In Depth

Coronavirus: where do things stand and where are they going?

The virus has spread rapidly outside China and now has ‘pandemic potential’

Financial markets around the world nosedived into correction territory yesterday and this morning as concerns over the global economic impact of the rapidly spreading coronavirus surge.

As of this morning, 48 countries have registered cases of the virus - 15 of them European - with more than 82,000 people infected. The virus has also claimed at least 2,858 deaths, and Germany and the US recorded their first cases of infection in people who had not travelled to infected areas and had no close links to other confirmed cases, meaning transmission is likely happening unnoticed within communities.

Three new cases were identified in the UK yesterday, including the first in Northern Ireland, and World Health Organisation chief Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus said the global infection now has “pandemic potential”, and was reaching a “decisive point.”

The Guardian reports that “England only has 15 available beds for adults to treat the most severe respiratory failure and will struggle to cope if there are more than 28 patients who need them.”

Global stock markets are heading for their “worst week since the depths of the 2008 financial crisis,” Reuters says. However, European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde has told The Financial Times that the global economy is “certainly not at that point” where a monetary policy response is necessary.

Thousands of people in the US who are suspected to have come into contact with the virus are now under quarantine - mostly voluntarily - but a whistleblower complained that government health workers interacted with isolated people before moving freely off into public spaces.

A patient in New York City who had recently traveled to Italy was being monitored after developing respiratory symptoms - it would be the city’s first case.

In a worrying sign for a densely populated and under-resourced region, Nigeria confirmed sub-Saharan Africa’s first case was discovered in Lagos State yesterday.

Children have so far proved remarkably resilient to the disease. The few who get it suffer mildly, and the illness has only had a significant detrimental effect on people over 30, with severity and mortality rates rising as age increases.

The total number of infected people in Italy and Iran, two of the outbreak’s epicentres, is approaching a combined 900. Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar, the highest-ranking woman in Iran who, The New York Times says, “sits just a few seats away from President Hassan Rouhani at cabinet meetings”, has contracted Covid-19.

17 people in Italy have died, while the number in Iran is 26 - a number analysts suspect could be significantly higher.

While the disease is slowing in China, and some quarantines are being ended, the Chinese government still announced 327 new cases on Friday morning, in addition to 44 additional deaths.

Japan has closed its schools for at least a month, and Tokyo Disney Resort closed for two weeks, while Saudi Arabia banned pilgrims from traveling to Mecca and Medina, a move, says the Associated Press, “which wasn’t taken even during the 1918 flu epidemic that killed tens of millions worldwide.”

Robert Redfield, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), offered some practical information on how long the virus remains contagious on surfaces:

“On copper and steel its pretty typical, it’s pretty much about two hours,” Redfield told the US Congress yesterday. “But I will say on other surfaces - cardboard or plastic - it’s longer, and so we are looking at this.”

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South Korea has seen the largest outbreak outside China. This morning, officials reported 256 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of infected in the country to 2,022. K-Pop supergroup BTS cancelled a series of April concerts in response to the virus, while Hyundai suspended production at one of its South Korean factories after one of its workers was diagnosed with the illness.

Germany’s ambassador to the UN announced the organisation’s intention to lift the strict sanctions imposed on South Korea’s neighbour to the North. Insular North Korea has already closed its borders, but the UN wants to provide equipment.

Celebrity cyclists Chris Froome and Mark Cavendish will be tested for the coronavirus, along with other riders, after two participants in the UAE Tour contracted the illness.

A number of publications couldn’t help report speculatively on Pope Francis’s cancelled visit to Rome because of a “slight indisposition” a day after he was seen coughing at Ash Wednesday Mass, and touching and kissing the faithful.

The Washington Post carries a useful breakdown of correct terminology:

The terms “coronavirus, covid-19 and SARS-CoV-2 actually refer to different things,” the publication points out. “The new coronavirus itself is officially named SARS-CoV-2. The disease the virus causes in people - the fever, coughing, shortness of breath and in severe cases pneumonia and death - is named covid-19. So SARS-CoV-2 causes covid-19, in the same way that HIV causes Aids.”

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