EDIT: After reading the comments and learning more about the current outbreak, I see that the premise of my question is incorrect. I mistakenly believed that the virus' mortality rate was around the same as that of the flu, when in fact it's much higher.
My understanding is that the virus' mortality rate is around 2%, which is similar to the flu. It's less deadly than SARS.
So why are people so worried, and why are governments going to such extreme measures to prevent it from spreading? My guesses are:
- We don't know enough about the long-term effects of the virus, so better safe than sorry
- The economic and social disruption caused by robust measures (e.g., quarantining) costs less than letting a new disease become pandemic, even if it isn't particularly deadly
- Mass hysteria fueled by the media and misinformation
- Governments feeling like they have to appear responsive to popular concern lest they seem lazy
- This virus affects more developed parts of the world, so it's more visible
- The Chinese government's over-the-top, authoritarian, "only in China"-style measures have left everyone in such awe that they think, "this must be really serious!" (When in fact the government's real intention is perhaps to cover up how badly they botched their initial handling of the outbreak.)
As for one's chances of coming into contact with the virus, the total number of confirmed cases in the world as of writing is around 80k. Let's say that the true number is double that, or 160,000. That's still only ~1.5% of the population of Wuhan, the city where the initial outbreak occurred. Why should anyone be in the slightest bit concerned about going for a stroll down the main street?
I'm not an expert in public health or medicine. It would be great to hear an expert's take on this question!