The Chinese health commission said more than 570 cases had been confirmed in the country by the end of Wednesday, with 95 in grave condition. The outbreak has happened as China was preparing for the Lunar New Year holiday, the biggest travel period of the year, increasing the likelihood of the coronavirus circulating further beyond Wuhan.
Dr. Guan, in his interview with Caixin, was critical of the local government, saying it had not done enough earlier this week to stop the coronavirus in Wuhan.
“Even though the central authorities have said in the past two days they were attaching a high degree of importance, local health protections had not been upgraded at all,” he said. “At the time I thought this was going to be a ‘state of war.' Why hadn't the alarm been sounded?”
Dr. Guan said he was disturbed by the lack of safety measures being put in place. At the airport he saw no disinfection being carried out and only a few random places like a Starbucks had put out liquid hand sanitizer dispensers.
The situation was so surprising, “my jaw dropped,” he said.
He said he continually ran into obstacles when trying to find researchers to work with on tracing the source of the virus. The seafood and poultry market believed to the source had been thoroughly cleaned, he complained, preventing any effective investigation.
“There's no crime scene,” he said.
The path of the coronavirus could prove harder to trace and control than SARS, when a small number of highly infectious superspreaders helped transmit the disease to a large number of people, Dr. Guan said.
“I've experienced a lot, and I've never felt scared, most of these are controllable,” he said, citing previous battles with SARS, avian influenza and other outbreaks. “But this time I'm scared.”
Javier Hernández contributed reporting from Beijing, and Amber Wang contributed research.