Virus toll rises as 14 are tested in Britain

Airtime: Even some TV presenters in China are wearing masks. © China Times

Is this a global pandemic? In China, there are more than 830 confirmed cases and 25 deaths – with further reports from Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the US.

More than a dozen people in Britain have been tested for a deadly virus sweeping out of China. Five, so far, have been confirmed negative, but the NHS is under orders to question everyone with flu-like symptoms in an attempt to stop spread of the virus.

Matt Hancock, the UK health secretary, has warned it is likely that cases of coronavirus will be seen in Britain as part of a “rapidly developing” global outbreak, in which more than 26 million people have been quarantined in what could be the largest disease-control operation in history.

The World Health Organisation said last night that cases in other countries were likely, as its experts were divided over whether to declare a global emergency. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, its director general, said that most of the dead had underlying health problems.

In China, the outbreak continued to spread rapidly, with the National Health Commission confirming 830 cases and 25 deaths.

Authorities grounded flights, put up road blocks and closed railway stations to prevent residents leaving Wuhan. Restrictions were imposed on seven further cities.

The virus, named 2019-nCoV, is part of the wider family of coronaviruses, so named because they look as though they wear a crown of proteins. Two similar pathogens have caused scares in the past: Sars and Mers.

So, are we dealing with a global pandemic?

Going viral

No. It is nowhere near as devastating as it could be. The virus seems to mostly affect those aged over 60, or those who were already unwell. We have also seen similar panics before, such as Ebola and Swine Flu. As frightening as those were, they never reached pandemic levels.

Yes. Thousands more people are likely to be infected without yet knowing it. If we do not call the outbreak a pandemic, then we risk a much worse catastrophe. It is always better to be safe than sorry.

You Decide

  1. How scared are you by the Chinese coronavirus? What new information would reassure you the most?

Activities

  1. Imagine you are writing a letter to a family member who is stuck in Wuhan, China. Do your best to reassure and empathise with them.

Some People Say...

“Air, I should explain, becomes wind when it is agitated.”

Lucretius (99-55 BC), Roman poet and philosopher

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
2019-nCoV can be spread from human to human. Symptoms initially include coughing, having a fever and difficulty breathing. There is no vaccine as yet.
What do we not know?
How long the virus takes to incubate inside someone’s body. We, therefore, do not know how many people could potentially be infected. Because of these unknowns, we do not really know how dangerous the infection is.

Word Watch

Virus
A small infectious agent that reproduces by reprogramming living cells.
Quarantined
A place of isolation in which people or animals that have been exposed to infectious or contagious disease are placed.
World Health Organisation
A specialised agency of the United Nations that is concerned with international public health. It was established on 7 April 1948, and is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.
Wuhan
The capital of Hubei province, China. It is the largest city in Hubei, with a population of 11 million – larger than London (9 million).
Pathogens
A bacteria or virus that can cause disease.
Sars
Severe acute respiratory syndrome, a coronavirus which broke out in China in 2003, killing 9% of those it infected.
Mers
Middle East respiratory syndrome, a coronavirus which first appeared in Saudi Arabia in 2012.

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