The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the novel coronavirus outbreak (nCoV) that started in Wuhan, China a global health emergency, following a meeting of its emergency committee yesterday, January 30, 2020.
On its website, WHO said it is “working closely with global experts, governments and partners to rapidly expand scientific knowledge on this new virus, to track the spread and virulence of the virus, and to provide advice to countries and individuals on measures to protect health and prevent the spread of this outbreak.”
With these new developments, should the public be worried?
Here are the facts, as laid out in a video produced by the BBC:
- To date, there are about 9,000 people infected in at least 19 countries, and more than 200 deaths. (The first case in the Philippines was confirmed yesterday by the Department of Health.)
- Scientists were aware of six coronaviruses that could infect people, including SARS-CoV (2003) and MERS-CoV (2012). Discovered recently, the nCoV is the seventh type of coronavirus.
- A person infected with the nCoV may show the following symptoms that resemble those of the common cold: sneezing, cough, and headaches. As the infection progresses, there may also be difficulty in breathing.
The good news
“97% of people who get this virus survive,” Dr. Peter Daszak, President of the Ecohealth Alliance, told the BBC.
“There’s a small group that die and they tend to be people with so-called predisposing conditions,” he adds.
However, people continue to be worried that the virus could evolve and cause death to the younger and healthier groups.
What has been done
According to the report, China has been working with researchers around the world by sharing the genetic code for the virus to aid in the development of a vaccine.
Kate Broderick, from the Research and Development group of Inovio, a pharmaceutical company based in Pennsylvania, U.S., confirms this.
“We worked overnight and the next day we had designed a vaccine. We immediately put that vaccine into manufacture, which is the stage it is currently in. And we hope that that will be entering human clinical trials by early summer [around May-June]. That timeline is absolutely unprecedented in vaccine development,” she said.
In the meantime, Daszak hopes to allay fears by putting things into perspective.
“Is this going to be the next global pandemic that wipes out 10% of the population? We don’t think so.
“It’s probable that this outbreak is gonna last a few more weeks, it may cause many more people to be infected, but it’s not a threat to our existence on the planet.”
How to stop the nCoV from spreading
- Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently. Avoid touching your face.
- Cover your mouth when you cough using your sleeve or with a piece of tissue that you will discard right after
- Avoid places with a high density of people
To clarify, as the Philippines’ Department of Health has already said, wearing masks will not protect one fully from the virus. Buying them in large quantities, or panic buying, does not help either as this may create a supply shortage for those who really need them, like hospital workers who are on the frontline of treatment.
Preventive measures, like leading a healthy lifestyle, are still the best way to combat the virus.