All about COVID-19

A new virus emerges in China

An electron microscope image of a coronavirus, part of a family of viruses that cause ailments including the common cold and SARS.

An electron microscope image of a coronavirus, part of a family of viruses that cause ailments including the common cold and SARS.  

A novel coronavirus has been identified in 41 people in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China

On December 31, 2019, China informed the World Health Organization (WHO) of a cluster of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China. A few patients in Wuhan had been suffering from respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia since December 8, 2019. Besides providing care, Chinese public health officials began carrying out environmental assessments at the wholesale market and trying to identify the microbe causing the outbreak.

How was the virus identified as coronavirus?

On January 9, 2020, the WHO issued a statement saying Chinese researchers have made “preliminary determination” of the virus as a novel coronavirus in a person with pneumonia. The researchers were able to determine the virus by sequencing the genome of the novel virus using an isolate taken from an infected patient. “Preliminary identification of a novel virus in a short period of time is a notable achievement and demonstrates China’s increased capacity to manage new outbreaks,” WHO tweeted.

What are coronaviruses?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses with some causing less severe common cold to more severe diseases such as the Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). While SARS coronavirus was transmitted from civet cats to humans in China in 2002, MERS coronavirus was from dromedary camels to humans in Saudi Arabia in 2012.

Has China shared the genome sequence data?

On January 11, China shared the whole genome sequence data with WHO and submitted them to the Global initiative on sharing all influenza data (GISAID) platform to allow researchers across the world to access the data. Sharing the data with GISAID will hep other countries to quickly identify the virus in infected people and provide care, and also develop specific diagnostic kits, drugs and even vaccines. Since Jan 11, five more genome sequences have been submitted to GISAID.

How many have been infected with the novel virus?

Using the genomic test kit, China was able to accurately identify that only 41 of the 59 suspected cases have been infected with the novel coronavirus. According to the WHO, the clinical signs and symptoms of the patients are mainly fever and fatigue, accompanied by dry cough, with a few having difficulty in breathing, and chest radiographs showing fluid in both lungs.

What is the condition of the infected patients?

Of the 41 patients, seven have severe illness, two have already been discharged and one person had succumbed to the disease. The remaining patients were reported to be in a “stable condition”. The last reported case was on January 2. The patient who died on January 9 is apparently a 61-year-old man who had chronic liver disease and was a frequent customer at the market which is under investigation to identify the animal species that has transmitted the virus to humans. Public health experts are yet to identify the source of the new virus.

Has the virus been able to spread among humans?

According to the WHO, 763 people, including medical staff, who have come in close contact with patients infected with the novel coronavirus have been identified for close monitoring. So far the virus doesn’t seem to have the ability to spread from one person to another as the infection has not been found in any of the close contacts. Based on preliminary epidemiological investigation, most of the patients have come in close contact with animals or frequently visited a wholesale seafood market, which has been closed since January 1.

Has the virus been seen in people outside China?

On January 8, a woman who had travelled from Wuhan to Thailand was hospitalised and mild pneumonia was diagnosed. Subsequent testing confirmed that the woman, a Chinese national, had been infected with the novel coronavirus. But none outside Wuhan in China has been found to be infected with the virus directly from animals.

Are there any travel restrictions to China?

At this point in time, the “WHO advises against the application of any travel or trade restrictions on China based on the information currently available”. It does not recommend that travellers take any specific measures either. However, the WHO provides general tips to reduce the risk of infection such as cleaning hands with soap and water, covering nose and mouth while sneezing and coughing, avoiding contact with anyone who has cold or flu-like symptoms, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs, and avoid making unprotected contact with wild or farm animals.

A letter from the Editor

Dear reader,

We have been keeping you up-to-date with information on the developments in India and the world that have a bearing on our health and wellbeing, our lives and livelihoods, during these difficult times. To enable wide dissemination of news that is in public interest, we have increased the number of articles that can be read free, and extended free trial periods. However, we have a request for those who can afford to subscribe: please do. As we fight disinformation and misinformation, and keep apace with the happenings, we need to commit greater resources to news gathering operations. We promise to deliver quality journalism that stays away from vested interest and political propaganda.

Support Quality Journalism
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Jun 4, 2020 3:28:15 AM |

In This Package
Coronavirus | Why are only a fraction of cases tested?
Coronavirus | Vaccine was rapidly synthesised as novel coronavirus sequence was available, says virologist Gagandeep Kang
A step closer to developing a potent drug against novel coronavirus
Coronavirus | The importance of ‘contact tracing’
Coronavirus | Are diabetics more prone to COVID-19?
Private firms ready to test for COVID-19
Coronavirus | How does soap use help in tackling COVID-19?
Fight for the finite: On budgetary allocation for health
Coronavirus | A problematic testing strategy
Fighting COVID-19 together for a shared future
Scientists get ready to test rival COVID-19 pandemic vaccines in animals
Coronavirus | The cost of opacity
Watch | COVID-19: Masks and sanitisers are now essential commodities
A COVID-19 control plan made simple
Watch | Your COVID-19 queries answered
Coronavirus | How is India containing COVID-19?
Battle against COVID-19
Watch | COVID-19: Dos and don'ts from the Health Ministry
A COVID-19 response that is quick off the blocks
Watch | Why is COVID-19 not a pandemic yet?
Watch | Coronavirus: Can masks protect you?
Watch | How is India dealing with coronavirus?
WHO’s unexplained hesitancy
Watch | Bats and the novel coronavirus
Coronavirus | India shares two SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences
COVID-19 | We are in uncharted territory, says WHO
Explained | Why is COVID-19 not a pandemic yet?
New COVID-19 epidemic at ‘decisive point’: WHO chief
COVID-19 vaccine may be ready by 2022: SII
Explainer: How WHO names a new disease
WHO names deadly viral disease from China as 'COVID-19'
Explained | When can people transmit the novel coronavirus?
Analysis | For China’s Xi, the coronavirus challenge comes laden with economic costs and political risks
How bats harbour several viruses yet not get sick
Extended chain of human-to-human spread seen in Germany
WHO declares coronavirus outbreak a global emergency
Watch | What is Coronavirus?
What is the source of the new SARS-like disease reported in China?
Data | The wide, rapid spread of the novel coronavirus
Alarming spread: on novel coronavirus outbreak
Gaps in our knowledge of coronavirus origin need fulfilment: Study
You are reading
A new virus emerges in China
Next Story