- A coronavirus outbreak that originated in Wuhan, China, has killed 1,523 people and infected nearly 67,000.
- The COVID-19 virus, as it’s now known, has spread to at least 26 other countries.
- Three deaths have been reported outside of mainland China: one in Japan, one in Hong Kong, and another in the Philippines.
- Chinese authorities quarantined the city of Wuhan and many other cities, with all transportation halted.
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The death toll of a coronavirus outbreak sweeping China has reached at least 1,523, with nearly 67,000 people infected.
A massive spike in deaths and confirmed cases was reported in Hubei province, where the outbreak started, on Thursday morning local time, due to a revised methodology for counting cases. But on Friday, China’s National Health Commission wrote off more than 100 deaths from the total, attributing the error to double-counting.
The only deaths outside of mainland China so far are one man in the Philippines, a 39-year-old man in Hong Kong, and a woman in her 80s in Japan.
The COVID-19 virus, as it’s now officially known, has spread to every province and region in China as well at least 26 other countries. Both the death toll and the number of infected patients exceed those of the 2003 SARS outbreak.
The zoonotic virus may have jumped from animals to people at a market in the city of Wuhan. Researchers think the virus originated in bats, and one study suggests the disease might have spread from endangered pangolins to people.
The US has reported 15 cases so far, the latest of which was confirmed near San Antonio, Texas, on Thursday.
The World Health Organisation has declared he outbreak a public-health emergency, and Chinese President Xi Jinping said the virus poses a “grave threat.”
Here’s everything we know:
The first case of the coronavirus was reported in Wuhan in December. The central Chinese city has a population of 11 million.
The virus’ pneumonia-like symptoms include fever and difficulty breathing.
According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, a person could be at risk if they have:
- Fever and symptoms of lower respiratory illness, such as coughing or difficulty breathing, after travelling to Wuhan or having close contact with someone who was ill and is now under investigation for the virus in the past two weeks.
- Fever or symptoms of lower respiratory illness after having close contact in the past two weeks with someone who’s been confirmed to have the virus.
Chinese health officials say the incubation period for the virus ranges from one to 14 days, during which time carriers can be infectious.
The virus has killed at least 1,523 people.
“The people who are likely to die first will have other illnesses,” Adrian Hyzler, the chief medical officer at Healix International, which offers risk-management solutions for global travellers, told Business Insider. “But as it spreads, it will pick up more people like flu does.”
Most patients who died were elderly or otherwise unwell, according to Chinese officials.
China’s National Health Commission removed 108 deaths from the total fatality count on February 14. The deaths had been double-counted, the commission said in an online report.
Nearly 67,000 people have been infected.
The virus had infected at least 66,887 people as of February 15.
A huge spike in cases and deaths was reported on February 13 in the Hubei province after health officials revised the way they are counting cases.
In its Thursday morning update, the Hubei Health Commission added 14,800 people to its list of cases and reported 242 new deaths.
The commission said the jump is due to a change in the way cases are counted: The new total includes clinical diagnoses made via CT scans of patients’ lungs, in addition to lab-test results.
The true number of infected people is probably still higher than the official total.
Academics from Imperial College London estimated earlier in the week that only one in 19 people infected with the virus were being diagnosed.
This chart shows the rate at which the new coronavirus has spread.
Cases of the virus has been confirmed in at least 26 other countries.
Outside China, cases have been reported in Australia, Belgium, Cambodia, Canada, Egypt Finland, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, the UK, the US, and Vietnam.
The total number of cases internationally has far surpassed that of the SARS outbreak.
On February 7, a whistleblower doctor in Wuhan who was censored after sounding the alarm about the coronavirus died from the disease.
Li Wenliang, a 34-year-old doctor at the Central Wuhan Hospital, was one of the first people to sound the alarm about the new outbreak in December. He alerted a group of alumni from his medical school. But he was silenced by police in Wuhan and forced to sign a letter acknowledging he was “making false comments.”
Li caught the coronavirus after treating patients. He died on February 7.
Few children have been infected, but Chinese authorities reported that a baby received a diagnosis just 30 hours after being born.
Other one-off cases of the virus in children include a 9-month-old girl in Beijing, a child in Germany whose father had the virus as well, and a child in Shenzhen who was infected but displayed no symptoms.
Still, the virus seems to affect mostly adults. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine earlier this month speculated that “children might be less likely to become infected or, if infected, may show milder symptoms” than adults.
Disease experts say it’s good that the virus hasn’t spread much among kids because children are less likely to wash their hands and cover their mouths – behaviours that can spread germs.
On January 30, the World Health Organisation declared the coronavirus outbreak a global public-health emergency.
“Over the past few weeks, we have witnessed the emergence of a previously unknown pathogen, which has escalated into an unprecedented outbreak,” the WHO’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said. “We don’t know what sort of damage this virus could do if it were spread in a country with a weaker health system. We must act now to help countries prepare for that possibility.”
For now, the WHO doesn’t recommend limiting the movement of travel and trade.
“This declaration is not a vote of no confidence in China,” Ghebreyesus added. “I have never seen in my life this kind of mobilisation.”
The global-health emergency declaration has been used five times since it was created in 2005.
“They only do this for extraordinary illnesses that are of international concern,” Hyzler said. “Suddenly the world is alerted to a much greater extent and they will start pouring a lot more assistance and aid to airports, to transport hubs, and do their best to control this outbreak.”
The Trump administration has imposed a travel ban on foreign nationals who have been in China within the past 14 days.
The ban went into effect February 2, with exceptions made for immediate family members of American citizens and permanent residents.
US citizens returning home who have been in China’s Hubei province -where Wuhan is located – within the past 14 days may be quarantined for up to two weeks.
“The American public can be assured the full weight of the US government is working to safeguard the health and safety of the American people,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a briefing on January 31.
Health officials think the coronavirus may have jumped from animals to people at a seafood market in Wuhan where live animals were sold.
They initially said the virus could spread only from animals to humans. But on January 20, Chinese officials confirmed that the virus could be transferred among people.
Researchers think the virus originated in bats. One study suggested that it might have initially jumped from bats to snakes to humans, but that’s unlikely. Pangolins, pigs, or civets are the more likely candidates.
In a paper in the Journal of Medical Virology, researchers said the protein codes favoured by the Wuhan virus closely resembled the protein codes in snakes. But Cui Jie, a virologist who helped identified SARS-related viruses in bats in 2017, said the strain from Wuhan was clearly a “mammalian virus.”
On February 7, researchers at the South China Agricultural University suggested that the endangered pangolin may have been the intermediary species between bats and people.
SARS also originated in a Chinese market that sold live animals. It killed 774 people from November 2002 to July 2003.
The new coronavirus appears to be more contagious but less deadly than SARS. The two belong to the same coronavirus family.
There are no vaccines to prevent humans from contracting a coronavirus.
Five leading drug companies – Johnson & Johnson, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, GlaxoSmithKline, Moderna, and Gilead Sciences – have announced plans to research and develop treatments for the new coronavirus.
In the US, 15 coronavirus cases have been confirmed across seven states. A US citizen has also died from the virus in Wuhan.
The 15th case was confirmed near San Antonio, Texas, on Thursday.
Eight cases of the virus have been confirmed in California, along with a married couple in Chicago, Illinois; a man in his 30s in Washington state; one patient in Arizona; one in Massachusetts; and a case in Wisconsin.
On February 6, the first US citizen died from the virus in Wuhan. The woman was 60 years old and had underlying health conditions.
The risk in the US is still low, according to the CDC.
Two of the US patients transmitted the coronavirus to their spouses.
In Chicago, a woman in her 60s transmitted the virus to her husband. She had recently travelled to Wuhan to care for her elderly father, but her husband did not travel with her. He is in stable condition, CDC authorities said, and the woman is reportedly doing well, too.
In California’s San Benito County, a 57-year-old man passed the virus to his wife after returning from Wuhan. Both were transferred via ambulance to a University of California, San Francisco hospital after their conditions worsened.
To prevent the spread of the coronavirus, all travellers should wash their hands frequently with soap and water, making sure to scrub for at least 20 seconds, the CDC says.
Travellers should also avoid touching their eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands. Wearing a mask is unlikely to be your best defence, however.
“There’s little harm in it,” Eric Toner, a scientist at Johns Hopkins Centre for Health Security, told Business Insider. “But wearing masks, except in the situation of a healthcare provider, has never been shown to be a very effective way to protect yourself from infectious diseases.”
Local officials have quarantined Wuhan by shutting down all transportation.
All of the city’s public transportation – including buses, metros, and ferries – was halted on January 23. Trains and aeroplanes coming into and out of the city were also shut down, and roadblocks were installed to keep taxis and private cars from exiting.
Wuhan’s 11 million residents were told not to leave the city, barring special circumstances.
China has imposed travel restrictions on the rest of the Hubei province.
Huanggang, a city of about 7.5 million people, placed its urban core under lockdown on January 23, closing subway and train stations as well as theatres and internet cafés.
Additional cities – Ezhou, Chibi, Xiantao, Zhijiang, Qianjjiang, Huangshi, Xianning, Yichang, Enshi, Xiangyang, Jingmen, Xiaogan, Dangyang, and Suizhou – have followed suit with their own travel restrictions.
The restrictions affect more than 50 million people.
Two new hospitals have been built in Wuhan. Construction on each lasted just 10 days.
Construction on the first hospital, the Wuhan Huoshenshan Hospital, started January 23. The facility – which includes 1,000 beds – welcomed its first patients on February 3.
The second hospital, the Leishenshan Hospital, is slightly larger with 1,600 beds. The site’s construction started January 27, and the building was completed on February 6.
Doctors in Wuhan have reported that there aren’t enough resources to treat the rising tide of patients.
China has less than two physicians for every 10,000 residents, according to data from the World Health Organisation.
In Wuhan, patients have faced hours-long lines to receive medical care, the BBC reported. According to Reuters, some people with symptoms of the virus have even been denied full-time admission to local hospitals in Wuhan because there are no beds available.
The ban on transportation in Wuhan has also forced people to travel by foot to hospitals, the New York Times reported.
Test kits have reportedly been reserved for patients with the most severe symptoms. That means many diagnoses could be delayed.
Last week, The New York Times reported that doctors in Wuhan were still running short on test kits. After a person has been tested, it takes one to two days for the results to come back. Combined, these factors create a lag time between when people are infected and when cases are confirmed.
Chinese officials have warned that the virus is mutating, which could make it harder to control and treat.
A study of a Chinese family in the southern province of Guangdong found that the virus mutated several times as it spread from one family member to the next.
But Michael Farzan, a biologist at Scripps Research, told STAT that the mutation rate for COVID is “much, much lower” than that of the flu.
“That lowers the chance that the virus will evolve in some catastrophic way to, say, become significantly more lethal,” Farzan said.
Airports around the world have implemented screening protocols.
Twenty US airports – including New York’s John F. Kennedy, Los Angeles International Airport, and Chicago’s O’Hare – have started screening passengers for the virus. Airports in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, and South Korea are also screening people.
Many countries, including the US, have evacuated citizens and employees from China.
As of Thursday, more than 600 people who returned to the US on chartered flights from Wuhan remained under federal quarantine.
Evacuees are being quarantined at the Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California; the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego, California; the Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, Texas; and Camp Ashland in Omaha, Nebraska.
Two people under quarantine in San Diego tested positive for the virus, as did one in San Antonio. Nearly 200 were released from a mandatory 14-day quarantine at the March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, California, on Tuesday, marking the first successful US quarantine in nearly 60 years. None of those passengers tested positive for the virus.
Many other countries – including Japan, South Korea, Australia, France, and the UK – have evacuated citizens from China as well.
Japan quarantined a cruise ship with more than 3,700 people. At least 218 people on board have tested positive for the virus.
The ship – known as the Diamond Princess – was quarantined January 31 after an 80-year-old passenger who had disembarked days earlier tested positive for the coronavirus. The passenger and 10 others who were diagnosed with the virus were taken into isolation at a nearby hospital on the Japanese mainland.
On Wednesday, the Japanese Health Ministry announced that older adults with pre-existing health conditions would be allowed to disembark.
As of Friday, at least 218 cases of the virus had been confirmed on the ship. The 14-day quarantine is set to end on February 19.
The CDC issued a travel warning to avoid all nonessential travel to China.
The CDC raised its travel warning to a level three, the highest, which advises US citizens to avoid all nonessential travel to China.
On January 25, the Chinese government barred its citizens from booking overseas tours, flights, and hotel stays.
The outbreak began as hundreds of millions of people prepared to travel for the weeks-long Lunar New Year, which is one of the largest annual human migrations in the world.
The holiday started January 25 and ended on February 8. Experts worried the surge in travel could boost the virus’ spread.
“This couldn’t have happened at a worse time for Wuhan,” Hyzler said.
Beijing cancelled its Spring Festival celebrations.
Shanghai Disneyland is temporarily closed, along with other attractions.
The park closed January 25 without saying when it would reopen. The announcement came at a time of peak spending at the park, which has said it will refund tickets.
The Badaling section of the Great Wall of China temporarily closed as well.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said last week that the country faced a “grave situation.”
- Rosie Perper and Aylin Woodward contributed to this report.
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