COVID-19 News in Brief Science World

Coronavirus – how worried should we really be?

Written by Callum Murison

It’s been impossible to miss it. Originating in the Hubei province of China, coronavirus (now officially called COVID-19) has dominated the headlines for over a month and a half now. It has seen China desperately calling for more masks to help stop the spread of the virus, as well as multiple quarantine zones being established on multiple continents. But what are some of the myths regarding COVID-19, and how large a threat does it still pose, to both us in the UK and Western worlds, as well as those closer to where the outbreak began?

The first time that the WHO was alerted to the beginnings of an outbreak of pneumonia, caused by a virus which was not yet known, in the Hubei province of China, was on December 31st 2019. Since then, the number of cases has risen rapidly – and is still rising. China released an official report into the virus on Tuesday, in which they quoted the total number of infections and deaths in China as 72,436 and 1,868 respectively.

The first thing which becomes apparent here (from these statistics anyway) is the ratio of deaths to the number of infected people: less than 3% of those infected with the virus have died. The other interesting thing illustrated by the report was the demographic of those who have been dying. The vast majority of the deaths have been amongst the elderly population, or amongst those with pre-existing medical conditions. This is shown through the fatality rates for each demographic 10-19, 20-29 etc which, as age increases, does not exceed 1.3% until the 60-69 bracket.

But this does not mean that others are not at risk. The most widely reported case was that of Dr Li Wenliang, the doctor who first alerted others to the outbreak when it first began in Wuhan. He died earlier this month, only 34 years old, and has been hailed a hero for his actions in raising the alarm. So, whilst the death rates are significantly lower amongst younger adults and children, these members of the population are still susceptible to becoming critically ill due to the virus.

The other question regards the spread of the virus. Earlier this month, the WHO declared the outbreak as a global emergency, and recent figures show that symptoms have been reported across multiple continents and over 31 countries – including the UK and US. However, whilst this shows cases worldwide, the number of deaths outside of China accounts for less than 10% of total deaths.

Statistics for the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control show that, out of 75,744 cases of COVID-19 reported (as of February 20th), 74,595 of these have been within China. That accounts for over 98% of all cases. Furthermore, Wednesday 12th February saw the highest number of reported cases of any day and, since then, said number of daily cases has been reportedly declining.

So, in conclusion, it is impossible to fully tell what will happen next. However, with the death rate remaining fairly steady and low for most demographics, and with the number of reported cases decreasing, it seems like the spread of the virus is, perhaps, under slightly more control than it seemed at the start of this month.

About the author

Callum Murison

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