The city of Wuhan—ground zero for the coronavirus—has a population of between 7 and 11 million people, depending on whose list you consult. As a metropolitan area, that makes it a bit larger than Dallas-Ft. Worth, Texas.
Now, imagine the government of the United States declaring an immediate cessation of traffic into and out of Dallas-Ft.Worth. All connecting flights involving DFW must be rerouted until a mystery virus can be contained. All cross-country vehicle traffic that would normally use portions of Interstates 20, 35E, 35W, 45, 635, or 820 would have to bypass all that.
Putting aside the many inconveniences this would mean to travelers, how would the residents get their groceries? How would major businesses be supplied? Where would the normal essentials of daily life come from? What agencies of government would be required to move shipments of food, medicine, and clothing to the quarantined residents? Which agencies would be involved in blocking off every single highway, street, railroad, airport, and potential footpath to ensure an effective quarantine?
Now ask yourself how long the residents of Dallas-Ft. Worth put up with the hardships of the quarantine before an armed insurrection occurred?
To put matters in perspective, we should remember that Wuhan is not a city steeped in American expectations surrounding personal freedom. So, when Chinese central authorities issue a travel ban, people tend to obey.
Yet, Spirited Reasoners wonder how many people have managed to slip through Wuhan’s travel net undetected.
Perhaps the most important fact about the coronavirus is its assumed 14-day incubation period. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people traveled into and out of that major metropolitan area before the first case was even discovered and correctly identified. Wuhan lies on the Yangtse River, directly between two huge metropolitan areas: Shanghai and Chongqing. River traffic among those three cities had been continuous before the quarantine was imposed.
Other essential facts about the virus remain unknown. But if it is like other respiratory illnesses, it is likely to be at its worst during winter months. So, governmental efforts to isolate symptomatic patients might, in the best-case scenario, buy enough time to allow warmer weather to mitigate some of its deleterious effects.
Let’s hope so.
Meanwhile, we worry about the unanswered questions. Can the virus be transmitted by asymptomatic carriers? Will we be hearing about new outbreak regions, far from Wuhan, in coming weeks? Assuming those areas were not quarantined, how long will it be before the entire world has been impacted, to one degree or another, by international travelers?
There are some phenomena even the most powerful governments are unable to control.