C oronavirus is currently dominating global news. It seems like everyone has already forgotten about the Australian bushfire, which has killed more than half a billion animals and destroyed billions of dollars of personal property.
The news of coronavirus has also managed to overshadow the tension between the U.S and Iran, which now feels like something of the past.
But what is this virus that is threatening the existence of humanity?
How did it start?
What if Coronavirus spread All Over the world?
Can Coronavirus reach epidemic levels?
Can the coronavirus wipe out the entire humanity?
There are many questions about this virus that need addressing. At least we know where it started. Coronavirus originated in a market in the Chinese city of Wuhan in the central Chinese province of Hubei.
The spread of the virus prompted global alarms, with many countries grounding flights to and from China while the neighboring countries have so far closed their borders. Other nations have also barred entry to foreign nationals who have been in China recently.
So far the virus has infected about 100,000 people can kill at least 1300 persons.
Coronavirus is a large family of viruses that cause a wide range of illnesses from the common cold to deadlier ailments such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV). The current coronavirus is the new one, called 2019-nCoV, and has not been identified previously in humans.
Coronaviruses are zoonotic. This means that they are transmitted between humans and people.
The common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, cough, fever, shortness of breath as well as breathing difficulties. The more severe cases of infection can lead to pneumonia, kidney failure, severe acute respiratory syndrome, and even death.
The effect of the virus is beginning to be felt in China.
To contain the virus, the Chinese government has lockdown all the major cities, which has heavily affected transportation, especially considering that this is the Chinese New Year celebration period.
Fear of the virus also has made many people avoid activities they feel might expose them to the risk of infection, including eating in restaurants, visiting cinema rooms, and traveling.
Because of the outbreak, the New Year holiday has been extended for several days by the Chinese authorities. This delays the return to work for many businesses. And this delay in resuming production is likely to cause cash-flow problems.
China is also one of the biggest exporters in the world, and with travel being suspended, their products may not reach the market. Additionally, people will be skeptical about buying products from China.
The impact of coronavirus is not just confined to China.
Many international retailers have already closed operations in the country. For instance, the furniture giant Ikea and coffee shop chain Starbucks have closed their outlets in china.
China is a major supplier for the global electronics and motor industry. Many computers and phones are manufactured in China, and many other components are also made there.
So what if the coronavirus spread worldwide?
The possibility of the virus spreading worldwide is not that negligible as people may think. According to experts, it is unlikely to have a happy outcome, since there could become massive exportation of pre-symptomatic cases especially in major cities.
Scientists are already talking about what the world with endemic 2019-nCoV would be like. Respiratory viruses are very hard to control If the viruses cannot be contained in China, then there is a chance of the 2019-nCoV joining the other four coronaviruses circulating in humans. It can become a fifth endemic coronavirus.
The four coronaviruses are not well known outside virology and health care circles, though they are already classed as winter-spring seasonal respiratory disease.
The first two – OC43 and 229E – were discovered back in the 1960s but had been circulating in bats and cows for many years. The other two – HKU1 and NL63 were established after the outbreak of SARS in 2003/2004, after circulating in animals.
If coronavirus spread worldwide, there could be a chance that it wouldn’t survive in some countries or regions. Viruses are not known for enduring high heat and humidity, thus why some like to spread in spring and winter. So, there could be a chance coronavirus may not survive in hot regions in the world or even the arrival of summer.
Another scenario, if the coronaviruses spread worldwide, is that it may not be able to wipe out the entire humanity, as children below the age of 15 are somehow not contacting the viruses.
While scientists are still learning more about the viruses, there is speculation that children below 15 years of age might not be infected, or if they get infected, they may show pretty milder signs compared to adults. It is still much unclear why young children are not getting the virus.
Of course, these scenarios depend on whether the virus can really spread worldwide.
So can coronavirus reach epidemic levels?
To answer those questions, we need to understand how faster the virus can travel spread between persons, as well as the stage the virus is most transmissible.
The ability of a virus to spread depends on its transmissibility (how easily the virus can spread from one person to the next). This can be estimated using RO (R-nought).
RO is simply the “basic reproduction number,” and help knows how many people can catch a given virus from one infected individual. For instance, polio has RO of about 5 to 7, which essentially means that a person suffering from polio is likely to infect 5 or 7 others.
Currently, the coronavirus has an RO value of 2 to 3 according to some scientists, while the WHO reported that the virus has RO values between 1.4 and 2.5. Other has placed the figure above all these, at 3.5.
Ideally, a bug with RO below 1 would typically disappear before spreading worldwide, because infected people would recover quicker than the bug can be spread to a new host.
So, while scientists will still come with new RO values, currently the virus can potentially spread worldwide. However, as we have seen, the virus may not be able to survive in some regions in the world, especially high-temperature regions.
Also, even if it spread across the world, children would likely survive the outbreak more than adults.