The coronavirus, now known by its new name COVID-19, has been dominating headlines worldwide. From the first infections in the Chinese city of Wuhan to the most recent death in Japan, COVID-19 has begun a global panic in the face of a novel virus that few have been able to understand. But a glance at the facts of the pandemic reveals that there really isn’t much to worry about.
In fact, a coronavirus pandemic isn’t exactly all that new. The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) were both caused by coronaviruses as well, albeit different ones than the COVID-19 that just recently appeared. Though COVID-19 is more transmissible than those, it still remains to be seen if it’s even as transmissible as the flu, which crops up so commonly that it has its own season. In fact, 99% of the COVID-19 infections, and every single death except for two have been contained within Chinese borders.
The entire city of Wuhan, as well as some surrounding heavily-infected cities, have been placed on lockdown. In drone footage from the New York Times, roads and sidewalks are empty, save a lone bicyclist or two. Citizens are limited to their apartments and monitored closely whenever they’re allowed to leave.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), only 3% of cases are classified as severe, even in the most heavily affected areas. The 85% of cases that are classified as mild have symptoms similar to the common cold, which, while uncomfortable, are rarely fatal. Less than 2% of people who have died from COVID-19 were mostly men with an age range of 49-65 who had underlying health problems that severely complicated the disease. Younger patients have been shown to be at much less of a risk.
Estimates have placed the infectivity and lethality of COVID-19 somewhere between the H1N1 swine flu and the Spanish flu, with an incubation period of two to 14 days. The main cause of the infection boom in China is that Wuhan is a massive domestic travel hub. Though the city does connect a dozen or so other countries with mainland China, the number of international travelers to and from Wuhan remains relatively low. This explains why China has an astronomical number of patients compared to other nations, even those sharing borders. For example, even with 58,000 or more infected in China, Russia has only reported two cases. The WHO even released a statement saying that simple surgical masks can be extremely effective in containing the infection from person-to-person, as COVID-19 is mainly spread between people by infected droplets produced when coughing or sneezing.
In the end, COVID-19 seems to be just another passing novel virus. Its effects will be long-lasting; there’s no question about the tragedy of the number of lives lost to this intimidating virus. But as far as the big picture goes, the world has seen something like this before, and just like before, we will overcome it again.