Named Friday as COVID-19, the Coronavirus epidemic has been declared by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a greater threat than world terrorism.
The are some important facts you should know about the epidemic.
1. When was it first reported.
The earliest reported symptoms occurred on December 1, 2019 with 40 affected people most of whom had had exposure to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province with a population of more than 11 million people.
The market, which had a thousand stalls selling fish, chickens, pheasants, bats, marmots, venomous snakes, spotted deer, and other wild animals, was the source of a cluster of cases displaying the symptoms of a “pneumonia of unknown cause.” But it wasn’t until February 2020 that Chinese authorities confirmed a highly-pathogenic strain of the H5N1 bird flu in chickens in the Hunan province.
2. Who discovered the disease
Chinese Ophthalmologist Li Wenliang sounded the alarm on the disease in December when he told a group of doctors on Chinese social media about seven unusual cases he had seen. However, he and seven other “whistleblowers” were then reprimanded by the Wuhan police in January for spreading “illegal and false” information.
Li was tragically later infected with the coronavirus after treating patients with the virus and died last week in Wuhan Central Hospital. He was 34.
Those infected can display either mild to severe symptoms of the disease including high-temperature, fever, coughing, shortness of breath, and diarrhea. From time from exposure to the onset of symptoms is estimated to be between two–10 days by WHO and up to 14 days by the US Government. Less common symptoms include sneezing, a runny nose or sore throat.
Severe cases result in pneumonia, kidney failure, and death. Among the first 41 confirmed cases admitted to hospitals in Wuhan, 13 individuals required intensive care, and six individuals died.
It is believed that wildlife sold at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market are the original reservoir of the disease. First research suggests that the 2019 novel coronavirus has bat origins, just like the virus responsible for the 2003 SARS epidemic. The 2019 outbreak is a near-match to a bat coronavirus identified in 2013. Earlier reports that snakes might have been the natural reservoir for the virus have now been widely-disputed.
However, in February 2020, researchers in China announced that there is a near-perfect (99 per cent) similarity in the genome sequences between the viruses found in the rare scaly anteater-like animal pangolins and those from human patients, suggesting that the animal may be an intermediary host for the virus.
5. How many infected
More than 1000 deaths have been attributed to the virus out of about 45,000 people worldwide resulting in the disease’s approximately two per cent mortality rate. The first reported death due to the 2019 disease was a 61-year-old man on January 9, 2020 who was admitted to a Wuhan hospital in December 2019. The first death outside of China occurred in the Philippines, when a 44-year-old Chinese male citizen with coronavirus developed severe pneumonia and died on 1 February. According to China’s National Health Commission, most of those who died were older patients. Around 80 per cent of deaths recorded were from those over the age of 60, and 75 per cent had pre-existing health conditions including cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.
6. Control measures
In China and around the world, public health authorities are trying to contain the spread of the outbreak. The Chinese Government has introduced travel restrictions, quarantines, and outdoor restrictions requiring families to stay at home and affecting more than 170 million people.
Australia, among other countries, has banned travel by non-Australian Chinese citizens and their families; a move copied by a number of other western countries. In China, anyone who suspects that they are carrying the virus is advised to wear a protective mask and seek medical advice by calling a doctor rather than directly visiting a clinic in person.
Airports and train stations have implemented temperature checks, health declarations and information signage in an attempt to identify carriers of the virus. Many Lunar New Year events and tourist attractions have been closed to prevent mass gatherings, including the Forbidden City in Beijing and traditional temple fairs. In 24 of China’s 31 provinces, municipalities and regions, authorities extended the New Year’s holiday to 10 February, instructing most workplaces not to re-open until that date.
Transmission of coronaviruses is primarily thought to occur among close contacts via respiratory droplets generated by sneezing and coughing.
8. Economic impact
China’s extraordinary economic surge over the past 40 years has resulted in it becoming the world’s second biggest economy, with a GDP of $13.6tn (compared with $20.5tn for the US). Annualised growth of seven per cent and more – way beyond the capacity of developed economies – has become the norm.
Most industries in China shut down over the two weeks around the lunar new year. The majority of factories were not expected to open again until this weekend and some have delayed opening until 14 February as a precaution, as tens of millions of people remained locked down in dozens of cities across the country.
Car makers are shutting plants, coffee outlets are closed and ports are far quieter than usual. Small and medium-sized businesses, which operate on short-term contracts and with only small financial and physical reserves, are known to already be in trouble. Reports from regions across China’s central belt tell of livestock farmers only days away from running out of feed.
All countries in the world will therefore suffer a knock-on effect of the disease with the impact possibly as high as one per cent of world GDP over 2020
9. Threat to Australia
Experts believe the true test of the virus’s spread to countries like Australia will come when the travel bans out of China are lifted. Nine weeks after the novel coronavirus was first discovered, Australian infectious disease experts are only beginning to understand its severity, how it is spread and how to contain it.
In Australia, there are only 15 confirmed cases and Health Minister Greg Hunt said five people had recovered from the illness, while the remaining 10 were stable and in a “recovery process”.
According to a leading Australian virologist, the fact China has been “swamped” with cases means there are still many unknowns about the disease.
“The Chinese authorities can’t even rely on the numbers being calculated in China,” the expert said. “Their hospitals have been inundated. “And without really good numbers and data we can’t be sure
He said that his concerns — and the reasons he believed the world was heading towards a pandemic — centred on the lack of immunity in the community, its spread and the eventual lifting of the China travel bans, which the Federal Government said would be “reviewed” at the end of the week.
“Things like stopping flights out of China, these are things that I never thought I’d see in my lifetime,” he said. “And the travel ban has worked. But it can’t go on forever.
“We all have very little immunity with coronavirus, which means it will run through a population. The virus has all the tools to spread wildly.”
There is currently no vaccine to prevent the 2019 Corononavirus from spreading. The WHO believes that the world is 18-monts away from an effective treatment for the disease. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to this virus including:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
- Facemask should be used by people who show symptoms of 2019 novel coronavirus, in order to protect others from the risk of getting infected. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 per cent alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.