Wuhan Coronavirus: China shuts down Disneyland and 14 cities

As many as 350,000 people could be infected with China’s new virus in a single city by the beginning of February, according to experts in the UK and US who predict only one in 20 cases are actually being diagnosed. 

China has gone into lockdown today as authorities and businesses scramble to shut tourist attractions and public transport systems in a bid to stop the spread of the deadly new coronavirus that has killed at least 26 people.

In a drastic turn of events, part of the Great Wall of China and Disneyland in Shanghai have been closed as authorities desperately try to stop people spreading the Wuhan coronavirus amid fears as many as 10,000 are already infected with the killer virus. 

Thirteen cities, home to around 40million people, are reported to have followed suit of the outbreak’s ground zero, Wuhan city, and gone into some form of lockdown in the past two days with public transport halted and roads closed.

And a report written by researchers from England, Scotland and Florida, has predicted that a staggering 250,000 – potentially up to 350,0000 – people may be infected just in Wuhan by the beginning of February.

In the US, one man in Washington State is being monitored after being confirmed to have the disease and 12 other possible cases are being tested in California, Texas and Tennessee. Across the Atlantic, British authorities have tested 14 people but no cases have been confirmed yet – the Government will meet later today.

Other shocking developments in the outbreak today include: 

  • Chinese New Year celebrations planned for this weekend have been cancelled in Beijing and Hong Kong
  • Officially, at least 850 people around the world have been infected with coronavirus and 26 have died  
  • Japan has confirmed its second case and a fifth patient has been diagnosed in Thailand today, Friday 
  • Footage has emerged reportedly showing military personnel guarding a train station 
  • Videos from inside hospitals show patients crammed into overcrowded corridors and laid on the floor   
  • Photos have emerged of Chinese construction workers starting urgent building of a new hospital in Wuhan
China has gone into lockdown today and authorities and businesses are scrambling to shut tourist attractions and public transport systems across the country in a bid to stop the spread of the deadly new virus

China has gone into lockdown today and authorities and businesses are scrambling to shut tourist attractions and public transport systems across the country in a bid to stop the spread of the deadly new virus

China has gone into lockdown today and authorities and businesses are scrambling to shut tourist attractions and public transport systems across the country in a bid to stop the spread of the deadly new virus

Shanghai's Disneyland will close to visitors tomorrow for 'the prevention and control of the disease outbreak'. Visitors wearing masks walk past the resort today which has taken the extraordinary step of closing during the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday

Shanghai's Disneyland will close to visitors tomorrow for 'the prevention and control of the disease outbreak'. Visitors wearing masks walk past the resort today which has taken the extraordinary step of closing during the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday

Shanghai’s Disneyland will close to visitors tomorrow for ‘the prevention and control of the disease outbreak’. Visitors wearing masks walk past the resort today which has taken the extraordinary step of closing during the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday

The Forbidden City (pictured today) is also closed and part of the Great Wall of China has been shut to stop the spread of the coronavirus

The Forbidden City (pictured today) is also closed and part of the Great Wall of China has been shut to stop the spread of the coronavirus

The Forbidden City (pictured today) is also closed and part of the Great Wall of China has been shut to stop the spread of the coronavirus

An unverified video posted on Twitter claims to show members of Central Theater Command – a division of the People's Liberation Army – standing guard outside a train station in Wuhan

An unverified video posted on Twitter claims to show members of Central Theater Command – a division of the People's Liberation Army – standing guard outside a train station in Wuhan

An unverified video posted on Twitter claims to show members of Central Theater Command – a division of the People’s Liberation Army – standing guard outside a train station in Wuhan

Passengers at the Beijing Railway Station were today pictured wearing face masks amid fears of the outbreak spreading to the capital. Major Lunar New Year celebrations have been cancelled in the city

Passengers at the Beijing Railway Station were today pictured wearing face masks amid fears of the outbreak spreading to the capital. Major Lunar New Year celebrations have been cancelled in the city

Passengers at the Beijing Railway Station were today pictured wearing face masks amid fears of the outbreak spreading to the capital. Major Lunar New Year celebrations have been cancelled in the city 

People wear masks in the Jingshan Park in Beijing today, January 24. New Year celebrations planned in the park will no longer go ahead

People wear masks in the Jingshan Park in Beijing today, January 24. New Year celebrations planned in the park will no longer go ahead

People wear masks in the Jingshan Park in Beijing today, January 24. New Year celebrations planned in the park will no longer go ahead

A woman is pictured wearing a mask in front of the now-closed Forbidden City in Beijing. The building houses the capital's Palace Museum but has been shut to visitors to stop the coronavirus spreading

A woman is pictured wearing a mask in front of the now-closed Forbidden City in Beijing. The building houses the capital's Palace Museum but has been shut to visitors to stop the coronavirus spreading

A woman is pictured wearing a mask in front of the now-closed Forbidden City in Beijing. The building houses the capital’s Palace Museum but has been shut to visitors to stop the coronavirus spreading

Workers in protective clothing scan the temperatures of patients arriving at Xianning North railway station, close to Wuhan, on the eve of the Chinese New Year celebrations. Pictured today, January 24

Workers in protective clothing scan the temperatures of patients arriving at Xianning North railway station, close to Wuhan, on the eve of the Chinese New Year celebrations. Pictured today, January 24

Workers in protective clothing scan the temperatures of patients arriving at Xianning North railway station, close to Wuhan, on the eve of the Chinese New Year celebrations. Pictured today, January 24

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF THE CORONAVIRUS?

Once someone has caught the virus it may take between two and 14 days for them to show any symptoms.

If and when they do, typical signs include:

  • a runny nose
  • a cough
  • sore throat
  • fever (high temperature)

The vast majority of patients – at least 97 per cent, based on available data – will recover from these without any issues or medical help.

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. 

Shanghai Disney Resort posted on its website: ‘In response to the prevention and control of the disease outbreak and in order to ensure the health and safety of our guests and cast, Shanghai Disney Resort is temporarily closing Shanghai Disneyland, Disneytown.

‘We will continue to carefully monitor the situation and… announce the reopening date upon confirmation.’

A section of the Great Wall known as the Badaling section – one of the most visited parts – has been closed to tourists, Al Jazeera reports.  

The following measures have been taken to control the disease’s spread in and around China:

  • Beijing’s Forbidden Palace, which hosts the Palace Museum, will be closed to visitors from tomorrow, Saturday
  • The Beijing National Stadium, also known as the Bird’s Nest, has been closed 
  • A four-day carnival planned in Hong Kong, from January 25 to 28, has been cancelled by the state tourism board
  • Hong Kong’s Lunar New Year World Cup football tournament has been called off
  • All public Lunar New Year events in Macau, home to more than half-a-million people, have been cancelled 
  • Transport restrictions are reported to be in place in Wuhan, Huanggang, Ezhou, Zhijiang, Dangyang, Qianjiang, Chibi, Xiantao, Lichuan, Jingmen, Xianning, Yichang, Tiananmen and Enshi – not all reports have been confirmed

A report shared with MailOnline after being produced by researchers from Lancaster University in England, the University of Florida and the University of Glasgow, estimated that only five per cent of all the coronavirus cases are being diagnosed.

Dr Jonathan Read, a biostatistics researcher at Lancaster, wrote with colleagues: ‘If no change in control or transmission happens, then we expect further outbreaks to occur in other Chinese cities, and that infections will continue to be exported to international destinations at an increasing rate. 

‘In 14 days’ time (4 February 2020), our model predicts the number of infected people in Wuhan to be greater than 250 thousand (prediction interval, 164,602 to 351,396). 

‘We predict the cities with the largest outbreaks elsewhere in China to be Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Chongqing and Chengdu. We also predict that by 4 Feb 2020, the countries or special administrative regions at greatest risk of importing infections through air travel are Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Korea.’ 

Dr Read told MailOnline: ‘The estimate we came back with was that one in 20 people becoming infected are getting detected and confirmed as cases. There is potentially a lot of people not recognised.

‘This could be for a number of reasons. One that springs to mind the most, common with respiratory and flu-like viruses, is a lot of people will get sick and never seek medical help. Unless you present yourself to a doctor or a hospital you won’t get counted.’ 

Businesses around China – the world’s biggest nation and home to more than one billion people, a seventh of the world’s population – are already having to take drastic measures.

Seven movies which were set to premiere over this weekend have cancelled their screenings.

McDonald’s is believed to have ordered the closure of branches in five cities in the Hubei province, and clothing store Uni Qlo has shut down 17 stores in Wuhan city, where the outbreak began and is most dangerous.

Wuhan has now been in lockdown for two days, with residents told not to leave and forced to wear face masks. There is no public transport, major roads have been closed and the airport has been shut down.

Reports from the city described it as a ‘ghost town’ as streets were deserted at a time when millions would normally be preparing to celebrate.

And at least nine other areas have started to put similar measures in place.

Huanggang, close to Wuhan, is home to more than seven million people and yesterday announced it would shut down its public transport.

Movement of people is also reportedly being restricted in Ezhou, Zhijiang, Dangyang, Qianjiang, Chibi, Xiantao, Lichuan, Jingmen, Xianning, Yichang, Tiananmen and Enshi.

All these places are in the Hubei province, which is the epicenter of the outbreak – Wuhan is the capital. Hubei has a total population of almost 60million people – slightly more than England.  

Hubei has by far recorded the most cases – 549 out of the total, according to China Daily – and all but one of the 26 people who have died died in that province.

WHAT IS THE SITUATION IN THE US?

One man in the US has been confirmed to have the Wuhan coronavirus.

The man, who is in his this 30s, is in hospital in Washington state, close to Seattle and recovering well.

Authorities are also monitoring 43 people with whom he is believed to have been in close contact before he was diagnosed five days after returning home from Wuhan.

Suspected cases have appeared in Los Angeles, Tennessee and Brazos County, Texas, but neither have been confirmed.

There are 10 people in California being held in isolation while they wait for test results, CBS News reports, as well as a Texas A&M student who had visited Wuhan. 

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said it would set up screening at LAX in Los Angeles, JFK in New York, San Francisco International Airport, Chicago O’Hare International Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta. It is not clear, however, if this has been put in place yet, Time reported.

Speaking on Wednesday, January 22, President Donald Trump he was ‘not at all’ concerned about the possibility of a pandemic

‘It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control,’ he said.

‘We have it totally under control. We do have a plan, and we think it’s going to be handled very well.’

Dr Martin Cetron, of the CDC, said the US was planning a ‘very complex process’ of rerouting passengers.

He added: ‘With increasing cases, we decided to move into this full-on, 100 percent coverage strategy’.

WHAT IS THE SITUATION IN THE UK? 

Fourteen people have so far been tested for the Wuhan coronavirus in the UK, but no confirmed cases have been announced. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called an emergency meeting today to discuss the country’s response to the threat.

The last flight out of Wuhan (the city at the centre of the outbreak) to London Heathrow was met by doctors who screened patients getting off the plane to check whether any of them were sick. 

Flights are no longer arriving from Wuhan and there are no extraordinary measures in place to check patients from other Chinese destinations. 

More than 2,000 people are believed to have arrived from Wuhan since December 31, and health chiefs have today urged recent arrivals to call NHS 111 if they feel ill. 

GPs have been told to ask anyone with flu-like symptoms if they have been to China – and then, if they suspect they have the coronavirus, to lock them in a room if they have and continue the consultation over the phone. 

Scottish officials yesterday confirmed they were testing five cases in Edinburgh and Glasgow ‘as a precaution’. 

Another man was being tested in isolation at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, and there was a suspected case in Hillingdon, west London. 

Public Health England has still not revealed where the other cases are. Many are thought to be Chinese tourists.  

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said yesterday that there is an ‘increased likelihood’ of there being a case in the UK but that the NHS is ‘ready to respond appropriately’. 

Chinese tourists are pictured outside the Narita airport in Japan. Japan is one of the most popular holiday destinations for Chinese people during the New Year

Chinese tourists are pictured outside the Narita airport in Japan. Japan is one of the most popular holiday destinations for Chinese people during the New Year

Chinese tourists are pictured outside the Narita airport in Japan. Japan is one of the most popular holiday destinations for Chinese people during the New Year

At least 12 cities in China are reported to be restricting people's movement by shutting down public transport and closing roads

At least 12 cities in China are reported to be restricting people's movement by shutting down public transport and closing roads

At least 12 cities in China are reported to be restricting people’s movement by shutting down public transport and closing roads

Vietnam yesterday became the latest country to announce it had confirmed cases of the Wuhan coronavirus. Pictured: The two Chinese tourists who were diagnosed speak to medical workers at a hospital in Ho Chi Minh City

Vietnam yesterday became the latest country to announce it had confirmed cases of the Wuhan coronavirus. Pictured: The two Chinese tourists who were diagnosed speak to medical workers at a hospital in Ho Chi Minh City

Vietnam yesterday became the latest country to announce it had confirmed cases of the Wuhan coronavirus. Pictured: The two Chinese tourists who were diagnosed speak to medical workers at a hospital in Ho Chi Minh City

Builders in Wuhan, the city at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak, are scrambling to construct a brand new hospital in just a week over a national holiday (Pictured: Construction work today)

Builders in Wuhan, the city at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak, are scrambling to construct a brand new hospital in just a week over a national holiday (Pictured: Construction work today)

Builders in Wuhan, the city at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak, are scrambling to construct a brand new hospital in just a week over a national holiday (Pictured: Construction work today)

Government guards in Wuhan, where the outbreak began, check a car for illegally smuggled animals on January 24. The virus is believed to have jumped from animals to people

Government guards in Wuhan, where the outbreak began, check a car for illegally smuggled animals on January 24. The virus is believed to have jumped from animals to people

Government guards in Wuhan, where the outbreak began, check a car for illegally smuggled animals on January 24. The virus is believed to have jumped from animals to people

A man stands guard outside the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, which was ground zero for the outbreak at the beginning of this year. Photographed today, January 24

A man stands guard outside the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, which was ground zero for the outbreak at the beginning of this year. Photographed today, January 24

A man stands guard outside the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, which was ground zero for the outbreak at the beginning of this year. Photographed today, January 24

A man sprays disinfectant on a train in Seoul, South Korea. South Korea has so far confirmed one case of the coronavirus

A man sprays disinfectant on a train in Seoul, South Korea. South Korea has so far confirmed one case of the coronavirus

A man sprays disinfectant on a train in Seoul, South Korea. South Korea has so far confirmed one case of the coronavirus

CORONAVIRUS: WHAT WE KNOW SO FAR

What is this virus?

The virus has been identified as a new type of coronavirus. Coronaviruses are a large family of pathogens, most of which cause mild respiratory infections such as the common cold.

But coronaviruses can also be deadly. SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, is caused by a coronavirus and killed hundreds of people in China and Hong Kong in the early 2000s.

Can it kill?

Yes. Twenty-six people have so far died after testing positive for the virus. 

What are the symptoms?

Its symptoms are typically a fever, cough and trouble breathing, but some patients have developed pneumonia, a potentially life-threatening infection that causes inflammation of the small air sacs in the lungs. People carrying the novel coronavirus may only have mild symptoms, such as a sore throat. They may assume they have a common cold and not seek medical attention, experts fear.

How is it detected?

The virus’s genetic sequencing was released by scientists in China to the rest of the world to enable other countries to quickly diagnose potential new cases. This helps other countries respond quickly to disease outbreaks.

To contain the virus, airports are detecting infected people with temperature checks. But as with every virus, it has an incubation period, meaning detection is not always possible because symptoms have not appeared yet.

How did it start and spread?

The first cases identified were among people connected to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan.

Cases have since been identified elsewhere which could have been spread through human-to-human transmission.

What are countries doing to prevent the spread?

Countries in Asia have stepped up airport surveillance. They include Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines.

Australia and the US are also screening patients for a high temperature, and the UK announced it will screen passengers returning from Wuhan.

Is it similar to anything we’ve ever seen before?

Experts have compared it to the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The epidemic started in southern China and killed more than 700 people in mainland China, Hong Kong and elsewhere

SCROLL DOWN TO SEE MAILONLINE’S FULL Q&A ON THE CORONAVIRUS 

Chinese hospitals visited by journalists have been bustling with worried patients being screened by staff wearing full-body protective suits.

At a temperature-check station, a medical staffer in bodysuit, face mask and goggles took a thermometer from a middle-aged woman, pausing to examine the reading before quickly turning back to the patient.

‘Have you registered? Then go and see the doctor,’ the staffer said.

One 35-year-old man surnamed Li voiced the fears of many. ‘I have a fever and cough, so I’m worried that I’m infected,’ he said. ‘I don’t know the results yet.’ 

Scientists say that, on average, each person who becomes infected with the coronavirus is passing it on to between 1.4 and 2.5 other people, the BBC reports.

A number higher than one – as this one is – means an outbreak can continue to sustain itself without anyone catching the infection from the original source. 

Despite the upcoming New Year celebrations, typically a joyous time of year, people in the Hubei province, which is where Wuhan is located and most of the cases have been diagnosed, have limited movement and are being told to stay home.

‘This year we have a very scary Chinese New Year,’ said a taxi driver in the city, who asked not to be named. ‘People are not going outside because of the virus.’   

Footage from Wuhan yesterday showed the dramatic consequences of city shutdown, as videos emerged showing a man reportedly disinfecting an entire neighbourhood with gas, shoppers fighting over food in a supermarket and traffic building up on blockaded roads.  

One resident told the BBC the atmosphere in the city felt like ‘the end of the world’. 

Dr Gauden Galea, a World Health Organization disease expert, said yesterday: ‘To my knowledge, trying to contain a city of 11million people is new to science.

‘It has not been tried before as a public health measure. We cannot at this stage say it will or it will not work.’ 

Information that emerged yesterday revealed the coronavirus is far more contagious than previously feared and can be spread third-hand via a simple cough or sneeze.

Dr David Heymann, an infectious disease expert at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: ‘We are now seeing second and third generation spread,’ CNN reported.

Third generation spread means people are catching it from others who also caught it from a person, not the original animal source.

Dr Heymann added there is growing evidence that coughs or sneezes even close to someone could infect them, but there is no proof the virus is airborne. 

Its symptoms are typically a fever, cough and trouble breathing, but some patients have developed pneumonia, a potentially life-threatening infection that causes inflammation of the small air sacs in the lungs. 

People carrying the novel coronavirus may only have mild symptoms, such as a sore throat. They may assume they have a common cold and not seek medical attention, experts fear.

For this reason, experts think the true number of people who have caught the infection so far is already into the thousands and potentially tens of thousands. 

Its current death rate is between two and three per cent, meaning two or three people die for every 100 who catch the illness.

Posters have been put up warning people about fever at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea

Posters have been put up warning people about fever at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea

Posters have been put up warning people about fever at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea

SHOCKING IMAGES SHOW HOSPITAL IN CHINA FLOODED WITH HUNDREDS OF PATIENTS 

Video posted online claims to show hundreds of people filling a Chinese hospital to the brim.

The coronavirus epidemic, which has killed 26 people and infected more than 850, has led the authorities to quarantine at least 30million people living in at least 10 cities in China‘s Hubei Province before the Lunar New Year’s Day on Saturday. 

Unverified footage posted by a blogger on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent to Twitter, appears to show the corridor and lobby of a hospital crammed with hundreds of mask-donning patients waiting to see the doctor.

Unverified footage posted by a blogger on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent to Twitter, appears to show the corridor and lobby of a hospital crammed with hundreds of mask-donning patients waiting to see the doctor. At least nine cities in China’s Hubei Province have been locked down

To try and cope with the outpouring of patients, authorities at ground zero – Wuhan city – have ordered a brand new hospital to be constructed over the next week, which is supposed to be a public holiday.

And governments and airports around the world are screening passengers arriving from China. 

Countries including the US, Malaysia and Singapore have introduced rigorous checks, with all passengers coming in from Wuhan are having their temperature taken, regardless of whether they have any symptoms. 

International flights out of Wuhan have all been cancelled because of the virus’s spread, which has seen cases pop up in 10 countries, most of which are in East Asia.   

In the US, where one case has been confirmed, authorities in Washington state are monitoring at least 43 people who they say had close contact with a patient from near Seattle.   

Suspected cases have appeared in Los Angeles and Brazos County, Texas, but neither have been confirmed.

There are reportedly 10 people in California who are being held in isolation while doctors wait for test results. A male Texas A&M University student who had travelled to Wuhan recently is also being tested, as well as a patient in Tennessee.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said it would direct all flights from Wuhan to five airports and screen passengers at LAX in Los Angeles, JFK in New York, San Francisco International Airport, Chicago O’Hare International Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta. It is not clear, however, if this has been put in place yet, Time reported.

President Donald Trump insisted earlier this week that the country wasn’t concerned about the outbreak and added: ‘We have it totally under control. We do have a plan, and we think it’s going to be handled very well.’ 

In the UK, health bosses have urged hundreds of recent arrivals from Wuhan to call the NHS’s 111 helpline if they feel ill and 14 patients have already been tested for the SARS-like infection – all have been negative so far.

Doctors have also been told to ask anyone with flu-like symptoms if they have been to China – and then lock them in a room if they are suspected to be infected with the coronavirus.

More than 2,000 people have flown into Britain from Wuhan, the Chinese city on lockdown, since cases first emerged last month, it is feared. 

Scottish officials yesterday confirmed they were testing five cases in Edinburgh and Glasgow ‘as a precaution’. 

Another man was being tested in isolation at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, and there was a suspected case in Hillingdon, west London. Public Health England has still not revealed where the other cases are. 

Anyone with the symptoms, who has travelled to the UK via Wuhan, will be tested for the virus and if cases are confirmed put in isolation at one of four UK super-hospitals: two in London, one in Liverpool and one in Newcastle. 

The Russian government has stopped flights to and from Wuhan as a precautionary measure.

Two people in Russia, which borders China in the east, had to be tested for the coronavirus in St Petersburg, but there have been no confirmed cases there yet.  

Everything we know we know so far about the deadly coronavirus in China: But how worried should we be?

The deadly coronavirus ravaging Asia is far more contagious than previously thought and someone who is infected can spread it with just a simple cough or a sneeze.

It has so far killed 26 people and infected more than 830 in at least 10 countries within three weeks.

But experts predict the true number of people with the disease could be over 10,000 as they warn it may kill as many as two in 100 cases.  Here’s what we know so far:

What is the Wuhan coronavirus? 

A coronavirus is a type of virus which can cause illness in animals and people. It is an RNA virus (RNA is a type of genetic material called ribonucleic acid), which means it breaks into cells inside the host of the virus and uses them to reproduce itself.

This coronavirus from Wuhan is one which has never been seen before this outbreak. It is currently named 2019-nCoV, and does not have a more detailed name because so little is known about it.

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). 

Experts say the difficulty of containing the coronavirus is that so many patients have mild, cold-like symptoms and don't realise they have the infection – but it can quickly turn deadly

Experts say the difficulty of containing the coronavirus is that so many patients have mild, cold-like symptoms and don't realise they have the infection – but it can quickly turn deadly

Experts say the difficulty of containing the coronavirus is that so many patients have mild, cold-like symptoms and don’t realise they have the infection – but it can quickly turn deadly

A picture captured on Thursday shows healthcare workers fitted with face masks helping a mother and child in Hong Kong

A picture captured on Thursday shows healthcare workers fitted with face masks helping a mother and child in Hong Kong

A picture captured on Thursday shows healthcare workers fitted with face masks helping a mother and child in Hong Kong

‘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, three weeks ago after medics first started seeing cases in December.

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 4,500.

Today, just one week later, there have been more than 850 confirmed cases and those same scientists estimate that some 4,000 – possibly 9,700 – were infected in Wuhan alone. There are now 10 countries with confirmed cases and 26 people have died. 

Where does the virus come from?

Nobody knows for sure. 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 the virus in Wuhan came from people visiting or working in a live animal market in the city, 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.

Bats are a prime suspect – researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences said in a recent statement: ‘The Wuhan coronavirus’ natural host could be bats… but between bats and humans there may be an unknown intermediate.’

And another scientific journal article has suggested the virus first infected snakes, which may then have transmitted it to people at the market in Wuhan.

Peking University researchers analysed the genes of the coronavirus and said they most closely matched viruses which are known to affect snakes. They said: ‘Results derived from our evolutionary analysis suggest for the first time that snake is the most probable wildlife animal reservoir for the 2019-nCoV,’ in the Journal of Medical Virology.

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.

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 yesterday, 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 1 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?

Information has emerged today, Thursday, suggesting that the illness may spread between people just through coughs and sneezes, making it an extremely contagious infection.

It is believed to travel in the saliva and therefore close contact, kissing and sharing cutlery or utensils are risky. Because it infects the lungs, it is also likely present in droplets people cough up which, when inhaled, can infect the next person.

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.

There is now evidence that it can spread third hand – to someone from a person who caught it from another person.

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

Once someone has caught the virus it may take between two and 14 days for them to show any symptoms.

If and when they do, typical signs include a runny nose, a cough, sore throat and a fever (high temperature). The vast majority of patients – at least 97 per cent, based on available data – will recover from these without any issues or medical help.

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. 

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 Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, Gao Fu, yesterday 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 so far killed 26 people out of a total of at least 850 officially confirmed cases – a death rate of around three per cent. This is a higher death rate than the Spanish Flu outbreak which, in 1918, went on to kill around 50million people.

However, experts say the true number of patients is likely considerably higher. Imperial College London researchers estimate that there were 4,000 (up to 9,700) cases in Wuhan city alone up to January 18, while the official figure was around 400. If cases are in fact 100 times more common than the official figures, the death rate may be considerably lower.

Experts say it is likely only the most seriously ill patients are seeking help and are therefore recorded – the vast majority will have only mild, cold-like symptoms. For those whose conditions do become more severe, there is a risk of developing pneumonia which can destroy the lungs and kill you.  

Can the virus be cured? 

The Wuhan coronavirus cannot currently 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, 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 has not officially been confirmed as either an epidemic or a pandemic yet. This is likely because, despite the global concern, the number of people who have been confirmed to be infected is still relatively low.

A pandemic is defined by the World Health Organisation as the ‘worldwide spread of a new disease’.

An epidemic is when a disease takes hold of a smaller community, such as a single country, region or continent. 

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