With the new coronavirus spreading across the world to more than 110 countries so far, the World Health Organization (WHO) has officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020. The disease was first reported on December 31, 2019, in Wuhan, China, and has spread across Asia and arrived in Europe, America, Australia, New Zealand, and Africa.
At the time of this publication, more than 4,300 people have died and over 118,000 infections have been confirmed by laboratory testing, with the stats changing daily, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
“This is not just a public health crisis, it is a crisis that will touch every sector,” said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a media briefing. “So every sector and every individual must be involved in the fights.”
The virus’ penchant for international travel is what has driven health officials to class it as a pandemic. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a pandemic is “a worldwide spread of a new disease,” when most people have no immunity to that disease.
So how has it spread so far and so rapidly? Modern transport methods make it all too easy for the virus to hitch a ride in a human and fly across the world in a matter of hours. You may also have heard that the virus can be spread by people who haven’t experienced any symptoms yet. A research paper recently suggested it takes on average five days for symptoms to appear. Still, based on what we know about another coronavirus, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), America’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warn that symptoms could potentially take as long as a couple of weeks to appear.
Scientists are working to pinpoint the exact cause of the coronavirus’ emergence, but they think it may have jumped from wild animals to people. The original outbreak has been linked to a food market in Wuhan that sells animals like snakes and bats. DNA analysis of the virus has connected it to viruses normally found in bats, an animal also linked to the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic. SARS is also a coronavirus that emerged in China, and research newly published in Nature finds that it shares 79.6 percent of its genome with the new coronavirus, suggesting the two viruses are very similar. The researchers also found that the new coronavirus' genome is 96 percent identical to that of a coronavirus normally found in bats.
“We’re deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction" added Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Based on current numbers, the virus has killed about 3.4 percent of people that have become sick. In contrast, measles, which many people choose not to vaccinate their kids against, kills around 15 percent of the people it infects.
Therefore, if you do catch the coronavirus, it’s unlikely it will be lethal, particularly if you are in good health and have an uncompromised immune system, but it is essential that you seek medical attention nonetheless. The CDC notes that some people with coronavirus have experienced “little to no symptoms”, while others have become very unwell. Symptoms include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. If you notice these symptoms and have recently been in an area that the coronavirus is known to have spread to or been in close proximity to someone who has the virus, you should try to stay isolated and call a doctor.