Bats are a known harbor to a large variety of viruses. Humans rarely interact with bats directly (they are not a common delicacy or pet in China), but other wild animals, such as civets and pangolins, do. Seventeen years before the outbreak of COVID-19, a coronavirus already made the jump to humans, likely starting with a farmer in Guangdong province in Southern China.
In the case of SARS, it remained locally contained until a fishmonger from the Guangdong region was checked into a hospital in the province’s capital of Guangzhou on January 31, 2003. There, he infected 30 nurses and doctors.
Ten days later, China notified the WHO, but another ten days later, one of the infected doctors traveled to Hong Kong to attend a wedding ceremony. Within a day of his arrival, he felt sick and checked himself into a local hospital, where he died two weeks later.
Shortly after, other hotel guests checked themselves into hospitals in Vietnam, Canada and Singapore. Throughout March and April, SARS spread quickly in Hong Kong, infecting 1,700 people (80 percent of whom were infected directly or indirectly through the Guangzhou doctor), killing 300.
By May, Hong Kong’s number of newly infected cases dropped to the single digits, and by June the area was declared free of any infections. While some researchers infected themselves months later while handling the virus, the outbreak was declared contained in July 2003.
The SARS outbreak shaped Hong Kong forever. The two-week school closures remain vivid in the memory of all students; street markets were dramatically altered in its aftermath; bathrooms were remodelled and plumbing remade (over 300 people were infected in a single block of an apartment building as the virus spread through the pipes). Temperature scanners were installed at border crossings and fever clinics were set up, usually via a separate entrance to a hospital. Many employers, especially those servicing large numbers of customers, made masks…