The new coronavirus first encountered in Wuhan in 2019 has affected more than 80,000 people across the globe
The new coronavirus, now known as Covid-19, was first encountered in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, and has gone on to affect over 93,000 people in over 80 countries around the globe, causing over 3,000 deaths.
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. If people are admitted to hospital, they may get support for their lungs and other organs, as well as fluids. Recovery will depend on the strength of their immune system. Many of those who have died were already in poor health.
The name Covid-19 was announced on 11 February by the World Health Organization. The director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said: “We had to find a name that did not refer to a geographical location, an animal, an individual or group of people, and which is also pronounceable and related to the disease. Having a name matters to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatising.”
We don’t yet know how dangerous Covid-19 is, and we won’t know until more data comes in. The mortality rate seems to be around 2%. 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%.
Coronavirus: How to protect yourself
Another key unknown, of which scientists should get a clearer idea in the coming months, is how contagious Covid-19 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.
What is coronavirus and what should I do if I have symptoms?
Like other coronaviruses, it originated in animals and then migrated to humans. Many of those initially infected either worked or frequently shopped in the Huanan seafood wholesale market in the centre of the city, which also sold live and newly slaughtered animals. China’s national health commission has confirmed human-to-human transmission of the virus.
New and troubling viruses usually originate in animal hosts. Ebola and flu are other examples, and 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.
Since you’re here…
… we have a small favour to ask. More people, like you, are reading and supporting the Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. And unlike many news organisations, we made the choice to keep our reporting open for all, regardless of where they live or what they can afford to pay.
The Guardian will engage with the most critical issues of our time – from the escalating climate catastrophe to widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. At a time when factual information is a necessity, we believe that each of us, around the world, deserves access to accurate reporting with integrity at its heart.
Our editorial independence means we set our own agenda and voice our own opinions. Guardian journalism is free from commercial and political bias and not influenced by billionaire owners or shareholders. This means we can give a voice to those less heard, explore where others turn away, and rigorously challenge those in power.
We hope you will consider supporting us today. We need your support to keep delivering quality journalism that’s open and independent. Every reader contribution, however big or small, is so valuable. Support The Guardian from as little as £1 – and it only takes a minute. Thank you.