Staff members of the Wuhan Hygiene Emergency Response Team conduct searches on the closed Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, China, on Jan 11. NOEL CELIS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Article initially published in Foreign Policy on January 14, 2020 and written by Daniel Lucey and Annie Sparrow.

In contrast to China’s early efforts to cover up the SARS epidemic that first struck Southern China in 2002 and eventually spread worldwide, China has handled the outbreak of a new mystery pneumonia very differently. Within weeks of detection of the initial outbreak in December in Wuhan, China has already identified the novel coronavirus (“nCoV”) that is the likely cause of infection in 41 patients and shared the genetic sequence of that virus with the world to allow for specific laboratory testing.

China’s rapid recognition of this outbreak is particularly remarkable given that it is winter, when influenza and other infections cause many respiratory illnesses that make it difficult to tell whether any particular case of illness is the responsibility of a new respiratory disease. The major clue to this outbreak was that the initial patients had all had recent exposure to a single seafood and live animal market in Wuhan. So far, all of them experienced the onset of illness between December 8 and January 2nd. The incubation period – the time between exposure to the virus and the onset of fever, cough, or trouble breathing – is still unknown.

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