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Posted: 2020-03-29 15:19:52

The World Health Organization (WHO) has a declared the outbreak of the new coronavirus a pandemic as health authorities around the globe continue to scramble to contain the sickness, first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December last year.

The virus, which causes a respiratory illness called COVID-19, has spread to at least 146 countries and territories on six continents, infecting more than 650,000 people and killing more than 31,000. The vast majority of infections and deaths had previously occurred in mainland China, where authorities placed a region of 60 million people under lockdown to contain the pathogen.

In recent days, the number of infected in the US has soared past the total number of infected in all across China. The number of people infected with the novel coronavirus in the United States surpassed 100,000 on Friday, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally. 

The current outbreak

Italy which has the largest number of reported cases in Europe has had a high fatality rate of 10.8%. 

There were 919 deaths in 24 hours, the highest number of fatalities of any country since the outbreak began in late Dec 2019. 

The total number of people who have died as a result of COVID-19 in Italy now stands at 9,134. Further dashing hopes that Europe is containing the pandemic, Spain recorded 769 new deaths in a daily, bringing the total number to 4,858.

At least 18 countries in the Middle East and North Africa have also reported cases as of March 11. Many of the reported cases were linked to people who had recently travelled to Iran.

By March 29, the number of cases in Iran were 38,309. The number of reported cases in Turkey spiked to 7,402. 

How did the outbreak begin?

On December 31 last year, China notified WHO of several cases of an unusual pneumonia in Wuhan, a port city of 11 million people in the central Hubei province. Several of the infections were linked to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, which was shut down the following day.

Chinese authorities ruled out a recurrence of the virus that causes the severe acute respiratory (SARS), an illness that originated in China and killed more than 770 people worldwide in 2002-2003. On January 7, officials said they had identified a new virus, now named SARS-Cov-2.

Two days later, a 61-year-old man who had purchased goods from the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market died from the infection - he was the country's first known victim of the virus.

In the following weeks, the outbreak ballooned across China, spread across the border, and reached all but one of the world's continents.

How does the virus spread?

Like other coronaviruses, the new one is transmitted from person to person via droplets when an infected person breathes out, coughs or sneezes. It can also spread via contaminated surfaces such as door handles or railings.

Infectious disease and virus specialists estimate that each person carrying the virus is passing it to two or three other people on average.

INTERACTIVE: Covid-19 doctor's note - How does the virus transmit


COVID-19 causes a range of symptoms. The most common include fever, fatigue and a dry cough. The disease is mild in more than 80 percent of cases, severe in 13 percent and critical in 6 percent. In the most critical cases, the infection can cause severe pneumonia, multiple organ failure and death.

WHO says COVID-19 has killed about 3.4 percent of confirmed cases globally, a figure far above the fatality rate for the seasonal flu.

INTERACTIVE: Coronavirus COVID-19 symptoms explainer


Where did the new coronavirus come from and how deadly is it?

Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. While the animal source of the new type of virus is not yet clear, scientists suspect bats may be its host, and say the virus passed to humans via another animal species, such as the pangolin.

Scientists believe SARS also originated in bats and was most likely passed on to humans through cat-like civets. The coronavirus that causes the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) jumped to humans via camels. Below, we look at the most deadly disease outbreaks that originated in animals.

INTERACTIVE: Global epidemics March 29, 2020


Older people, especially those with chronic illnesses such as heart or lung diseases, are more at risk. Among younger people, deaths are rarer, according to WHO, but some have made headlines, such as the 34-year-old Chinese doctor who was reprimanded by authorities for sounding an early alarm about the virus only to later succumb to it.

On average, however, WHO says people with mild cases recover in about two weeks, while those who are sicker can take anywhere from three to six weeks.

Source: Al Jazeera News

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