The deadly novel coronavirus that emerged in China in late December has claimed more than 3,300 lives worldwide. Following the outbreak, the World Health Organization has declared a global health emergency and warned countries against assuming that they won’t be hit by the pathogen.
The warning was announced as the number of reported cases of coronavirus crossed 95,000 globally when the virus spread to over seventy countries on six continents. Although mainland China reported the majority of coronavirus cases, the rapid pace of infection has caused worldwide panic.
Countries across the globe are magnifying their efforts to beat the new coronavirus. Here is what you need to know.
Coronavirus: What is it?
Coronaviruses belong to a large family of viruses that can cause several illnesses in animals. They have leapt to humans and mostly cause common-cold like symptoms. Coronaviruses also lead to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). Originally, civet cats were the source of SARS transmitted to humans and the MERS came from a type of camel. Several other coronaviruses are circulating in animals but haven’t affected humans yet.
Coronavirus gets its name from “Corona” – a Latin word that means crown or halo. Besides, when the virus is observed from under an electron microscope, it looks like a solar corona. The novel coronavirus was identified by Chinese authorities on January 7, 2020. The respiratory illness caused by the new Coronavirus is called COVID-19. It is a new strain of the virus that hadn’t been earlier identified in humans. More information about the virus is yet to be discovered, but it has been confirmed that the virus can transmit among humans.
The standard recommendations to prevent the spreading of the virus including washing hands regularly, covering mouth and nose while coughing and sneezing, cooking meat and eggs thoroughly. It is also better to avoid close contact with anyone showing signs of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.
What is known about the symptoms?
The novel coronavirus can be transmitted among humans primarily through respiratory droplets that come from coughing or sneezing. The virus is capable of multiplying in the respiratory tract and produce a range of symptoms. On average, the symptoms take around five to six days to show up after a person is infected. However, in many cases, people carrying the virus remain asymptomatic or don’t show any symptoms.
As mentioned by the WHO, some of the symptoms to look for include cough, fever, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. Dr. Maria, who heads the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, said that people can have mild cases of sore throat, runny nose, fever as well as severe cases of pneumonia to multi-organ failure and death.
According to some data collected from about 17,000 cases, it was found that 82 percent had mild symptoms and 15 percent were severe and 3 percent were classified as critical.
How serious can coronavirus be?
With the recorded death toll of more than 3,300, the new coronavirus has exceeded the number of fatalities caused by the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak, which again originated in China. SARS claimed 9 percent of the lives who were infected with reported deaths of around 800 worldwide and more than 300 in China alone.
Comparatively, MERS didn’t spread widely but killed one-third of those it infected. Considering the number of cases and WHO reports, the new coronavirus is more widespread than SARS in China, but the mortality rate is low at 2 percent roughly.
Reports have also suggested that the death rate in Wuhan is 2-4 percent, and 0.7 percent in China and the rest of the world.
A majority of the cases and death have been reported in China. Other deaths from the virus have been confirmed in Japan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, France, Italy, and Iran.
The virus has spread to many countries in the Asia-Pacific region as well as in North America, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. Most of the people infected by the virus outside of China were known to have traveled to the country. However, cases of human-to-human transmission have been identified in many countries that had no apparent link to China.
What measures are being taken to prevent it from spreading?
Scientists from all over the globe are stepping up their efforts to develop a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, but have warned that it won’t be available for mass distribution before 2021. Meanwhile, in China, the city of Wuhan has been effectively sealed off and travel restrictions have been imposed to prevent the coronavirus from spreading more.
Many international airlines have cancelled flights to China. A few nations have also restricted the admission of Chinese nationals into their territories and several more have evacuated their citizens from the city of Wuhan.
Where did the virus come from?
Chinese authorities are yet to find out the source of the virus, but it is believed to have originated from a ‘wet market’ in Wuhan, where dead and live animals including fish and birds are sold. As live animals are kept and butchered on the site, it is difficult to maintain good hygiene standards there. Moreover, they are densely packed and pose a serious risk of transmission of viruses from animals to humans.
On February 7, Chinese researchers came up with the explanation that the virus could have transmitted from an infected animal species to humans probably through pangolins that are trafficked illegally for food and medicine.
Scientists have also pointed out that the virus could have come from bats or snakes as well. Although bats are not sold at the Wuhan market, it may have infected live chickens or other animals in the place.
Coronavirus Outbreak: A Global Emergency
As declared by the WHO on January 30, the outbreak of the novel coronavirus now constitutes a global health emergency. The declaration was formalized after cases of human-to-human transmission were confirmed outside China. The international health alert is a call to nations around the globe to come forward and coordinate their response under the direction of the United Nations health agency.