Coronavirus UK: Youngest victim named as man, 45 with MND

Britain’s youngest coronavirus victim was tonight named as a 45-year-old who had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease, as Britain’s death toll jumped by 16 to 71 on Tuesday.

Craig Ruston, a father-of-two from Kettering, Northamptonshire, is understood to be the UK’s youngest victim after he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2018.

His wife Sally wrote on Mr Ruston’s blog today: ‘My Amazing Craig passed away yesterday morning at 6.20am. We are truly heartbroken … Last Tuesday he was taken unwell and we have since spent the last 6 days in isolation. 

‘Craig’s chest infection was confirmed as Covid-19. How dare that take Craig who was already facing this (MND), the most vile and evil of diseases.’

Mr Ruston was a shoe designer who had previously worked for Dr Martens, Hunter Boots and Fred Perry before starting a blog when he was diagnosed with MND, the Northamptonshire Telegraph reported.

Mrs Ruston added in today’s blog post: ‘My Amazing Craig, I love you forever and ever, from your Amazing Sally and your Amazing girls.’  

Kettering General Hospital had earlier today confirmed the first death in Northamptonshire. Professor Andrew Chilton said: ‘Sadly we can confirm that a man who was being cared for at Kettering General Hospital, and had tested positive for COVID-19 has died. The patient who died on March 16 had underlying health conditions.

‘His family has been informed and our thoughts and condolences are with them at this difficult and distressing time.’

Before Mr Ruston’s death, the youngest victim was believed to have been Nick Matthews, a 59-year-old who died at Bristol Royal Infirmary on Saturday. Mr Matthews’ wife Mary wrote in a tribute: ‘Today I lost my life partner and soul mate but most of all my best friend.’

On Tuesday officials recorded the biggest daily spike in cases yet, with 407 patients diagnosed in the past 24 hours – meaning 1,950 Britons have now caught the life-threatening virus that has left the UK engulfed in fear. 

It comes after the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, today admitted there are likely to be around 55,000 cases of coronavirus currently in the UK, calling the staggering figure a ‘reasonable ballpark’.

Craig Ruston, 45, from Kettering, Northamptonshire, is understood to be the UK's youngest victim and had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2018

Craig Ruston, 45, from Kettering, Northamptonshire, is understood to be the UK's youngest victim and had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2018

Craig Ruston, 45, from Kettering, Northamptonshire, is understood to be the UK’s youngest victim and had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2018

Mr Ruston was a shoe designer who had previously worked for Dr Martens, Hunter Boots and Fred Perry before starting a blog when he was diagnosed with MND

Mr Ruston was a shoe designer who had previously worked for Dr Martens, Hunter Boots and Fred Perry before starting a blog when he was diagnosed with MND

Mr Ruston was a shoe designer who had previously worked for Dr Martens, Hunter Boots and Fred Perry before starting a blog when he was diagnosed with MND

Mrs Ruston wrote on her husband's blog today: 'My Amazing Craig passed away yesterday morning at 6.20am. We are truly heartbroken ... Last Tuesday he was taken unwell and we have since spent the last 6 days in isolation. 'Craig's chest infection was confirmed as Covid-19. How dare that take Craig who was already facing this (MND), the most vile and evil of diseases.'

Mrs Ruston wrote on her husband's blog today: 'My Amazing Craig passed away yesterday morning at 6.20am. We are truly heartbroken ... Last Tuesday he was taken unwell and we have since spent the last 6 days in isolation. 'Craig's chest infection was confirmed as Covid-19. How dare that take Craig who was already facing this (MND), the most vile and evil of diseases.'

Mrs Ruston wrote on her husband’s blog today: ‘My Amazing Craig passed away yesterday morning at 6.20am. We are truly heartbroken … Last Tuesday he was taken unwell and we have since spent the last 6 days in isolation. ‘Craig’s chest infection was confirmed as Covid-19. How dare that take Craig who was already facing this (MND), the most vile and evil of diseases.’

The estimate was based on a model of one death per 1,000 patients, which means the true number of infected people could now be as high as 70,000 – and many people could have no idea they’ve got the illness. A study published in a scientific journal this week suggested that 86 per cent of infected patients in China were unaware.

Last week the government estimated the number of cases was likely to be between 5,000 and 10,000 but the numbers are expected to have soared since. A total of 50,442 people have now been tested, with 48,492 of those tests coming back negative. 

The massive difference between officials’ on-record estimates and the number of cases confirmed by the Department of Health is likely to prompt further scrutiny of the government’s testing regime – the World Health Organization urged countries worldwide to ‘test, test, test’ but in the UK only hospital patients are being tested.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday stepped up the country’s response to the outbreak and urged people not to go out or to visit others unless they had to. He had been warned that the original strategy of trying to slow down an outbreak could lead to 260,000 people dying – new efforts could cut this to below 20,000. 

It came as the government stepped up its efforts to persuade manufacturing companies to help build ventilators for the NHS amid concerns about how long it could take to get production lines up and running.  

Before Mr Ruston's death, the youngest victim was believed to have been Nick Matthews (pictured with his wife) a 59-year-old who died at Bristol Royal Infirmary on Saturday. Mr Matthews' wife Mary wrote in a tribute: 'Today I lost my life partner and soul mate but most of all my best friend'

Before Mr Ruston's death, the youngest victim was believed to have been Nick Matthews (pictured with his wife) a 59-year-old who died at Bristol Royal Infirmary on Saturday. Mr Matthews' wife Mary wrote in a tribute: 'Today I lost my life partner and soul mate but most of all my best friend'

Before Mr Ruston’s death, the youngest victim was believed to have been Nick Matthews (pictured with his wife) a 59-year-old who died at Bristol Royal Infirmary on Saturday. Mr Matthews’ wife Mary wrote in a tribute: ‘Today I lost my life partner and soul mate but most of all my best friend’

Sir Patrick Vallance told the Health Select Committee today that there could be as many as 55,000 cases of coronavirus in the UK

Sir Patrick Vallance told the Health Select Committee today that there could be as many as 55,000 cases of coronavirus in the UK

Sir Patrick Vallance told the Health Select Committee today that there could be as many as 55,000 cases of coronavirus in the UK

The government is stepping up its efforts to persuade manufacturers to help build ventilators for the NHS. Today's ventilators include a computer-electronic control system with valves, regulators, filters, oxygen and exhalation sensors, flow meters.

The government is stepping up its efforts to persuade manufacturers to help build ventilators for the NHS. Today's ventilators include a computer-electronic control system with valves, regulators, filters, oxygen and exhalation sensors, flow meters.

The government is stepping up its efforts to persuade manufacturers to help build ventilators for the NHS. Today’s ventilators include a computer-electronic control system with valves, regulators, filters, oxygen and exhalation sensors, flow meters.

A person is pictured wearing what appears to be a military grade gas mask at London Bridge Station as people across the UK batten down the hatches to protect themselves from illness

A person is pictured wearing what appears to be a military grade gas mask at London Bridge Station as people across the UK batten down the hatches to protect themselves from illness

A person is pictured wearing what appears to be a military grade gas mask at London Bridge Station as people across the UK batten down the hatches to protect themselves from illness

As the UK’s situation continues to escalate, the following are some of today’s biggest developments:  

  • UK citizens were told to avoid all non-essential travel anywhere in the world as the Government tried to battle the coronavirus pandemic;
  • All major mobile networks in the UK went down as millions of British workers started to logon to work from home due to the escalating crisis;
  • The Queen will base herself at Windsor Castle early and is likely to stay there beyond the Easter period as she follows Government guidance;
  • Iceland, Lidl and Nationwide opened up early for pensioners amid confusion over Mr Johnson’s official advice to the over-70s to ‘stay inside’; 
  • Mr Johnson was accused of ‘sacrificing’ pubs, restaurants and cinemas amid claims his refusal to order a shutdown means they cannot claim insurance;
  • Parents attacked the PM for ‘playing Russian Roulette’ with school children across the UK after he stopped short of closing schools;
  • The Archbishop of Canterbury announced that public worship is ‘suspended until further notice’ amid fears over coronavirus;
  • Leading medics warned Number 10’s call to ramp up the production of ventilators is ‘pointless’ without more staff and extra equipment;
  • London Tubes and trains may run a ‘scaled down’ service on weekdays from as early as this week, the city’s mayor Sadiq Khan warned;
  • A four-year-old girl with coronavirus symptoms became seriously ill after taking ibuprofen as the NHS withdrew its advice for patients to take it; 
  • Russian state media blamed Britain for the global coronavirus pandemic, saying it was created as a tool for the benefit of the UK;
  • UEFA officially decided to postpone the Euros until the summer of 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic decimating the football calendar;
  • Israel banned residents from leaving their homes for ‘non-essential’ reasons and announced it plans to track coronavirus sufferers’ phones during the outbreak;
  • The WHO revealed two members of staff are infected with coronavirus as the body called for all European countries to take the ‘boldest actions’ they can.

Of the 1,950 confirmed cases in the UK, some 1,557 are in England, 136 are in Wales, 195 are in Scotland and 62 are in Northern Ireland. 

Sir Patrick also said the government’s tough new social distancing measures announced by Boris Johnson yesterday could result in new case numbers falling inside a month. 

He told MPs: ‘We should start to see the rates come down in two or three weeks’ time.’

The Prime Minister has told the nation that all non-essential travel and social contact should cease for the forseeable future. 

Over-70s and people with pre-existing serious medical conditions such as asthma or heart disease are being told to follow the social distancing measures as closely as possible to minimise their risk of infection. 

Sir Patrick said keeping the number of coronavirus deaths in the UK at ‘20,000 and below’ would be a ‘good outcome’ but still ‘horrible’. 

‘That is the hope that we can get it down to that,’ he said. ‘To put that into perspective every year in seasonal flu the number of deaths is thought to be about 8,000. 

‘So if we can get this down to numbers 20,000 and below that is a good outcome in terms of where we would hope to get to in this outbreak. 

86% OF PATIENTS ‘MAY BE UNAWARE THEY HAVE THE INFECTION’

A big issue with trying to stop the spread of the coronavirus is that many people get such mild symptoms they don’t realise they’ve got the infection, and they can still spread it to others during this time.

A study led by Columbia University in New York and published in the journal Science yesterday suggests that as many as 86 per cent – seven out of eight – do not get diagnosed or realise they’re sick during an outbreak’s early days.  

The researchers said that, before China sent Wuhan and the surrounding cities went into lockdown, there were seven undiagnosed patients walking around for every one person who actually knew they had the virus.

They did their study by looking at data showing how people travelled around the city and the contagiousness of the infection, to work out who could have been infected and where and when.

They found that around half as many cases of the coronavirus were transmitted from people who didn’t know they were ill. Comprehensive testing would be the only way to try and stop this happening, said Columbia University’s Jeffrey Shaman, one of the authors of the study.

He said: ‘It’s the undocumented infections which are driving the spread of the outbreak,’ GeekWire reported.

‘But I mean it is still horrible. That is still an enormous number of deaths and it is an enormous pressure on the health service.’ 

Sir Patrick also revealed that coronavirus testing will be rolled out to key workers including NHS staff in the coming weeks as the government bolsters its testing capacity. 

That will enable the government and the health service to determine whether staff can continue to work. 

Sir Patrick told the committee: ‘The next group of people that I know PHE [Public Health England] and I checked with the CMO [Chief Medical Officer] to make sure this is exactly where they want to go, is to try and get to key workers and make sure they are tested and obviously healthcare workers would be absolutely there. 

‘As the capacity ramps up that is where you would go next to make sure you can do that and I think that is the plan.’

Sir Patrick said there needed to be a ‘big increase’ in the amount of testing overall and that was something he was ‘pushing for very hard’. 

He set out his hopes that a simple community test will soon be developed to allow people to find out quickly if they have the disease. 

A big issue with trying to stop the spread of the coronavirus is that many people get such mild symptoms they don’t realise they’ve got the infection, and they can still spread it to others during this time.

A study led by Columbia University in New York and published in the journal Science yesterday suggests that as many as 86 per cent – seven out of eight – do not get diagnosed or realise they’re sick during an outbreak’s early days.  

The researchers said that, before China sent Wuhan and the surrounding cities went into lockdown, there were seven undiagnosed patients walking around for every one person who actually knew they had the virus.

They did their study by looking at data showing how people travelled around the city and the contagiousness of the infection, to work out who could have been infected and where and when.

They found that around half as many cases of the coronavirus were transmitted from people who didn’t know they were ill. Comprehensive testing would be the only way to try and stop this happening, said Columbia University’s Jeffrey Shaman, one of the authors of the study.

He said: ‘It’s the undocumented infections which are driving the spread of the outbreak,’ GeekWire reported.

London Waterloo was bereft of commuters this morning after official advice told people to work from home if they could

London Waterloo was bereft of commuters this morning after official advice told people to work from home if they could

London Waterloo was bereft of commuters this morning after official advice told people to work from home if they could

A woman is pictured leaving Iceland in Belfast this morning – the store opened an hour early for elderly people only so they could do their shopping before the shelves were cleared by panic buyers

A woman is pictured leaving Iceland in Belfast this morning – the store opened an hour early for elderly people only so they could do their shopping before the shelves were cleared by panic buyers

A woman is pictured leaving Iceland in Belfast this morning – the store opened an hour early for elderly people only so they could do their shopping before the shelves were cleared by panic buyers

UK CITIZENS TOLD NOT TO TRAVEL OUT OF THE COUNTRY UNLESS IT’S NECESSARY

UK citizens were told to avoid all non-essential travel anywhere in the world today as the Government tried to battle the coronaviris pandemic.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Britons should avoid travel ‘globally’ under new travel advice from the Foreign Office.

The new rules will initially be in place for 30 days  but will be ‘subject to ongoing revision’ he told the House of Commons. 

‘Based on the fast-changing international circumstances today I am announcing changes to FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) travel advice,’ he told MPs.

‘UK travellers abroad now face widespread international border restrictions and lockdowns in various countries.

‘The FCO will always consider the safety and the security of British nationals so with immediate effect I’ve taken the decision to advise British nationals against non-essential travel globally for an initial period of 30 days and of course subject to ongoing review.’

He said that the government was speaking to tour operators, insurance operators and airlines over a move that is likely to grind holiday and business travel to a virtual standstill, threatening jobs and business viability.

The shift comes after EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen announced outlined plans for a 30-day ban on all non-essential inflows to the bloc.

Sir Patrick’s comments came as the UK increased its efforts to build the ventilators the NHS needs to cope with coronavirus. 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday the NHS currently has 5,000 artificial respirators but will need ‘many times more than that’ in the weeks and months ahead.

The government is enlisting the likes of Dyson and JCB to help in the national effort but there are concerns about how long it could take large manufacturers to convert their production lines. 

The firms may need to overhaul their entire supply chain and have to hastily re-train their staff to make and check the critical life-support devices. 

Reports suggest that British companies may soon be ordered rather than asked to manufacture ventilators. 

Dyson, Rolls Royce, JCB, Honda, Philips and Unipart are among those who have either been confirmed to be involved with the manufacturing effort or have registered their interest.  

In response to how Dyson would build ventilators, a spokesman told MailOnline: ‘Using our expertise and resources we are working with other companies to see if we can provide a rapid solution.’

Rolls Royce, meanwhile, told MailOnline: ‘We understand that the government is exploring ways in which businesses can help deal with the outbreak of COVID-19.

‘As they shape their plans, we are keen to do whatever we can to help the government and the country at this time and will look to provide any practical help we can.’ 

A spokesperson from logistics company Unipart also confirmed to MailOnline that it had been approached by the government.

‘We’re pleased to be involved in such an important project and doing everything we can to help,’ they said.  

A report by leading scientists who are advising the Government said people may need to keep up the drastic lifestyle changes announced yesterday well into 2021.

The Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team predicted that 260,000 people could have died if the Government hadn’t changed tack yesterday and tightened its rules. 

Chief medical officer Chris Whitty (centre) and Health Secretary Matt Hancock (right) were in Downing Street for Cabinet today, along with Department of Health permanent secretary Chris Wormald (left)

Chief medical officer Chris Whitty (centre) and Health Secretary Matt Hancock (right) were in Downing Street for Cabinet today, along with Department of Health permanent secretary Chris Wormald (left)

Chief medical officer Chris Whitty (centre) and Health Secretary Matt Hancock (right) were in Downing Street for Cabinet today, along with Department of Health permanent secretary Chris Wormald (left) 

Waterloo station in London was unusually quiet today as the country adapted to the new reality of combating the disease

Waterloo station in London was unusually quiet today as the country adapted to the new reality of combating the disease

Waterloo station in London was unusually quiet today as the country adapted to the new reality of combating the disease

WHAT IS THE NEW GOVERNMENT ADVICE? 

  • Avoid social contact
  • Work from home if possible
  • Avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and other social venues
  • If someone in your household has symptoms of coronavirus (cough, fever or unusual shortness of breath), everyone in the home self-isolate for 14 days
  • If isolating, only go outside for exercise, and do it away from other people
  • Ask for help with daily necessities like food and medical supplies
  • If that is not possible – for example if you live in a remote area – you should limit social contact as much as possible
  • Vulnerable groups should self-isolate for 12 weeks from this weekend even if they have no symptoms – This includes people aged 70 and over and other adults who would normally be advised to have the flu vaccination, including people with chronic diseases such as chronic heart disease or chronic kidney disease, and pregnant women. A full list is here
  • All unnecessary visits to friends and relatives in care homes should end
  • Continue to take your children to school unless they or someone else in your home has symptoms of the coronavirus (cough, fever or unusual shortness of breath)
  • Londoners need to socially distance and work from home even more than the rest of the UK because the disease is more widespread there
  • Mass gatherings should not happen – they will no longer receive emergency services’ protection if they do go ahead 
British officials only realised the danger ‘in the last few days’, the report said, after receiving new information about how the situation in Italy has spiralled out of control and overwhelmed hospitals. 

Around 2,200 people have now died there and there have been 28,000 confirmed infections, although the true toll is likely considerably higher.

Italy’s crisis has inspired a dramatic ramp-up of UK policy and Mr Johnson announced a move to war-footing to try and stop the outbreak.

The switch-up was an admission that officials’ original plans to control and slow the outbreak – to ‘flatten the curve’ – had been too optimistic and the scientists’ paper showed the Government was on course for a disaster.

Officials are urging manufacturers to help out by building intensive care ventilators if they can to plug an NHS shortfall in critical beds.

But data in the Imperial College report suggests that hospitals will be overwhelmed regardless of what measures the Government takes, and a dramatic spike in coronavirus cases is unavoidable. 

Some experts have suggested the government will have to pump an unprecedented £450billion into the economy to avoid mass destruction of businesses and workers being sent into poverty.

Imperial College’s bombshell report was produced by a crack team of virus, disease and public health experts at the prestigious London university.

One of the lead authors, Professor Neil Ferguson said he and his colleagues had been working ‘seven days a week for the past two months’ to advise the Government and put information about the coronavirus into the public domain. 

They have concluded the virus can’t be stopped. 

Rishi Sunak

Rishi Sunak

Prime Minister Boris Johnson last night advised Britons to avoid pubs and clubs in a bid to control the spread of the virus. But venue owners have slammed the PM for not telling them to close

Borough Market was all-but deserted today as the UK went into lockdown in response to the coronavirus threat

Borough Market was all-but deserted today as the UK went into lockdown in response to the coronavirus threat

Borough Market was all-but deserted today as the UK went into lockdown in response to the coronavirus threat

Professor Ferguson said his team had been ‘refining’ predictions for the course of the epidemic since their ‘worst case’ estimate of 250,000 deaths.

OFFICIAL STATISTICS SHOW THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG OF UK’S CORONAVIRUS CRISIS

The Government’s Department of Health releases updated statistics every day at around 2pm, showing the number of people confirmed to have coronavirus and the number of test results that have been received in the past 24 hours.

But because of a change in the way officials are tracking the outbreak, these numbers only represent a small proportion of the real epidemic spreading across the UK.

Only people who are seriously ill and need hospital care, or who are already in hospital when they show signs of the coronavirus, are now being tested.

People who become ill after travelling, or think they have the coronavirus because they have the symptoms, will not be tested unless they need hospital care. Most patients will just self-isolate at home until they are no longer ill.

An announcement by the Government last week sheds some light on the true scale of Britain’s epidemic.

On Thursday, March 12, when the official number of cases was just 596, chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said the true figure was probably between 5,000 and 10,000.

The upper estimate suggests each confirmed case is worth 16.8 undiagnosed patients.

The official number of patients is now 1,543 – multiply that by 16.8 and the potential real case toll is 25,889.

‘No country in the world this far has seen an epidemic that large [250,000 deaths], this is an early extrapolation of an early epidemic that was suppressed in China,’ he said.

‘But we have no reason to believe that’s not what would happen if we frankly did nothing, and even if we did all we could to slow, not reverse, the spread, we’d still be looking at a very large number of deaths and the health system being overwhelmed.’  

He added: ‘Initially when we came up with these kid of estimates they were viewed as what’s called the reasonable worst case.

‘But as information has been gathered in recent weeks, from particularly Italy but other countries, it has become increasingly clear that actually this is not the reasonable worst case – it is the most likely scenario.

‘The second piece of information which I think was critical is NHS planners going away and seeing how much could they surge health system capacity, particularly in critical care. Whilst they are planning a major expansion of that – cancelling elective surgery, building new beds, getting new ventilators – it just isn’t enough to fill the gap.

‘So we are left with no option but to adopt this more draconian strategy.’

If no action at all had been taken against the coronavirus it would have claimed 510,000 lives, the team’s report said. 

Had the Government stuck with their strategy of trying to ‘mitigate’ the spread – allowing it to continue but attempting to slow it down – with limited measures such as home isolation for those with symptoms this number would be roughly halved to 260,000.

Other points in the Imperial College report, titled Impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to reduce COVID19 mortality and healthcare demand, included: 

  • Lockdown measures could be brought back if the virus resurfaces after this epidemic is over
  • The coronavirus outbreak is worse than anything the world has seen since the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic
  • It was ‘highly likely’ people would have started social distancing by themselves out of fear or responsibility, even if the Government hadn’t told them to 
  • Dramatic measures to suppress an outbreak carry ‘enormous social and economic costs which may themselves have significant impact on health and well-being’
  • Virus transmission happens evenly – one third of cases are caught in the home, one third at work or school, and one third elsewhere in the community
  • People are thought to be infectious from 12 hours before symptoms start, or from four days after catching the infection if someone doesn’t get symptoms
  • Patients who do get symptoms are thought to be 50 per cent more infectious than those who don’t 
  • People are thought to develop at least short-term immunity after catching the virus, meaning they can’t catch it again
  • Approximately 4.4 per cent of patients need hospital care. 30 per cent of those need intensive care, and 50 per cent of intensive care patients can be expected to die, according to data from China
  • The average length of a hospital stay for a coronavirus patient is 10 days – eight days for those who recover quickly; 16 days for those who need intensive care

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS?

What is the coronavirus? 

A coronavirus is a type of virus which can cause illness in animals and people. Viruses break into cells inside their host and use them to reproduce itself and disrupt the body’s normal functions. Coronaviruses are named after the Latin word ‘corona’, which means crown, because they are encased by a spiked shell which resembles a royal crown.

The coronavirus from Wuhan is one which has never been seen before this outbreak. It has been named SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. The name stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2.

Experts say the bug, which has killed around one in 50 patients since the outbreak began in December, is a ‘sister’ of the SARS illness which hit China in 2002, so has been named after it.

The disease that the virus causes has been named COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019.

Dr Helena Maier, from the Pirbright Institute, said: ‘Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that infect a wide range of different species including humans, cattle, pigs, chickens, dogs, cats and wild animals. 

‘Until this new coronavirus was identified, there were only six different coronaviruses known to infect humans. Four of these cause a mild common cold-type illness, but since 2002 there has been the emergence of two new coronaviruses that can infect humans and result in more severe disease (Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronaviruses). 

‘Coronaviruses are known to be able to occasionally jump from one species to another and that is what happened in the case of SARS, MERS and the new coronavirus. The animal origin of the new coronavirus is not yet known.’ 

The first human cases were publicly reported from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where approximately 11million people live, after medics first started publicly reporting infections on December 31.

By January 8, 59 suspected cases had been reported and seven people were in critical condition. Tests were developed for the new virus and recorded cases started to surge.

The first person died that week and, by January 16, two were dead and 41 cases were confirmed. The next day, scientists predicted that 1,700 people had become infected, possibly up to 7,000. 

Where does the virus come from?

According to scientists, the virus almost certainly came from bats. Coronaviruses in general tend to originate in animals – the similar SARS and MERS viruses are believed to have originated in civet cats and camels, respectively.

The first cases of COVID-19 came from people visiting or working in a live animal market in Wuhan, which has since been closed down for investigation.

Although the market is officially a seafood market, other dead and living animals were being sold there, including wolf cubs, salamanders, snakes, peacocks, porcupines and camel meat. 

A study by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, published in February 2020 in the scientific journal Nature, found that the genetic make-up virus samples found in patients in China is 96 per cent identical to a coronavirus they found in bats.

However, there were not many bats at the market so scientists say it was likely there was an animal which acted as a middle-man, contracting it from a bat before then transmitting it to a human. It has not yet been confirmed what type of animal this was.

Dr Michael Skinner, a virologist at Imperial College London, was not involved with the research but said: ‘The discovery definitely places the origin of nCoV in bats in China.

‘We still do not know whether another species served as an intermediate host to amplify the virus, and possibly even to bring it to the market, nor what species that host might have been.’  

So far the fatalities are quite low. Why are health experts so worried about it? 

Experts say the international community is concerned about the virus because so little is known about it and it appears to be spreading quickly.

It is similar to SARS, which infected 8,000 people and killed nearly 800 in an outbreak in Asia in 2003, in that it is a type of coronavirus which infects humans’ lungs. It is less deadly than SARS, however, which killed around one in 10 people, compared to approximately one in 50 for COVID-19.

Another reason for concern is that nobody has any immunity to the virus because they’ve never encountered it before. This means it may be able to cause more damage than viruses we come across often, like the flu or common cold.

Speaking at a briefing in January, Oxford University professor, Dr Peter Horby, said: ‘Novel viruses can spread much faster through the population than viruses which circulate all the time because we have no immunity to them.

‘Most seasonal flu viruses have a case fatality rate of less than one in 1,000 people. Here we’re talking about a virus where we don’t understand fully the severity spectrum but it’s possible the case fatality rate could be as high as two per cent.’

If the death rate is truly two per cent, that means two out of every 100 patients who get it will die. 

‘My feeling is it’s lower,’ Dr Horby added. ‘We’re probably missing this iceberg of milder cases. But that’s the current circumstance we’re in.

‘Two per cent case fatality rate is comparable to the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 so it is a significant concern globally.’

How does the virus spread?

The illness can spread between people just through coughs and sneezes, making it an extremely contagious infection. And it may also spread even before someone has symptoms.

It is believed to travel in the saliva and even through water in the eyes, therefore close contact, kissing, and sharing cutlery or utensils are all risky. It can also live on surfaces, such as plastic and steel, for up to 72 hours, meaning people can catch it by touching contaminated surfaces.

Originally, people were thought to be catching it from a live animal market in Wuhan city. But cases soon began to emerge in people who had never been there, which forced medics to realise it was spreading from person to person. 

What does the virus do to you? What are the symptoms?

Once someone has caught the COVID-19 virus it may take between two and 14 days, or even longer, for them to show any symptoms – but they may still be contagious during this time.

If and when they do become ill, typical signs include a runny nose, a cough, sore throat and a fever (high temperature). The vast majority of patients will recover from these without any issues, and many will need no medical help at all.

In a small group of patients, who seem mainly to be the elderly or those with long-term illnesses, it can lead to pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection in which the insides of the lungs swell up and fill with fluid. It makes it increasingly difficult to breathe and, if left untreated, can be fatal and suffocate people.

Figures are showing that young children do not seem to be particularly badly affected by the virus, which they say is peculiar considering their susceptibility to flu, but it is not clear why. 

What have genetic tests revealed about the virus? 

Scientists in China have recorded the genetic sequences of around 19 strains of the virus and released them to experts working around the world. 

This allows others to study them, develop tests and potentially look into treating the illness they cause.   

Examinations have revealed the coronavirus did not change much – changing is known as mutating – much during the early stages of its spread.

However, the director-general of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Gao Fu, said the virus was mutating and adapting as it spread through people.

This means efforts to study the virus and to potentially control it may be made extra difficult because the virus might look different every time scientists analyse it.   

More study may be able to reveal whether the virus first infected a small number of people then change and spread from them, or whether there were various versions of the virus coming from animals which have developed separately.

How dangerous is the virus?  

The virus has a death rate of around two per cent. This is a similar death rate to the Spanish Flu outbreak which, in 1918, went on to kill around 50million people.

Experts have been conflicted since the beginning of the outbreak about whether the true number of people who are infected is significantly higher than the official numbers of recorded cases. Some people are expected to have such mild symptoms that they never even realise they are ill unless they’re tested, so only the more serious cases get discovered, making the death toll seem higher than it really is.

However, an investigation into government surveillance in China said it had found no reason to believe this was true.

Dr Bruce Aylward, a World Health Organization official who went on a mission to China, said there was no evidence that figures were only showing the tip of the iceberg, and said recording appeared to be accurate, Stat News reported.

Can the virus be cured? 

The COVID-19 virus cannot be cured and it is proving difficult to contain.

Antibiotics do not work against viruses, so they are out of the question. Antiviral drugs can work, but the process of understanding a virus then developing and producing drugs to treat it would take years and huge amounts of money.

No vaccine exists for the coronavirus yet and it’s not likely one will be developed in time to be of any use in this outbreak, for similar reasons to the above.

The National Institutes of Health in the US, and Baylor University in Waco, Texas, say they are working on a vaccine based on what they know about coronaviruses in general, using information from the SARS outbreak. But this may take a year or more to develop, according to Pharmaceutical Technology.

Currently, governments and health authorities are working to contain the virus and to care for patients who are sick and stop them infecting other people.

People who catch the illness are being quarantined in hospitals, where their symptoms can be treated and they will be away from the uninfected public.

And airports around the world are putting in place screening measures such as having doctors on-site, taking people’s temperatures to check for fevers and using thermal screening to spot those who might be ill (infection causes a raised temperature).

However, it can take weeks for symptoms to appear, so there is only a small likelihood that patients will be spotted up in an airport.

Is this outbreak an epidemic or a pandemic?   

The outbreak was declared a pandemic on March 11. A pandemic is defined by the World Health Organization as the ‘worldwide spread of a new disease’. 

Previously, the UN agency said most cases outside of Hubei had been ‘spillover’ from the epicentre, so the disease wasn’t actually spreading actively around the world.

 

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