A new coronavirus, designated 2019-nCoV, was identified in late 2019 in Wuhan, the capital of China’s Hubei province, after people developed pneumonia without a clear cause and for which existing vaccines or treatments were not effective. The virus can spread between people, and its transmission rate (rate of infection) appeared to increase in mid-January 2020. Several countries across Europe, North America and the Asia-Pacific have reported cases. The time from exposure to the development of symptoms is between two and 14 days and there is tentative evidence that it may be contagious before the onset of symptoms. Symptoms include fever, coughing, and breathing difficulties, and death may result.
As of 31 January 2020, approximately 9,947 cases have been confirmed, including in every province-level division of China. The first confirmed death from the coronavirus infection occurred on 9 January and since then 213 deaths have been confirmed. Studies estimate that a larger number of people may have been infected, but not detected. The first local spread of the virus outside China occurred in Vietnam from a father to his son, whereas the first local spread not involving family occurred in Germany, on 22 January when a German man contracted the disease from a Chinese business visitor at a meeting in the German state of Bavaria.
In response, cities with a combined population over 57 million people including Wuhan and 15 cities in the surrounding Hubei province were placed on full or partial lockdown, involving the termination of all urban public transport and outward transport by train, air and long-distance buses.
Many New Year events and tourist attractions have been closed over fear of transmission, including the Forbidden City in Beijing, traditional temple fairs, and other celebratory gatherings. Hong Kong also raised its infectious disease response level to the highest level and declared an emergency, closed its schools until mid-February and cancelled its New Year celebrations.
A number of countries have issued warnings against travel to Wuhan and Hubei province. Travellers who have visited Mainland China have been asked to monitor their health for at least two weeks and contact their healthcare provider to report any symptoms of the virus. Anyone who suspects that they are carrying the virus is advised to wear a protective mask and seek medical advice by calling a doctor rather than directly visiting a clinic in person. Some hotels have been providing refunds and no-fee cancellations for reservations in China or by people from China.
Airports and train stations have implemented temperature checks, health declarations and information signage in an attempt to identify carriers of the virus.
Chinese scientists were able to rapidly isolate and determine the genetic sequence of the virus which they made available such that other could independently develop PCR tests to detect the disease.
Of the first 41 people confirmed to have been infected, two-thirds were found to have a link with the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, which also sold live animals. 2019-nCoV’s genome sequence has been reported to be 75- to 80-percent identical to SARS-CoV, and more than 85-percent similar to several bat coronaviruses. Whether this virus is of the same lethality as SARS is unclear.
On 30 January, the outbreak was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) by the World Health Organization (WHO), the sixth time that the measure has been invoked since the H1N1 pandemic in 2009. On 31 January, an overview of the possible infectability, mortality rate, incubation time, worldwide ability to contain the infection, and estimated time for a vaccine (along with a comparison with other similar outbreaks) was presented.