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Coronavirus: China’s mystery virus that has triggered worry

Published: 3rd Feb, 2020

A top Chinese scientist has confirmed that the mysterious coronavirus (a type of virus named after its spiky, solar corona-like appearance under an electron microscope) that had killed at least six individuals and infected another 291 in China, can spread between human beings.



A top Chinese scientist has confirmed that the mysterious coronavirus (a type of virus named after its spiky, solar corona-like appearance under an electron microscope) that had killed at least six individuals and infected another 291 in China, can spread between human beings.


  • It is also called the Wuhan Virus.
  • The first cases emerged in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province.
  • A large number of patients with unexplained pneumonia were observed.
  • A coronavirus is a kind of common virus that causes an infection in your nose, sinuses, or upper throat. Most coronaviruses are not dangerous.
  • Often a coronavirus causes upper respiratory infection symptoms like a stuffy nose, cough, and sore throat.
  • The coronavirus can also cause middle ear infections in children.
  • Coronavirus can infect both animals and humans.

Human Coronavirus Types

  • Coronaviruses are named for the crown-like spikes on their surface.
  • There are four main sub-groupings of coronaviruses, known as alpha, beta, gamma, and delta.
  • Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause diseases ranging from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
  • Major types
    • Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV): caused by a novel coronavirus that was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012. MERS-CoV is a zoonotic virus, which means it is a virus that is transmitted between animals and people. Studies have shown that humans are infected through direct or indirect contact with infected dromedary camels. MERS-CoV has been identified in dromedaries in several countries in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.
    • SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome): SARS-CoV is thought to be an animal virus from an as-yet-uncertain animal reservoir, perhaps bats, that spread to other animals (civet cats) and first infected humans in the Guangdong province of southern China in 2002.

What are the symptoms of coronavirus infection?

  • Common signs include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Serious infections can lead to pneumonia, kidney failure, and death.
  • Human-to-human transmission has now been confirmed.
  • Animals are the outbreak’s likely primary source.
  • Direct contact with farm or wild animals should be avoided.

Why is there concern around the world?

  • People see a similarity with the SARS outbreak that infected over 8,000 people and killed around 775 in more than 35 countries worldwide in 2002-03.
  • The source of the virus was traced back to a colony of horseshoe bats living in remote cave in Yunnan province. The virus was carried by civet cats which are sold in markets in China.

Global economic and financial market impact

  • The outbreak has sent shivers through world financial markets, with investors drawing comparisons to the 2003 SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak in order to assess its potential economic impact.
  • Expected annual losses from pandemic risk to be about $500 billion — or 0.6% of global income — per year, accounting for both lost income and the intrinsic cost of elevated mortality.
  • Another study by the Commission on a Global Health Risk Framework for the Future estimated that pandemic disease events would cost the global economy over $6 trillion in the 21st century — over $60 billion per year.
  • Despite the disruption to the wider economy, virus outbreaks have tended to benefit pharmaceutical stocks, while tourism and travel-related stocks — hotels, airlines and luxury and consumer goods — tend to get punished.
  • During the SARS outbreak, retail sales figures in China showed a marked drop-off as consumer spending took a hit.

Why China has emerged as the epicentre of global outbreaks of disease

  • With a population of nearly 1.4 billion and 50% of the world’s livestock, China’s ecology poses a risk for emerging, re-emerging, and novel diseases that could threaten China and the rest of the world.
  • The reason could lie in the busy food markets dotting cities across the country — where fruits, vegetables, hairy crabs and butchered meat are often sold next to bamboo rats, snakes, turtles, and palm civets.
  • The Chinese taste for exotic meats, and the high population density of cities create the conditions for the spread of zoonotic infections.
  • Wherever there is close mixing of humans and animals, especially the unregulated handling of blood and other body products, as happens for example in China’s animal markets, there are greater chances of transmission of a virus from animals to humans, and its mutation to adapt to the human body.
  • Ebola outbreak in Africa where wild chimpanzees had the disease. It came into humans after these were killed and consumed. Animal markets are breeding grounds because there is free interchange of pathogens between species and mutations.

What is India’s disease outbreak investigation protocol?

  • The National Health Portal of India lists a 10-step procedure to investigate an outbreak, including preparing for fieldwork, establishing the existence of an outbreak, verifying diagnosis, defining and identifying cases, and communicating findings.
  • Three Indians have been kept under observation.
  • Other countries with confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV include Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, Australia, Thailand, Nepal, France, the United States, Malaysia and Canada.

Novel coronavirus cases now 4,500, half as many as SARS cases in 2003

  • The novel coronavirus outbreak has led to comparisons being drawn to the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak of 2003, also caused by a coronavirus.
  • According to the WHO, a total of 8,098 people worldwide became sick with SARS during that outbreak.
  • Of the 8,098 SARS cases, 774 died. In comparison, of the 4,593 infected by the novel coronavirus so far, 106 have died.

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