COVID-19: What we know so far

This blog is part of a series relating to the economic impacts of the COVID-19, novel coronavirus outbreak of 2020.

It is the 11th of March, three months after the novel coronavirus was isolated from patients who reported in Hubei province China. The first fatal case was reported on the 11th of January 2020 and it was named shortly afterwards as 2019-nCoV, now known as COVID-19. It is a zoonotic virus that enters human population via direct or indirect contact with animals. Coronavirus are a family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from common cold to more severe cases of pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and death. 

Recent strains of coronavirus include Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) that entered the human population via contact with dromedary (single hump) camels in the Arabian Peninsula. Laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS reported from July 2012 to November 2019 a total of 2,494 cases with 858 associated deaths (case fatality rate=34.4%) of which 2,102 were in Saudi Arabia [1]. South Korea had a cluster of MERS in 2015 with 186 cases with 38 fatalities lasting 2 months. The government quarantined 16,993 individuals during the outbreak for 14 days to control the virus [2]. There was no recorded cases of MERS in Australia.

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) first identified occurred in November 2002 in Guangdong province in China. It is thought to be a virus in bats that spread to other animals that infected humans. SARS resulted in approximately 10,000 cases in 2003 of which 10% died. Transmission was from person to person and mainly during second week of illness and in the health care setting. Australia had 6 SARS cases with 0 deaths. The economic impact of the SARS virus on gross domestic product (GDP) in 2003 for Australia was estimated to be -0.07% [3].

The virus causing COVID-19 is one that has ribonucleic acid (RNA) as its genetic material (like SARS, Ebola, Hep C, Hep E, polio and measles). RNA viruses generally have very high mutation rates and this makes it difficult to create an effective vaccine to prevent diseases caused by RNA viruses. As at 10th of March, the number of confirmed cases was 113,672 with 4,012 deaths (fatality rate (FR) of 3.53%) with 110 countries, areas or territories with cases [4]. The number of confirmed cases in China is 80,924 followed by Italy, Republic of Korea, and Iran with 9,172, 7,153, and 7161 cases respectively. Australia has 100 confirmed cases that included 3 deaths with more than half in New South Wales (54 cases). One quarter of Australia’s cases did not have a reported history of overseas travel. For 22 of the cases there was a reported recovery [5]. 

The next blog will describe anecdotes of how Australians have been responding to the COVID-19 virus, beyond the hoarding of toilet paper.

  1. World Health Organisation (2019), MERS Situation Update November 2019.
  2. Oh, M.D., Park, W.B., Park, S.W., Choe, P.G., Bang, J.H., Song, K.H., Kim, E.S., Kim, H.B. and Kim, N.J., 2018. Middle East respiratory syndrome: what we learned from the 2015 outbreak in the Republic of Korea.The Korean journal of internal medicine33(2), p.233. Joo, H., Maskery, B.A., Berro, A.D., Rotz, L.D., Lee, K. and Brown, C.M. (2019), Economic impact of the 2015 MERS outbreak on the Republic of Korea’s tourism-related industries, Health Security, 2019; 17(2): 100-108.
  3. Lee, J. W., and W. J. McKibben (2004). Globalization and disease: The case of SARS. Asian Economic Papers pg. 19-33.
  4. World Health Organisation (2020), Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Situation.
  5.  Australian Department of Health (2020), Coronavirus (COVID-19) health alert, (Accessed 10 March 2020 at 8:50pm).

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