Updated as of February 28 at 9am
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Novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread. South Korea, Iran and Italy have reported the biggest numbers of new cases in the last days, and new countries around the world reported their first cases.
As of February 28 at 9am (HK time), COVID-19 has already killed over 2,800 people and infected more than 83,000 in 50 countries. More new cases are now coming from outside China than inside.
There are 83,265 confirmed cases (of which 78,824 in China). Important: on February 13, China changed the way COVID-19 cases and deaths are reported, and on that day announced a whopping 254 new deaths and over 15,000 new cases.
So far, there are 70 deaths outside of China (up from 56 yesterday): in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, France, Italy and Iran. Iran has the highest death toll outside China, with 26 deaths.
36,436 people have recovered so far.
Here is your essential guide to understand the situation and what you can do.
What is a coronavirus?
A coronavirus is a kind of common virus that causes an infection in your nose, sinuses, or upper throat. This large family of viruses causes several well-known mild to moderate respiratory illnesses such as the common cold, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Coronaviruses spread through coughing, sneezing, or touching an infected person.
While most coronaviruses are not dangerous and most people actually get a coronavirus infection at least once in their life, most likely as a young child, with mild symptoms. In some rarer instances, people have been infected by a more serious type of coronavirus, such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).
Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. Indeed, SARS was transmitted from civet cats to humans, and MERS from dromedary camels to humans, as reminded by World Health Organization (WHO).
A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has NOT been previously identified in humans. The new coronavirus was first named “2019-nCoV”. On February 11, WHO renamed it COVID-19.
Where does novel coronavirus come from?
On 31 December 2019, China alerted the WHO of several cases of pneumonia in the city of Wuhan. Wuhan has 11 million people and is located in the central Hubei Province, which itself has 60 million people. Several of those infected by the virus worked at or visited a a large seafood and animal market, suggesting a possible zoonotic origin to the outbreak. Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market was shut down on January 1.
On 5 January 2020, Chinese officials and experts ruled out the possibility that this was a recurrence of the SARS. Tests showed that cases were due to a new coronavirus, which was named “2019-nCoV”. It has since been renamed “COVID-19” by WHO.
On 11 January 2020, China announced a first death: a 61-year-old man who had visited the seafood market. He was admitted to hospital and died on the evening of January 9 when his heart failed.
Since then, the new coronavirus has spread to several new countries, and authorities are intensifying their efforts to curb it.
Novel coronavirus versus SARS and MERS
The three viruses share similarities, namely the fact that damage to the lungs can make all three viruses deadly. However, at this stage the mortality rate of coronavirus is lower than that of the outbreak of SARS in 2003, according to Peter Piot, professor of global health and director at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
For reference, in 2003 and 2004, SARS killed nearly 10 percent of the 8,096 people in 29 countries who fell ill. A total of 774 people died, according to the WHO.
MERS was even more deadly, killing about 30 percent of people who got infected. Indeed, 858 people died out of 2,494 cases, according to the WHO.The spread of the coronavirus seems “more infectious” but less severe than the SARS so far, according to health experts.
Based on numbers to date, the new coronavirus has killed about 2 percent of those that have been infected. Numbers are moving quickly though as cases get diagnosed.
Actually, most of the people who have died as a result of the coronavirus had underlying health conditions, like hypertension, diabetes or cardiovascular disease. These conditions had weakened their immune systems, according to World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus.
As a result of the seriousness of the situation, the WHO has declared the new coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency on January 30.
A key difference so far is that in the case of MERS, some “superspreaders” passed the virus onto many others. Most famously, one businessman brought the virus to South Korea in 2015 and infected 186 people with MERS. Another superspreader who caught MERS from that man passed MERS to 82 people in just two days while being treated in an emergency room.
Lastly, an analysis of the illness in the first 41 patients diagnosed with COVID-19 from Wuhan suggests that the virus acts somewhat similarly to SARS and MERS. Like SARS and MERS, the new coronavirus causes pneumonia. But unlike the SARS and MERS viruses, the new coronavirus rarely produces runny noses or intestinal symptoms, as reported on January 24 in the scientific journal, The Lancet. Most of the people affected in that first group were healthy, with fewer than a third actually having chronic medical conditions that could make them more vulnerable to infection.
How many people have been infected? (as of Feb. 28)
Total number of cases (worldwide): 83,265.
Number of cases in Mainland China: 78,824 of which 65,596 cases in Hubei Province.
Number of deaths: 2,858 (of which 99% i.e. 2,788 in mainland China).
Number of people who have recovered: 36,436.
Number of cases outside Mainland China (source: CHP and SCMP) :
– Asia: Hong Kong: 93, Singapore: 96, South Korea: 2,022, Diamond Princess (cruise ship): 705, Japan: 186, Thailand: 40, Taiwan: 32, Malaysia: 22, Vietnam: 16, Macau: 10, India: 3, Philippines: 3, Pakistan: 2, Cambodia: 1, Nepal: 1, Sri Lanka: 1.
– Europe: Italy: 650, Germany: 49, France: 38, UK: 15, Spain: 8, Switzerland: 4, Croatia: 3, Greece: 3, Austria: 2, Finland: 2, Sweden: 2, Russia: 2, Belgium: 1, North Macedonia: 1, Norway: 1, Romania: 1, Georgia: 1, Estonia: 1, Denmark: 1
– North America: USA: 60, Canada: 12.
– South America: Brazil: 1.
– Australia: 23.
– Africa: Egypt: 1, Algeria: 1, Nigeria: 1.
– Middle East: Iran: 245, Bahrein: 33, UAE: 13, Kuwait: 43, Iraq: 6, Oman: 2, Israel: 3, Lebanon: 1.
Is there any treatment for novel coronavirus?
There is currently no vaccine available for the new coronavirus. This is why prevention is so important and maintaining good personal and environmental hygiene matters so much at this stage. Please visit the section below (“Recommendations”) for more information.
What measures have been taken in Hong Kong?
– Schools now closed until April 20 at the earliest: The Education Bureau announced on February 25 that all schools will remain closed until April 20 at the earliest (extended from March 16 as previously announced).
– 14-day mandatory quarantine on all people entering Hong Kong from the Mainland: Carrie Lam announced this new measure on February 5. It is expected that this will further reduce the flow of people between Hong Kong and the Mainland, reducing the risk of transmission and spread of novel coronavirus.
– Closing of most border points with China: Carrie Lam announced on February 3 that from 00:00 hrs on February 4 only two land boundary control points will handle passengers: Shenzhen Bay and HK-Zuhai-Macao Bridge. The Lo Wu, Lok Ma Chau and Macao Ferry Terminal control points will close. Hong Kong International Airport will operate as normal. Kai Tak Cruise Terminal will operate as normal. This means that out of 14 boundary control points between HK and mainland China, 10 will be closed and only 4 will remain open for now
– New measures to enhance new coronavirus prevention in Hong Kong: the government announced new measures on January 31, including extending class suspension for all schools, kindergartens, child care centres and special schools until March 2nd at least (instead of was February 17), extension of the special work arrangement for civil servants and special measures for HK residents returning from mainland China (quarantine and need to wear a mask).
– Drastic new measures to limit cross-border travel: in a new press conference on January 28, Carrie Lam announced new measures to drastically reduce cross-border travel including the shutdown of the two railways, cross-border ferries and denying entry to individual mainland travellers. Flights from and to the mainland will also be cut by half and cross-border tour buses will be reduced. Beijing has also agreed to stop issuing individual travel visas for mainlanders. These measures will be effective at midnight on Thursday 30 January.
– Civil servants working from home: most of Hong Kong’s 176,000 civil servants have been asked to work from home for the rest of the week (from January 29 until February 2) to limit the spreading of the novel coronavirus. This measure will not apply to civil servants who provide urgent and necessary public services. This was announced on January 28 and the full release is here.
– Sports and cultural facilities closed: Hong Kong’s Leisure and Cultural Services Department has announced the shutting down of all sports centres, public swimming pools, museums, and libraries from Tuesday January 28 until further notice. The full press release is here.
– Ban of residents of Hubei and anyone who visited Hubei in the last 14 days: except for people from Hong Kong, the government decided on Sunday 26 January to roll out new measures, effective immediately, in order to limit the spread of the new coronavirus. Similarly, Macau, further beefed up its measures against the outbreak, declaring that about 1,100 Hubei visitors needed to return to the mainland or be placed in isolation.
– First package of measures as part of the activation of Emergency Response Level: on January 25, Carrie Lam announced a series of measures to tackle the disease. These include the creation of new advisory groups, suspending all flights and high-speed train to and from Wuhan, expanding the arrangements of health declarations by in-coming travellers from the Mainland to all boundary control points, suspending all Mainland exchanges, visits, cultural and sports activities organised by the HK Government, and canceling of large-scale events such as the upcoming Hong Kong Marathon on February 9.
Latest global news about novel coronavirus
– 2,858 people have so far died from the new coronavirus, 99% are in mainland China.
– China has over 78,000 cases (up from 7,000 on January 28).
– South Korea alone has over 2,000 cases, the most after China and is on its highest level of alert.
– At least 11 countries in Europe are now hit by the virus.
– Italy is the worst hit country in Europe, with 650 cases and 17 people dead. Several cities in the north are on lockdown and the Venice Carnival is cancelled.
– In Hong Kong, the death toll is still two people since a man died on February 19: a 70-year old man with health issues (diabetes and kidney problems).
– Numbers are going up fast in Iran where 245 people are infected: schools are closed in 14 provinces to prevent further spreading.
– Israel reported its first two cases, and countries with first cases in the last days hours include Oman, Iraq, Bahrein, Kuwait, Algeria, Nigeria and in Europe: Austria, Estonia, Romania, Denmark and Croatia for instance.
– In an unprecedented move, Israel has advised all its citizens to avoid any travel abroad, irrespective of the location.
Recommendations everyone should follow to stay safe
The Center for Health Protection in Hong Kong as well as the WHO and the CDC in the US have published advice for the general public. These are consistent with health recommendations to contain common viruses, such as influenza.
Generally speaking, maintaining good personal and environmental hygiene is of utmost importance to protect ourselves from pneumonia and respiratory tract infection. Below are some recommendations to note:
– Hand hygiene is one of the most important measures to reduce the spread of diseases. Always perform hand hygiene, especially before touching the mouth, nose or eyes; after touching public installations; or when hands are contaminated by respiratory secretions.
– Wash hands with liquid soap and water, and rub for at least 20 seconds. Rinse with water and dry them with a disposable paper towel.
– If hand washing facilities are not available, rub hands with 70 to 80% alcohol-based handrub. Use sufficient amount of handrub to rub our palms, back of hands, finger webs, back of fingers, thumbs, finger tips, and then wrists. Rub for at least 20 seconds until your hands are dry. Let the alcohol dry on your hands, do not wipe it off with paper towel. It is wise to check the expiry date of the handrub before using it.
– It is important to wear a mask properly before wearing and after removing a mask. Wear a surgical mask when taking public transport or staying in crowded places.
– Cover your mouth and nose with tissue paper when sneezing or coughing and dispose of soiled tissues into a lidded rubbish bin, then wash hands thoroughly.
– Refrain from visiting hospitals. If you must visit a hospital, put on a surgical mask. Observe strict personal and hand hygiene before and after visiting the hospital.
– Maintain drainage pipes properly and pour about half a litre of water into drain outlets regularly.
– As far as possible, avoid crowded places and minimise social contact.
– If you develop respiratory symptoms or a fever, put on a surgical mask and seek medical advice soonest possible.
Precautions to take when travelling outside Hong Kong
– Do not travel to countries or areas where community transmission of novel coronavirus is occurring. Perform personal and hand hygiene at all times.
– Avoid close contact with persons with fever or respiratory symptoms in countries or areas with possible community transmission of novel coronavirus infection.
– Do not visit wet markets, live poultry markets or farms.
– Refrain from touching animals, poultry, birds or their droppings.
– Do not consume game meat and do not patronise food premises where game meat is served.
– Avoiding consuming raw or undercooked animal products which may be contaminated by animal secretions or excretions.
– If you develop respiratory symptoms or a fever, wear a surgical mask and seek medical advice at once as soon as possible.
– Upon returning to Hong Kong, consult a doctor promptly and inform the doctor of your recent travel history and other relevant details to facilitate effective diagnosis and treatment.
What are the symptoms? When to seek medical help?
In case of a COVID-19 infection, you are particularly at risk if you have the below symptoms within 14 days after travelling from Mainland China, or have been in close contact with someone showing these symptoms after travelling from Mainland China :
– any respiratory symptoms,
– pneumonia as shown on chest X-ray,
People of older age and/or with existing health issues are deemed at higher risk of developing severe symptoms from the new coronavirus.
Where to seek help in Hong Kong?
According to Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection’s (CHP), all suspected cases should be reported to the CHP and patients should be transferred to designated public hospitals for further screening, clinical management, and isolation if need be.
In the current context, it is important to note that while all private hospitals continue operating, they have put in place special measures to identify potential patients who may have contracted the new virus. Private clinics will systematically screen patients (China travel history) and take their temperature. Some clinics may even refuse seeing a patient with a high fever. If you do not pass the screening test and are considered high-risk, you will be sent to a public hospital.
If you need a doctor or hospital in Hong Kong during the new coronavirus outbreak, note that new guidelines are in place. Learn where to go and the costs involved here.
Useful resources about China Coronavirus