Rayhan Ahmed Topader:
The global march of covid-19 is beginning to look unstoppable. In just the past week, a countrywide outbreak surfaced in Iran, spawning additional cases in Iraq, Oman, and Bahrain. Italy put 10 towns in the north on lockdown after the virus rapidly spread there. An Italian physician carried the virus to the Spanish island of Tenerife, a popular holiday spot for northern Europeans, and Austria and Croatia reported their first cases. Meanwhile, South Korea’s outbreak kept growing explosively and Japan reported additional cases in the wake of the botched quarantine of a cruise ship. The virus may be spreading stealthily in many more places. A modeling group at Imperial College London has estimated that about two-thirds of the cases exported from China have yet to be detected.
More than 83,000 people in at least 53 countries have been infected. Many patients are linked to Iran or Italy. The U.S. Navy ordered all ships that have made stops in the Pacific to self-quarantine at sea for 14 days. It is caused by a member of the coronavirus family that has never been encountered before. Like other coronaviruses, it has come from animals. Many of those initially infected either worked or frequently shopped in the Huanan seafood wholesale market in the centre of the Chinese city. The virus can cause pneumonia. Those who have fallen ill are reported to suffer coughs, fever and breathing difficulties. In severe cases there can be organ failure. As this is viral pneumonia, antibiotics are of no use.
The antiviral drugs we have against flu will not work. Recovery depends on the strength of the immune system. Many of those who have died were already in poor health. More NHS advice on what to do if you think you have been exposed to the virus can be found here, and the full travel advice to UK nationals is available here. China’s national health commission has confirmed human-to-human transmission, and there have been such transmissions elsewhere. How many people have been affected? As of 25 February, the outbreak has affected 80,000 people globally. In mainland China there have been 2,663 deaths among 77,658 cases, mostly in the central province of Hubei. More than 12,000 people affected in China have already recovered. The coronavirus has spread to at least other 30 other countries. The most badly affected include Japan, with 850 cases, including 691 from a cruise ship docked in Yokohama, and four deaths. Italy has recorded 229 cases and seven deaths, while South Korea has recorded 893 cases and eight deaths. There have also been deaths in Hong Kong,Taiwan, France, Iran and the Philippines We don’t yet know how dangerous the new coronavirus is, and we won’t know until more data comes in. The mortality rate is around 2% in the epicentre of the outbreak, Hubei province, and less than that elsewhere. For comparison, seasonal flu typically has a mortality rate below 1% and is thought to cause about 400,000 deaths each year globally. Sars had a death rate of more than 10%.
Another key unknown is how contagious the coronavirus is. A crucial difference is that unlike flu, there is no vaccine for the new coronavirus, which means it is more difficult for vulnerable members of the population elderly people or those with existing respiratory or immune problems to protect themselves. Hand-washing and avoiding other people if you feel unwell are important. One sensible step is to get the flu vaccine, which will reduce the burden on health services if the outbreak turns into a wider epidemic. Have there been other coronaviruses? Severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (Mers) are both caused by coronaviruses that came from animals. In 2002, Sars spread virtually unchecked to 37 countries, causing global panic, infecting more than 8,000 people and killing more than 750. Mers appears to be less easily passed from human to human, but has greater lethality, killing 35% of about 2,500 people who have been infected. The spread of the virus outside China is worrying but not an unexpected development. The world health organization has declared the outbreak to be a public health emergency of international concern. The key issues are how transmissible this new coronavirus is between people, and what proportion become severely ill and end up in hospital. Often viruses that spread easily tend to have a milder impact. Generally, the coronavirus appears to be hitting older people hardest, with few cases in children.
Experts assumed that China’s economy, the world’s second largest after that of the United States, would slow sharply in the first half of this year before recovering as the epidemic was eventually contained. Given that China is the source of one-third of all global growth, this was enough to provoke worries worldwide, hitting balance sheets for multinational businesses from Apple to major airlines. Still, the locus of concern was China and neighboring countries like South Korea and Japan. That changed abruptly this week as the coronavirus flared well beyond China, prompting panicked selling across global markets on Monday and then again on Tuesday. The specter of an epidemic spreading rapidly in Italy raised the prospect of a new shock in a region that was already struggling to muster vitality. The sense that the virus could swell into a global crisis gained momentum as Iran was identified as the source of cases that have emerged in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and even Canada.
Germany, Europe’s largest economy, has in recent months suffered a pronounced slowdown in factory orders as its auto industry grapples with increased fuel-efficiency standards, and as China’s growth slows. Since that Feb.7-9 survey, concern about the virus and its economic fallout has ballooned. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that it expects the coronavirus to spread in the United States. And the Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled more than 1
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