who returned to Chicago from Wuhan on Jan. 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday. Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, cautioned that the country will likely see more cases and even some domestic spread from imported cases to contacts as this quickly expanding outbreak continues.

January 29:The Thinking Behind China’s Quarantines…And (Illegal) Village Blockades” by Emily Fend, Amy Cheng, and Allison Aubrey, NPR

More than a dozen cities in the Chinese province of Hubei are under official lockdown. And some cities and villages are taking it upon themselves to seal off their communities — even if their actions aren’t legal. It’s all to prevent the spread of a new strain of coronavirus that has killed over 130 people and sickened more than 5,900 in China. What do these measures consist of? And do scientists think they will help contain this rapidly spreading virus? The strictest quarantine is in Wuhan, a city of 11 million that’s the epicenter of the outbreak.

January 29: “WHO Lauds Chinese Response to Virus, Says World ‘at Important Juncture’” by Stephanie Nebehay and Emma Farge, Reuters

The World Health Organization (WHO) praised China on Wednesday for its efforts to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, but voiced “grave concern” about person-to-person spread in three other countries which led it to summon its Emergency Committee again.  The panel of 16 independent experts will meet behind closed doors on Thursday for the third time in a week to consider whether the epidemic now constitutes a global emergency. 

January 30: “WHO Declares Global Emergency as China Virus Death Toll Reaches 170” by Lusha Zhang and Stephanie Nebehay, Reuters

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday it was declaring the coronavirus outbreak that has killed 170 people in China a global emergency, as cases spread to at least 18 countries.  The vast majority of the more than 7,800 cases detected globally, according to the latest WHO data, have been in China, where the virus originated in an illegal wildlife market in the city of Wuhan. But nearly 100 cases have emerged in other countries, spurring cuts to travel, outbreaks of anti-China sentiment in some places and a surge in demand for protective face masks.

January 31: “An AI Epidemiologist Sent the First Warnings of the Wuhan Virus” by Wired

On January 9, the World Health Organization notified the public of a flu-like outbreak in China: a cluster of pneumonia cases had been reported in Wuhan, possibly from vendors’ exposure to live animals at the Huanan Seafood Market. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had gotten the word out a few days earlier, on January 6. But a Canadian health monitoring platform had beaten them both to the punch, sending word of the outbreak to its customers on December 31. BlueDot uses an AI-driven algorithm that scours foreign-language news reports, animal and plant disease networks, and official proclamations to give its clients advance warning to avoid danger zones like Wuhan.

January 31: “Coronavirus Outbreak: Quarantining Millions in China Is Unprecedented and Wrong” by Vageesh Jain, The Conversation

Removing the suspected source of the disease is necessary but not sufficient. Any public health response to a disease outbreak must prevent transmission of cases to others. And while isolation is a well-established practice for individual cases, quarantining millions of healthy people is unprecedented in public health.

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