A doctor in France has become the country’s first person to catch the killer Wuhan coronavirus without going to China as the SARS-like infection continues its rampage across the world.
He is the sixth person to have been diagnosed with the deadly virus in France after picking it up from one of his patients, local media reports. Almost 10,000 people have been infected with the coronavirus worldwide and 213 have now died in China.
The doctor’s case makes France the second European country – and just the fourth globally – to have patients who did not go to China. Germany, Vietnam and Japan have all also seen the virus pass between humans on their own soil.
The World Health Organization last night declared the escalating outbreak a global health emergency. The UK today became the latest country to record cases, with two patients whisked off to a specialist hospital in Newcastle.
An exodus is under way from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the centre of the outbreak, with numerous countries carrying out or planning evacuation flights. The US, France and Japan have already evacuated expats.
Around 110 British and European citizens are in the air right now on a flight back to a military base in Oxfordshire, after which they will kept in quarantine at an NHS hospital in the Wirral.
Le Parisien reported the sixth case in France last night was announced by Professor Jérôme Salomon, the Director General of Health.
He said: ‘He is a liberal doctor who was in contact with a case which was later confirmed in Asia.’ The doctor reportedly put himself straight into solitary confinement.
Germany also recorded another case last night, taking its total confirmed cases to five – all of whom work at the same car parts supplier in Bavaria. The first case caught the killer infection from a Chinese colleague who had visited Germany after travelling from Shanghai. She had been to Wuhan.
The death toll in Hubei, the Chinese province at the center of the epidemic, had risen to 204 – nine more have been recorded elsewhere in the country. There have been almost 9,800 cases of the infection nationally, Chinese health authorities said.
About 100 cases have been reported in at least 23 other countries or territories, with no deaths outside China.
Italy announced its first confirmed cases, in two Chinese tourists, yesterday.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the government had decided to close all air traffic between Italy and China, a more drastic measure than most countries have undertaken.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said the organization ‘doesn’t recommend – and actually opposes’ restrictions on travel or trade with China.
Nonetheless, foreign governments have been flying home their citizens from Hubei and holding them in quarantine, while airlines including Air France, American Airlines and British Airways have stopped flying to mainland China.
Airlines are facing mounting pressure by cabin crew to stop all flights due to unease about exposure to the virus.
Stocks around the world have tumbled on fears of the economic fallout from the outbreak in the world’s second-biggest economy.
Some 60 million people in Hubei province are living under virtual lockdown.
There had been a further 1,220 cases detected in Hubei by end of Jan. 30, taking the total for the province to close to 6,000, Hubei’s health commission said.
Dr Tedros praised China’s response in a news conference in Geneva on Thursday evening.
But he said the WHO was declaring a global health emergency because it was concerned about the virus spreading to countries that did not have the resources to deal with it.
‘The main reason for this declaration is not because of what is happening in China but because of what is happening in other countries. Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems,’ he said.
The WHO move will trigger tighter containment and information-sharing guidelines to all countries, but may disappoint Beijing, which had expressed confidence it can beat the ‘devil’ virus.
China’s UN ambassador, Zhang Jun, said Beijing was assessing the declaration.
‘We are still at a very critical stage in fighting the coronavirus. International solidarity is extremely important and for that purpose all countries should behave in a … responsible manner,’ Zhang said.
WHERE HAS THE WUHAN CORONAVIRUS SPREAD TO?
The vast majority of confirmed infections of the Wuhan coronavirus have been diagnosed in China.
But 23 countries or territories outside of the mainland have also declared infections:
Someone who is infected with the Wuhan coronavirus can spread it with just a simple cough or a sneeze, scientists say.
At least 213 people with the virus are now confirmed to have died and more than 9,800 have been infected in at least 21 countries and regions. But experts predict the true number of people with the disease could be 100,000, or even as high as 350,000 in Wuhan alone, 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. Viruses break into cells inside their host and use them to reproduce itself and disrupt the body’s normal functions. Coronaviruses are named after the Latin word ‘corona’, which means crown, because they are encased by a spiked shell which resembles a royal crown.
The 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).
‘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, after medics first started seeing infections on December 31.
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.
Passengers wearing face masks are seen on a terminal after disembarking from the Costa Smeralda, a cruise ship with 7,000 people on board that was being held off the Italian coast yesterday after a woman fell ill with a suspected case of coronavirus
A family wearing facemasks take a selfie at the departure hall in Yangon International Airport in Yangon, Myanmar
CORONAVIRUS COULD SPREAD ON SURFACES, WARNS WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION
Coronavirus could spread on surfaces, the World Health Organization (WHO) said yesterday.
There is evidence that the coronavirus ‘can also be spread via fomites – when the virus survives on inanimate surfaces for a short period of time,’ said Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, a member of the WHO’s emergency committee on the outbreak.
If the possibility becomes a certainty, it’s a worrying revelation for hospital settings, where patients coming to be diagnosed and treated for coronavirus may touch chairs, tables, beds, railings and much more.
WHO officials are careful to note that it’s not yet clear how contagious the new virus is, but its ability to be transferred from surfaces to people could speed its already alarming spread.
Experts estimate that the virus has an incubation between two and 14 days – although a small subset of cases suggest that it may be transmissible even before symptoms begin.
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 7,000.
Just a week after that, there had been more than 800 confirmed cases and those same scientists estimated that some 4,000 – possibly 9,700 – were infected in Wuhan alone. By that point, 26 people had died.
By January 27, more than 2,800 people were confirmed to have been infected, 81 had died, and estimates of the total number of cases ranged from 100,000 to 350,000 in Wuhan alone.
By January 29, the number of deaths had risen to 132 and cases were in excess of 6,000.
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.
Someone who is infected with the Wuhan coronavirus, which has infected almost 10,000 people across the world, can spread it with just a simple cough or a sneeze, scientists say
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.
HOW HAVE AIRLINES REACTED TO THE OUTBREAK?
Airlines are suspending flights to China in the wake of the new coronavirus outbreak, which as of Friday had killed more than 200 people and infected nearly 10,000 people.
Here is the latest on their plans (in alphabetical order):
Air Canada said on Jan 28 it was cancelling select flights to China.
Air France said on Jan 30 it suspended all scheduled flights to and from mainland China until Feb. 9.
Air India said it was cancelling its Mumbai-Delhi-Shanghai flight from Jan 31 to Feb 14.
AIR NEW ZEALAND
Air New Zealand said on Jan 31 it was temporarily reducing flights between Auckland and Shanghai to four return services a week from Feb 18 to Mar 31 rather than the usual daily flights.
South Korean budget carrier Air Seoul said on Jan 28 it had suspended all flights to China.
Tanzania’s state-owned carrier said it would postpone its maiden flights to China. It had planned to begin charter flights to China in February.
The largest US carrier said it would suspend flights from Los Angeles to Beijing and Shanghai from Feb 9 to Mar 27.
BA said on Jan 30 it had cancelled all flights to mainland China for a month.
CATHAY PACIFIC AIRWAYS
Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific said it would progressively reduce capacity to and from mainland China by 50 per cent or more from Jan 30 to the end of March.
DELTA AIR LINES
The US airline said on Jan 29 it was reducing flights to China to 21 per week from 42, starting Feb 6 through Apr 30.
Egypt’s flag carrier said on Jan 30 it would suspend all flights to and from China starting Feb 1.
EL AL ISRAEL AIRLINES
El Al Israel Airlines said on Jan 30 it was suspending flights to Beijing until Mar 25. Israel’s Health Ministry said it will not allow flights from China to land at its airports.
The African carrier on Jan 30 denied reports it had suspended all flights to China. The airline’s statement contradicted its passenger call centre, which told Reuters earlier in the day that flights to China had been suspended.
Finland’s Finnair said on Jan 31 it was cancelling all flights to mainland China between Feb 6 and Feb 29 and to Guangzhou between Feb 5 and Mar 29.
Kenya Airways said on Jan 31 it has suspended all flights to China until further notice.
Indonesia’s Lion Air Group said on Jan 29 it would suspend all flights to China from February. The airline has suspended six flights from several Indonesian cities to China so far and will suspend the rest next month.
Germany’s Lufthansa said on Jan 29 it was suspending Lufthansa, Swiss and Austrian Airlines flights to and from China until Feb 9. The airline continues to fly to Hong Kong, but it will stop taking bookings for flights to mainland China until the end of February.
ROYAL AIR MAROC
Moroccan airline Royal Air Maroc (RAM) has temporarily suspended its direct flights to China, the company said on Jan 30. RAM had on Jan 16 launched a direct air route with three flights weekly between its Casablanca hub and Beijing.
Rwanda carrier RwandAir has halted flights to and from China until further notice, the airline said in a statement on Friday. The decision will be reviewed later in February, it said.
Nordic airline SAS said on Jan 30 it has decided to suspend all flights to and from Shanghai and Beijing from Jan 31 until Feb 9. SAS offers 12 regular weekly connections from and to Shanghai and Beijing.
Shanghai Airlines said on Jan 31 it would suspend its Chengdu-Budapest flight between Feb 4 and Mar 28 and its Xi’an-Budapest flight between Feb 6 and Mar 26 according to a statement on the website of the Budapest Airport operator. The airline’s Shanghai-Budapest flight is unaffected.
Singapore Airlines Ltd said on Jan 31 it would reduce capacity on some of its routes to mainland China in February. The cuts include flights to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Chengdu, Xiamen and Chongqing, some of which are flown by regional arm SilkAir. Its budget carrier Scoot is also cutting back on flights to China.
Turkey’s flag carrier said on Jan 30 it would decrease frequency on scheduled flights to Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Xian between Feb 5 and Feb 29.
Chicago-based United said it would implement a second phase of flight cancellations between its hub cities in the United States and Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai, resulting in 332 additional round trips being called off through Mar 28. The cancellations will reduce the carrier’s daily departures for mainland China and Hong Kong to four daily departures from 12. United had previously suspended 24 U.S. flights to Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai between Feb 1 and Feb 8 because of a significant drop in demand.
UNITED PARCEL SERVICE INC
UPS has cancelled 22 China flights, as a result of the Wuhan quarantines and normal manufacturing closures due to the Lunar New Year holiday, UPS Chief Executive David Abney said on Jan 30. He did not specify how many flights cancellations were due to the virus.
Vietnam’s Vietjet will suspend all flights to and from China from Feb 1, the company said on Jan 31.
Virgin Atlantic said on Jan 30 it would suspend its daily operations to Shanghai for two weeks from Feb 2. It cited declining demand for flights and the safety of its customers and staff.
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 in January, 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 one 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?
The illness can spread between people just through coughs and sneezes, making it an extremely contagious infection. And it may also spread even before someone has symptoms.
It is believed to travel in the saliva and even through water in the eyes, therefore close contact, kissing, and sharing cutlery or utensils are all risky.
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 – but they may still be contagious during this time.
If and when they do become ill, 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 Center 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 213 people out of a total of at least 9,800 officially confirmed cases – a death rate of around two per cent. This is a similar death rate to 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 and therefore the death rate considerably lower. Imperial College London researchers estimate that there were 4,000 (up to 9,700) cases in Wuhan city alone up to January 18 – officially there were only 444 there to date. If cases are in fact 100 times more common than the official figures, the virus may be far less dangerous than currently believed.
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 Organization 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.