Monday 2 March 2020 7:10 pm

What is the coronavirus and how dangerous is it?

Since it emerged in China at the turn of the New Year, a deadly new strain of coronavirus has spread across the world and claimed hundreds of lives.

The number of coronavirus cases globally is nearing 90,000, with fears of a possible pandemic. 

Read more: 14 Diamond Princess passengers evacuated to US test positive for coronavirus

So far the disease has claimed more than 3,000 lives so far. The vast majority of deaths have occurred in mainland China, but a number of countries are now reporting fatalities notably in Iran and Italy. 

The first cases in the UK were confirmed earlier this month by the Department of Health, and there are now 40 confirmed cases in the country.

Read more: Coronavirus: Bill Gates pledges $100m to tackle outbreak

What is the coronavirus and where did it come from?

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses originating in animals and can cause anything from colds to severe respiratory infections in humans.

The current virus is a new strain of coronavirus which scientists say originated from an animal.

It is believed that the disease started in a Wuhan food market in China’s Hubei province.

How many coronavirus cases are in the UK?

There are now 40 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK, and a total of 13,525 tests have been carried out, according to the latest figures from the Department of Health. 

Read More: Coronavirus UK: Authorities search for those who came into contact with first cases

Two of the confirmed cases were from the south Devon area and had become infected while on holiday in northern Italy. Another individual tested positive for coronavirus in Kent after returning from Italy.

Dr James Mapstone, the acting regional director of Public Health England, South of England said: “Close contacts will be given health advice about symptoms and emergency contact details to use if they become unwell in the 14 days after contact with the confirmed case. This tried and tested method will ensure we are able to minimise any risk to them and the wider public.”

What is the risk facing the UK? 

The government has now declared that coronavirus is a “serious and imminent threat”, which will give doctors more powers to forcibly isolate suspected coronavirus cases.

The risk to the UK in general has risen from low to moderate, but the risk to individuals remains low, the Department of Health said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson today convened a Cobra meeting to discuss the spread of infection in the UK and a plan will be announced tomorrow. 

Johnson urged people to “go about business as usual” and that the country was “very, very well-prepared”. But he added it was “likely” that the disease would spread.

“We’ve agreed a plan so that if and when it starts to spread, as I’m afraid it looks likely it will, we are in a position to take the steps that will be necessary,” he said this morning.

Read more: MWC 2020: Sony becomes latest tech firm to pull out due to coronavirus

The national response will relate to “all four parts of the UK”, his spokesman added. Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon was among those to take part in the Cobra meeting remotely.

The government has advised all UK nationals to leave China where possible, and passengers that have travelled from Wuhan or Hubei province were told to stay indoors and avoid contact with other people and inform the NHS of their travel to the area.

It has also said that travellers returning from Iran, lockdown areas in Northern Italy and South Korea should call NHS 111 and self isolate even if they do not have symptoms. 

Britain has started random tests for the virus on flu patients in order to have an early warning system in place. Public Health England’s medical director, Paul Cosford, told the BBC: “We’re heightening our vigilance because of the apparent spread of the virus in countries outside of mainland China”. 

Where has the virus spread? 

 The new strain of coronavirus is thought to have started at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan (Getty images)

The new strand of coronavirus originated in the city of Wuhan, a tech hub in central China.

The outbreak has now touched 62 countries and South Korea now has the most cases outside the country of origin.

Some reports have suggested that the coronavirus has now claimed 210 lives in Iran but these has not been confirmed. The number of confirmed cases is 978. Last week the Iranian deputy health minister confirmed he had tested positive for the virus. 

Several European countries confirmed their first coronavirus cases last week. All so far appear to be linked to the growing outbreak in Italy. The European Union today raised the risk of the outbreak from moderate to high.

Italy is the worst affected European nation with more than 1,600 cases and 34 deaths. France today confirmed two more deaths from the virus.

The number of cases in the US has jumped to 91 with two deaths.

Country Coronavirus cases as of 2 March
China 80,175
Japan 256
Thailand 42
South Korea 3,736
Singapore 106
Malaysia 29
Taiwan 41
Germany 130
Vietnam 16
Australia 27
US 76
France 130
UK 40
UAE 21
Canada 24
India 3
Philippines 3
Italy 1,694
Russia 2
Spain 84
Egypt 2
Finland 6
Cambodia 1
Belgium 2
Croatia 7
Switzerland 27
Austria 14
Sri Lanka 1
Sweden 14
Nepal 1
Iran 978
Oman 2
Israel 10
Lebanon 10
Afghanisatan 1
Bahrain 47
Kuwait 45
Czech Republic 3
North Macedonia1
San Marino1
New Zealand1
Monaco 1
Dominican Republic1

Data from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University and DXY.

Is the outbreak a pandemic? 

The World Health Organisation has declared the outbreak to be a public health emergency of international concern but has stopped short of calling it a pandemic. 

A significant jump in the number of cases outside China has raised fears that the coronavirus could become a pandemic. 

A pandemic is an infectious disease which threatens a huge number of people across the world simultaneously. 

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that although the new cases were “deeply concerning” and had pandemic “potential”, “we are not witnessing large scale severe disease or deaths” for the moment. 

How high is the coronavirus death toll?

The official death toll from the coronavirus stands at 3,038.

France today confirmed two more deaths bringing the death toll to four.

Most of the confirmed cases as deaths from the virus have been in China’s Hubei province, where the virus first broke out.

Read more: FTSE 100 and oil prices gain on reports of coronavirus vaccine ‘breakthrough’

Why has WHO declared a global emergency?

WHO has declared a global emergency because the coronavirus is continuing to spread to other countries.

“The main reason for this declaration is not what is happening in China but what is happening in other countries,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

He said that epidemics in Iran, Italy, South Korea and Japan were the WHO’s main concern.

In the past 24 hours there were almost nine times more coronavirus cases reported outside China than inside, but the disease can be contained with the right measures, he said.

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Tedros has described the virus as an “unprecedented outbreak” that has been met with an “unprecedented response” and praised the “extraordinary measures” Chinese authorities had taken.

What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

Typical symptoms of coronavirus include fever and a cough that may progress to a severe pneumonia causing shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.

It is now believed that coronavirus is infectious before symptoms show. Officials believe the incubation period ranges from between one and 14 days.

Generally symptoms are more severe in people who have weakened immune systems, older people and those with long-term health conditions such as diabetes.

What measures has China taken?

 The central province of Hubei, where the coronavirus outbreak started and nearly all deaths have occurred, has been placed in lockdown.

Around 60m people are isolated to the area with numerous transport restrictions in place. People are being told to work from home.

The outbreak has had a severe effect on the country’s markets. In their first day of trading since the Lunar New Year, China’s markets suffered their worst opening since 2007’s financial crisis.

Read More: Chinese stocks plunge as coronavirus fears rattle markets

The fall came despite Beijing pumping £16bn into its economy and cutting a key-short term interest rate in a bid to boost liquidity and stabilise markets.

What measures is the rest of the world taking?

The voluntary evacuation of hundreds of foreign nationals from Wuhan is now complete.

The UK, Australia, South Korea, Singapore and New Zealand are among the countries to have quarantined those arriving from Wuhan for two weeks to monitor them for signs of the virus.

The International Monetary Fund and World Bank today issued a statement saying they are prepared to give financial and technical help to their member countries with the coronavirus outbreak.

Read More: Coronavirus: US stocks lose one per cent and Brits land back in UK

Australia quarantined its 600 evacuees in a detention centre on Christmas Island that has been used to house asylum seekers, around 2,000km (1,200 miles) from the mainland.

The US and UK are now advising against all travel to China due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Russia has closed its eastern border with China, and has halted all trains to the country. In addition, it announced on Monday that it would expel all non-Russians who test positive for the disease from the country.

Read More: Coronavirus: China widens travel lockdown as death toll rises

How has the coronavirus hit businesses?

Last week global stocks were rocked by the coronavirus outbreak. The FTSE 100 shed a reported £206bn after suffering its worst week since the 2008 financial crisis.

The blue-chip index closed 3.18 per cent lower on Friday, ending a dire week for companies who have issued warnings on the coronavirus outbreak.

European stock markets ended Friday with a provisional 3.8 per cent slump, while US indices continued to suffer for a seventh straight day of losses.

The IMF and World Bank released a joint statement today: “The IMF and the World Bank Group stand ready to help our member countries address the human tragedy and economic challenge posed by the Covid-19 virus. We are engaged actively with international institutions and country authorities, with special attention to poor countries where health systems are the weakest and people are most vulnerable.”

“We will use our available instruments to the fullest extent possible, including emergency financing, policy advice, and technical assistance. In particular, we have rapid financing facilities that, collectively, can help countries respond to a wide range of needs. The strengthening of country health surveillance and response systems is crucial to contain the spread of this and any future outbreaks.”

Today the OECD said the coronavirus is the “gravest threat” to the global economy since the 2008 financial crisis. The world economy is expected to grow just 2.4 per cent this year, the lowest since 2009, the OECD said in an interim growth report. This is well below November’s forecast of 2.9 per cent.

China is now expected to grow 4.9 per cent this year, down from a previous prediction of 5.7 per cent, while Japan’s economy is expected to grow 0.2 per cent, down from 0.6 per cent.

The worst-case scenario “could push several economies into recession, including Japan and the euro area,” the OECD said.

The coronavirus warning pushed the FTSE 100 down after traders had initially sent the index up 2.7 per cent this morning on the back of the central banks’ announcement. It closed 1.13 per cent higher.

Connor Campbell, financial analyst at Spreadex, said: “Desperate for an excuse to enter the market at a discount price, investors clung onto the weekend’s stimulus statements as the Western indices surged higher on Monday, only to be cut down by an axe-wielding OECD.”

“The FTSE was alone in maintaining any significant growth on Monday; and even then its 0.9% increase paled in comparison to the near 3% rise it saw during the morning session. The UK index – which is now back above 6600 – for once actually benefited from its commodity-heavy make-up.”

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