WASHINGTON — “The new China is Europe,” Robert Redfield, MD, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Tuesday, reflecting the shifting realities of the global coronavirus epidemic.
The epidemic began in China’s province of Hubei, but strict measures imposed by Beijing appear to have drastically slowed the spread of the disease there (although figures from the authoritarian regime cannot readily be trusted). South Korea, which suffered the second-biggest coronavirus outbreak after China, has also been showing signs of progress in containing the disease.
But as the coronavirus seems to be slowing down in East Asia, it is picking up pace in Western Europe, where dense populations and open, easily traversed borders make for a daunting public health challenge.
“The epicenter, the new China, is Europe,” Redfield said in remarks that came in the midst of congressional testimony. “And there’s a lot of people coming back and forth from Europe.”
No country in Europe has been as devastated by the coronavirus as Italy, where 9,172 had been sickened and 631 killed as of Tuesday. The number of cases in Italy now surpasses that in South Korea and Iran, where the virus raged for weeks after originating in China.
After restricting travel to and within the northern provinces, where the coronavirus had first taken hold, the government in Rome placed the entire country on lockdown. Spain has also seen an increase in cases, which now total 1,646. France and Germany are close behind, with more than a thousand coronavirus cases in each.
Ireland has canceled all of its St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, a potent sign of deepening concern within Europe.
(The United States, which has a much greater population than all of the aforementioned European nations combined, has detected only 791 cases so far, though that could be because public health authorities in the U.S. have struggled to ramp up testing.)
The spread in Europe comes even as some political leaders, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., have referred to the respiratory illness as “Chinese coronavirus.”
“Calling it the ‘Chinese coronavirus’ isn’t just racist, it’s dangerous and incites discrimination against Asian Americans and Asian immigrants,” Sen. Kamala Harris, the state’s junior senator, wrote on Twitter, calling on McCarthy to delete his tweet.
McCarthy declined to do so.
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