How the coronavirus pandemic has DOUBLED in size in a week with almost one million cases of the killer infection now recorded worldwide
- Recorded cases of the killer infection have increased by more than half a million
- Deaths have almost tripled within a week, from 18,400 to 47,260 victims
- The staggering figures coincided with the darkest day for the UK and the US
- America is now worse affected by COVID-19 than any other country in the world
The coronavirus pandemic has doubled in size in around a week with almost one million cases now recorded worldwide, figures show.
Data collated by the World Health Organization shows there were 414,000 cases of the life-threatening infection on March 25.
On the same date, around 18,400 people had died, which has now soared to 47,260 – almost tripling within eight days.
The staggering global figures coincided with the darkest day for both the UK and the US, as the pandemic continues to accelerate.
Today the UK recorded its highest jump in single-day deaths (596), and the US was the first country to confirm more than 1,000 deaths in 24-hour window.
With more than 216,000 infections across the country, the US is now worse affected by COVID-19 than any other country in the world.
China and Italy have both previously been in that position, showing how rapidly the coronavirus crisis can evolve within a matter of days.
Half the world are estimated to be in lockdown in a bid to slow the spread, buying scientists crucial time in the global race to find a vaccine.
Recorded cases of the killer infection have increased by more than half a million from March 25, when it sat at the 414,000 mark. The sharp incline is pictured
Around 18,400 people had died on March 25. The figure has now soared to 47,260 – almost tripling within seven days (pictured)
HOW CASES HAVE SOARED IN ONE WEEK
March 25: 414,179
March 26: 462,684
March 27: 509,164
March 28: 571,659
March 29: 634,813
March 30: 693,282
March 31: 750,890
April 1: 823,626
April 2: 937,570
HOW DEATHS HAVE SOARED IN ONE WEEK
March 25: 18,440
March 26: 20,834
March 27: 23,335
March 28: 26,493
March 29: 29,891
March 30: 33,106
March 31: 36 405
April 1: 40,598
April 2: 47,260
At a press conference on Wednesday, WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: ‘The number of deaths has more than doubled in the past week.
‘In the next few days we will reach one million confirmed cases and 50,000 deaths.’
With the virus showing no sign of slowing down Dr Tedros said it has ‘exposed the weaknesses’ of the world’s abilities to cope with a pandemic.
He said: ‘This virus, which was unknown to us three months ago, has exposed the weaknesses and inequities in our health systems and societies, our lack of preparedness, and the gaps in our supply chains and other essential systems.’
Asia appears to have turned a corner in its battle against the virus, which began in Wuhan in December 2019, if figures released by authorities are true.
Meanwhile, Europe, the ‘new epicentre’ of the deadly coronavirus, struggles to get a grip on its worsening situation.
ESTIMATED 19MILLION IN EUROPE HAVE THE CORONAVIRUS
Researchers at Imperial College London, led by government adviser Professor Neil Ferguson, have studied coronavirus outbreaks across Europe to predict their true scales.
Professor Ferguson has been one of the foremost British experts since the outbreak began and it was his work that persuaded the Government to order a lockdown.
He and colleagues now suggest that an average of four per cent of people in 11 of the Europe’s wealthiest countries have been infected – some 19million people.
Many millions of people are believed to have caught the virus and recovered at home, putting the infection tolls in the UK, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden, France, Austria, Denmark, Germany and Norway considerably higher than the World Health Organization total
The UK could already have had 1.8million coronavirus patients with one in every 37 people having caught the disease, according to scientists.
In Spain a staggering one in every seven people – 7.5million citizens – are predicted to have had the COVID-19 illness already, along with 10 per cent of Italians.
The country with the lowest estimated infections was Norway, where only 0.41 per cent of its 5.5million people are thought to have caught the coronavirus (approximately 22,400 people).
In Germany the rate of infection was thought to be 0.72 per cent (577,000 people), according to the data which was estimated for March 28.
Besides Spain and Italy, which had a combined estimate of around 13.6million people infected, no other country’s toll was higher than four per cent.
The UK’s official cases count today tipped the 33,000 cases, but scientists predict at least 1.7million people are infected – they just haven’t been tested in order to get a diagnosis.
The UK and Spain both reported huge spikes in their fatalities today – their highest in a 24 period so far – 569 and 950 respectively.
Spain’s death toll today passed 10,000, having reported its first fatality merely four weeks ago. Authorities believe the virus is now peaking, reaching 110,240 infections, and hope to see a drop in figures in the days ahead.
Despite lockdown measures coming into force worldwide – with more than 3.9billion staying indoors, according to an AFP tally – they won’t have a positive impact for a few weeks.
Some countries have rejected the draconian measures – Belarus says its strict testing regime is keeping cases ‘under control’, while Sweden is heading towards ‘herd immunity’ – a controversial strategy abandoned by Britain.
The US – the country looking to be the worst devastated by the COVID-19 disease – has recorded a total of 5,148 coronavirus deaths. It has confirmed more than 216,000 cases of the disease.
Experts say as many as 200,000 will die by the time the pandemic is over. Already the economic impact is evident – 6.6m new jobless benefit claims have been registered.
But Italy still has the unwanted lead in deaths, recording a death toll of 13,915 people out of 115,242 confirmed cases, owing to its elderly population, experts believe.
WHO officials are now turning their more of their attention to poorer countries, where outbreaks may only be in their early stages. People there are the most vulnerable because health systems are weak.
COVID-19 arrived in Africa later than other regions, the continent severely ravaged by the Ebola epidemic of 2014.
Dr Tedros said yesterday: ‘We recommend handwashing and physical distancing, but we recognize that we need innovative solutions for communities that lack clean water, or live in cramped conditions.
‘We are already seeing the economic and social effects of this pandemic in high-income countries. In poor communities, those effects could be even more severe and long-lasting.
‘We are calling on governments to provide a social safety net, so that vulnerable people have food and other essentials during this crisis.’
Researchers at Imperial College London, led by government adviser Professor Neil Ferguson, have studied coronavirus outbreaks across Europe to predict their true scales.
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS?
What is the 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 has been named SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. The name stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2.
Experts say the bug, which has killed around one in 50 patients since the outbreak began in December, is a ‘sister’ of the SARS illness which hit China in 2002, so has been named after it.
The disease that the virus causes has been named COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019.
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 publicly reporting 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.
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.
Where does the virus come from?
According to scientists, the virus almost certainly came from bats. 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 COVID-19 came from people visiting or working in a live animal market in Wuhan, 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.
A study by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, published in February 2020 in the scientific journal Nature, found that the genetic make-up virus samples found in patients in China is 96 per cent identical to a coronavirus they found in bats.
However, there were not many bats at the market so scientists say it was likely there was an animal which acted as a middle-man, contracting it from a bat before then transmitting it to a human. It has not yet been confirmed what type of animal this was.
Dr Michael Skinner, a virologist at Imperial College London, was not involved with the research but said: ‘The discovery definitely places the origin of nCoV in bats in China.
‘We still do not know whether another species served as an intermediate host to amplify the virus, and possibly even to bring it to the market, nor what species that host might have been.’
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.
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. It is less deadly than SARS, however, which killed around one in 10 people, compared to approximately one in 50 for COVID-19.
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. It can also live on surfaces, such as plastic and steel, for up to 72 hours, meaning people can catch it by touching contaminated surfaces.
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.
What does the virus do to you? What are the symptoms?
Once someone has caught the COVID-19 virus it may take between two and 14 days, or even longer, 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 will recover from these without any issues, and many will need no medical help at all.
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.
Figures are showing that young children do not seem to be particularly badly affected by the virus, which they say is peculiar considering their susceptibility to flu, but it is not clear why.
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, 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 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.
Experts have been conflicted since the beginning of the outbreak about whether the true number of people who are infected is significantly higher than the official numbers of recorded cases. Some people are expected to have such mild symptoms that they never even realise they are ill unless they’re tested, so only the more serious cases get discovered, making the death toll seem higher than it really is.
However, an investigation into government surveillance in China said it had found no reason to believe this was true.
Dr Bruce Aylward, a World Health Organization official who went on a mission to China, said there was no evidence that figures were only showing the tip of the iceberg, and said recording appeared to be accurate, Stat News reported.
Can the virus be cured?
The COVID-19 virus cannot 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 work, 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 was declared a pandemic on March 11. A pandemic is defined by the World Health Organization as the ‘worldwide spread of a new disease’.
Previously, the UN agency said most cases outside of Hubei had been ‘spillover’ from the epicentre, so the disease wasn’t actually spreading actively around the world.
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