As of January 21, there were 314 cases of the novel coronavirus globally, but the number has now spiked to over 500. There have been at least 17 deaths.
Outside of China, the mobile game is currently listed as being #1 in Strategy in the official Apple Store and a version is also filed in the “top selling apps” category on the Google Play Store market.
Players of the game choose a pathogen before being tasked with devising the best ways to make it spread and wipe out the human population.
Ndemic, which appears well aware of the spike in interest, has pushed social media followers to a page managed by the World Health Organization (WHO). “We’re getting a lot of questions about the ongoing Coronavirus outbreak,” it acknowledged on Facebook and Twitter.
The U.K. studio has been contacted for comment.
On China’s Weibo platform, some players have commented on how real the game feels, Quartz reported. New reviews, compiled by SensorTower, referenced the coronavirus. “God bless China,” one person wrote. Another added: “The best way to eliminate fear is to face it.”
It’s not the first time that a crisis in the real world has impacted the game’s popularity. In 2014, downloads of Plague Inc. increased during the West Africa Ebola outbreak, which caused more than 11,000 deaths according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“This is the first time something in the real world has had an effect on the sales charts,” app developer James Vaughan told Polygon at the time.
“People are curious about it and want to know more about infectious diseases. Plague Inc. can play a role because it’s an intelligent look at how infectious diseases can spread.” In a blog post published during that outbreak, the studio appealed: “This is not a game, this is real life.”
Health authorities across the world are now attempting to track and contain the coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan—a region with global transport links now under quarantine.
Infections have since spread to Thailand, Japan, South Korea and the U.S, officials have said. Some victims have suffered pneumonia-like respiratory issues as a result of the virus. A map detailing confirmed cases and deaths is maintained by Johns Hopkins University.
“More cases are likely to be identified in the coming days, including possibly more cases in the United States,” the CDC has warned in an fact-sheet. “Given what has occurred previously with MERS and SARS, it’s likely that some person-to-person spread will continue to occur.”
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