- COVID-19 is spreading around the globe rapidly. It’s now on every continent except Antarctica.
- In China, however, the spread of the disease is steadily slowing, a sign the country’s draconian containment measures for the novel coronavirus may have worked.
- The number of new cases of COVID-19 being diagnosed outside China now exceeds the number of cases diagnosed inside the country, where the illness originated.
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“Yesterday, the number of new cases reported outside China exceeded the number of new cases in China for the first time,” the World Health Organisation’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said on Wednesday. “The primary objective of all countries with cases must be to contain the virus.”
In China, the country where the virus is believed to have originally hopped from animals into humans in December, transmission of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 peaked at the beginning of February and has been on a steady decline ever since.
Outside Hubei province (where the virus originated), however, just 10 cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed in China on Tuesday. But in Italy, more than 370 people are now infected. Iran, where the virus was just introduced last week, has tallied 19 deaths so far. That is the largest number of fatalities outside Hubei province, where more than 2,600 people are dead.
Scientists aren’t sure yet exactly how deadly COVID-19 really is, because it’s so new, but initial estimates from inside Hubei province suggest the fatality rate could be about 2%. That is startlingly higher than the death rate of seasonal influenza and just shy of the estimated death rate that occurred during the 1918 pandemic flu, which infected a third of the world’s population, killing an estimated 50-100 million people.
The virus is most often transmitted through close contact, such as between partners, and in households and crowded places like church. That’s why it’s most important to wash your hands with soap and water (ideally, for long enough to sing “Happy Birthday to You” twice) and avoid touching your face, especially around the eyes, nose, and mouth, where virus particles could sneak their way inside the body.
“All countries, whether they have cases or not, must prepare for a potential pandemic,” Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “We are not just fighting to contain a virus and save lives. We are also in a fight to contain the social and economic damage a global pandemic could do.”
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the global death toll of the 1918 pandemic flu. The death rate was roughly 2.5%, and the outbreak killed an estimated 50-100 million people.
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