Worldwide coronavirus infection toll hits 200,000 after doubling in less than two weeks

By | March 18, 2020

Worldwide coronavirus infection toll hits 200,000 after doubling in less than two weeks

  • Cases of the highly contagious virus exceeded 203,000 on Wednesday morning
  • The global toll reached six figures on March 7, two months after outbreak began
  • But cases doubled in space of 11 days amid fears pandemic can’t be contained
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

The worldwide infection toll for the killer coronavirus has now topped 200,000 after doubling in less than two weeks.

Cases of the highly contagious virus now exceed 203,000, according to data compiled by the John Hopkins University. 

The global toll reached six figures on March 7, more than two months after the outbreak first began in Wuhan, China, in late December.  

But another 100,000 people were infected in just 11 days since then, largely due to a surge in cases in Europe, sparking fears the crisis will only continue to get worse. 

At least 160 countries and territories around the world have reported cases in every continent except Antarctica. 

The John Hopkins University also recorded 8,006 deaths, suggesting around 4 per cent of patients who catch the virus die from it.  

Cases of the highly contagious virus now exceed 203,000, according to data compiled by the John Hopkins University

Cases of the highly contagious virus now exceed 203,000, according to data compiled by the John Hopkins University

It comes as coronavirus deaths in Europe exceed the toll in Asia for the first time. Europe has suffered at least 3,511 deaths - the majority coming from Italy - compared with 3,384 in Asia

It comes as coronavirus deaths in Europe exceed the toll in Asia for the first time. Europe has suffered at least 3,511 deaths – the majority coming from Italy – compared with 3,384 in Asia

A worker disinfects a room at the Red Cross hospital in Wuhan, in China's central Hubei province on March 18

A worker disinfects a room at the Red Cross hospital in Wuhan, in China’s central Hubei province on March 18

Workers disinfect a corridor at the Red Cross hospital - after the number of coronavirus deaths in Europe surpassed Asia for the first time

Workers disinfect a corridor at the Red Cross hospital – after the number of coronavirus deaths in Europe surpassed Asia for the first time

But experts say the death rate is probably lower than that because of an under-reporting of cases. 

Many countries – including the UK – are only testing people who are hospitalised due to the virus.

Thousands of people will make a full recovery without ever knowing they were infected.

PATIENTS INFECTED WITH THE VIRUS ARE MOST CONTAGIOUS BEFORE THEY GET SEVERE SYMPTOMS

Patients infected with the killer coronavirus shed large amounts of the virus before severe symptoms appear, a study has shown.

And people continue to remain contagious even after they feel better, researchers found.

The German study – one of the first coronavirus studies to have been conducted outside China – confirms the theory that people can spread the virus before they even know they are infected.

But it also suggests they can spread it after they recover from the infection.

Researchers from the Bundeswehr Institute of Microbiology in Munich took samples from the nose and throat of nine COVID-19 patients. 

Results showed the samples had a very high viral load when the subjects were only showing minor symptoms, such as fatigue or a cough..

China, Italy, Iran, Spain and Germany have suffered the highest number of infections, according to the team at John Hopkins. 

Meanwhile, the number of recovered patients around the world has exceeded 82,000, the American university’s figures show.  

As fears grow that the pandemic cannot be stopped, some UK scientists suggested that the only way to beat it is through ‘herd immunity’. 

When a coronavirus patient recovers from the illness, their body builds up an immunity to it.

If a high enough proportion of a community become protected this way, it stops the disease circulating because the number of people who can be infected is so small. This is called herd immunity. 

But China’s top coronavirus expert today warned herd immunity was a counterproductive measure that will not contain the global pandemic because the disease is too infectious and lethal.

Dr Zhong Nanshan, the country’s senior medical adviser told a press conference: ‘Herd immunity won’t solve the problem.’

‘We don’t yet have the evidence to prove that if you are infected once, you would be immune for life. Our next step is to develop effective vaccines, which requires global cooperation.’ 

It comes as coronavirus deaths in Europe exceed the toll in Asia for the first time.  

Europe has suffered at least 3,421 deaths – the majority coming from Italy – compared with 3,384 in Asia. 

But Italian coronavirus infections have slowed in recent days after the country took drastic quarantine measures to stop the spread of the pathogen.

The figures are a sobering warning to Britain, which unlike Italy has not closed schools, shut down shops or blocked travel.

The Chinese senior medical adviser (pictured) rebuked UK's approach to allow citizens to catch the virus to build up a national tolerance strong enough to stop the virus circulating

The Chinese senior medical adviser (pictured) rebuked UK’s approach to allow citizens to catch the virus to build up a national tolerance strong enough to stop the virus circulating

Dr Zhong Nanshan, a respiratory expert and head of the health commission team investigating the outbreak of the new coronavirus, is pictured visiting a hospital in Wuhan in January

Dr Zhong Nanshan, a respiratory expert and head of the health commission team investigating the outbreak of the new coronavirus, is pictured visiting a hospital in Wuhan in January

The number of daily cases in Italy has been stagnant in the last four days, settling down at around 3,500 new patients per day.

Yesterday’s increase in the overall tally was 12.6 per cent, the second-lowest rate since the virus began spreading in Italy on February 21 – offering hope that the lockdown is bearing fruit even as the death toll rose by 345 to 2,503.

Italians have been ordered to stay indoors, with schools and universities shut, shops closed except for grocery stores and pharmacies, and heavy restrictions on travel.

But in Britain, which has taken none of those measures, the 407 new cases yesterday represented the largest daily jump since the virus came to the UK.

Experts warn that there is a lag time between health measures being taken and their effects becoming conspicuous.

That suggests the Italian lockdown imposed last week could now be starting to have a noticeable impact.

The number of new infections in the last four days has been fairly stagnant with 3,497 on Saturday, 3,590 on Sunday, 3,233 on Monday and 3,526 on Tuesday.

The Italian death toll rose by 345 to 2,503, with total infections now at 31,506.

The percentage increase in cases has been below 20 per cent for the last few days, falling to 12.6 per cent yesterday.

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Britain’s increase yesterday was 26.4 per cent, although it was only 10.9 per cent the day before.

This graph shows the rate of increase in Italian coronavirus cases since February 23. Yesterday's increase of 12.6 per cent was the second-lowest in that period

This graph shows the rate of increase in Italian coronavirus cases since February 23. Yesterday’s increase of 12.6 per cent was the second-lowest in that period 

This table shows the number of new infections per day, which has flatlined in recent days, settling down at around 3,500 new cases every 24 hours 

The signs of a slowing infection rate will be a relief to doctors on the front line of Italy’s coronavirus outbreak, who have described ‘catastrophic’ scenes in hospitals which are creaking with the sheer volume of cases.

They tell of critically ill patients who should be in intensive care but are instead slumped in busy wards because of a woeful lack of equipment and staff.

Worryingly, the doctors who have spoken out are from state-of-the-art hospitals which typically provide excellent care but were caught flat-footed by the virus which is stretching their capacity to breaking point.

Medics are struggling to keep pace with the escalating number of cases, including those treating patients at the advanced Papa Giovanni XXIII Hospital in the wealthy city of Bergamo in the virus-plagued Lombardy region.

The 950-bed hospital has been brought to its knees because of the crisis, with more than 400 of the beds used by coronavirus patients and three of the hospital’s four most senior staff off sick.

Intensive care specialist Mirco Nacoti told the Wall Street Journal: ‘Until three weeks ago, we did everything for every patient.

‘Now we have to choose which patients to put in intensive care. This is catastrophic.’

Hospital workers prepare coffins at the Ponte San Pietro hospital in Bergamo today, in the province of Lombardy which has been the worst-affected region of Italy

Hospital workers prepare coffins at the Ponte San Pietro hospital in Bergamo today, in the province of Lombardy which has been the worst-affected region of Italy 

Medical staff collect a patient from an ambulance at the second Covid-19 hospital in Rome, Italy, which is fighting the biggest virus outbreak outside of China

Medical staff collect a patient from an ambulance at the second Covid-19 hospital in Rome, Italy, which is fighting the biggest virus outbreak outside of China

The hospital’s once rapid emergency response is also at breaking point, with even people reporting heart attacks waiting an hour on the phone because the lines are being bombarded.

Dr Angelo Giupponi, who coordinates Papa Giovanni’s emergency response, said his team takes 2,500 calls daily and brings 1,500 to hospital.

Signalling the team were caught off-guard by the epidemic, he said that ambulance staff have not been trained for such a contagion, and revealed many have become infected after their vehicles became contaminated.

Dispatcher Diego Bianco, a 40-something with no underlying health conditions, even died.

In a sign that Rome is scrambling to react to the outbreak, Dr Sergio Cattaneo said he has seen unused wards outfitted into an intensive care unit in six days.

He also claims a hospital laundry room was converted into a giant stretcher-filled waiting room and a tented field hospital erected outside to test possible new virus patients.

Dr Cattaneo, head of anesthesiology and intensive care at the public hospital in Brescia in northern Italy, said: ‘What is really shocking – something we had not been able to forecast and brought us to our knees – is the quickness the epidemic spreads.

Most of the 8,000 fatalities recorded across the world have been people who are elderly or suffer underlying conditions, and have weakened immune systems. But Bruce Aylward, who assessed the pandemic in China , said there are an alarming number of young people who have developed complications from the disease

Most of the 8,000 fatalities recorded across the world have been people who are elderly or suffer underlying conditions, and have weakened immune systems. But Bruce Aylward, who assessed the pandemic in China , said there are an alarming number of young people who have developed complications from the disease

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE AGES OF CORONAVIRUS PATIENTS WHO GET INFECTED? 

Chinese health officials carried out the biggest ever study on the never-before-seen strain of the virus, using data from 72,000 cases.

Results showed the SARS-CoV-2 virus posed the greatest threat to older patients and those with underlying conditions, such as cancer and heart disease. It also revealed the exact breakdown of the cases that had been confirmed.

AGE

0-9

10-19

20-29

30-39

40-49

50-59

60-69

70-79

80+ 

CASES (%)

416 (0.9%)

549 (1.2%)

3,619 (8.1%)

7,600 (17.0%) 

8,571 (19.2%)

10,008 (22.4%)

8,583 (19.2%)

3,918 (8.8%) 

1,408 (3.2%) 

And what about deaths? 

AGE

0-9

10-19

20-29

30-39

40-49

50-59

60-69

70-79

80+ 

DEATHS (%)

0 (0.0%)

1 (0.1%)

7 (0.7%)

18 (1.8%) 

38 (3.7%)

130 (12.7%)

309 (30.2%)

312 (30.5%) 

208 (20.3%) 

‘If the spreading of this epidemic is not put under control, it will bring all hospitals to their knees.’

Dr Cattaneo’s new ICU added six more beds to the hospital’s capacity, bringing to 42 the number of ICU beds dedicated to the virus.

Across the Lombardy region, local authorities are pushing ahead with plans to build a 400-bed ICU field hospital at the Milan fairgrounds, even though the civil protection agency has warned that it doesn’t have the ventilators or personnel to staff it, and that time is running out.

‘The secret has been – and this should be a strong message for foreign countries – to act early on this, in order to avoid – like in our case – having to chase after it day after day,’ Cattaneo said.

Brescia, an industrial city of nearly 200,000 east of Milan and the capital of a province of 1.2million, is second only to nearby Bergamo in positive cases in Lombardy, the epicenter of the pandemic in Europe.

For the past two days, Brescia actually outpaced Bergamo in the number of new infections, on Tuesday adding another 382 positive tests for a total of 3,300 and suggesting that it is becoming Lombardy’s hottest hot spot.

Indeed, seven of Brescia’s deaths this week were among residents of the same nursing home in Barbariga, where another eight elderly people tested positive, local media reported. 

While many people suffer relatively mild symptoms from the virus, the mortality rate in Italy in people over 80 is 22 percent, according to statistics from the National Institutes of Health. 

It has been a race against time for Lombardy to add more ICU beds than the patients who need them, not an easy task given that 10 percent of all Italy’s infected require ICU admission, primarily for respiratory help.

Nearly all admitted patients have interstitial pneumonia, a disease in which the lace-like tissue of the lungs’ alveoli become inflamed, leading to progressive respiratory failure, according to Giovanna Perone, director of Brescia’s emergency services.

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‘In the last few days, the number of people arriving here on their own and reporting such symptoms has increased,’ Perone said outside the civil protection tents where walk-in patients are tested and then sent to the hospital’s converted laundry room to await the results.

The onslaught of infections has completely overwhelmed the public health system in Italy’s prosperous north, prompting regional officials to beg retired doctors to come back to work and to accelerate graduation dates for nurses and specialists.

‘I ask you from my heart, we need your competency, your experience, your efficiency,’ said Giulio Gallera, Lombardy’s chief healthcare official. ‘Give us a hand.’

The 25 billion euro aid package the Italian government approved Monday, aimed at bolstering both the health care system and helping businesses, workers and families weather the economic hit, also contains provisions to hire 10,000 more medical personnel.

Already Lombardy this week has received 2,200 responses to a ‘help wanted’ sign on its Facebook page, and hired over 1,000 people, Gallera said.

Italy’s medical personnel also complain about critical shortages of gear, including protective masks and glasses. 

Italy’s national federations of doctors and nurses issued a joint alarm Tuesday over the more than 2,300 medical personnel who have been infected, 1,900 of them doctors and nurses.  

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS?

What is the coronavirus? 

A coronavirus is a type of virus which can cause illness in animals and people. Viruses break into cells inside their host and use them to reproduce itself and disrupt the body’s normal functions. Coronaviruses are named after the Latin word ‘corona’, which means crown, because they are encased by a spiked shell which resembles a royal crown.

The coronavirus from Wuhan is one which has never been seen before this outbreak. It has been named SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. The name stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2.

Experts say the bug, which has killed around one in 50 patients since the outbreak began in December, is a ‘sister’ of the SARS illness which hit China in 2002, so has been named after it.

The disease that the virus causes has been named COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019.

Dr Helena Maier, from the Pirbright Institute, said: ‘Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that infect a wide range of different species including humans, cattle, pigs, chickens, dogs, cats and wild animals. 

‘Until this new coronavirus was identified, there were only six different coronaviruses known to infect humans. Four of these cause a mild common cold-type illness, but since 2002 there has been the emergence of two new coronaviruses that can infect humans and result in more severe disease (Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronaviruses). 

‘Coronaviruses are known to be able to occasionally jump from one species to another and that is what happened in the case of SARS, MERS and the new coronavirus. The animal origin of the new coronavirus is not yet known.’ 

The first human cases were publicly reported from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where approximately 11million people live, after medics first started publicly reporting infections on December 31.

By January 8, 59 suspected cases had been reported and seven people were in critical condition. Tests were developed for the new virus and recorded cases started to surge.

The first person died that week and, by January 16, two were dead and 41 cases were confirmed. The next day, scientists predicted that 1,700 people had become infected, possibly up to 7,000. 

Where does the virus come from?

According to scientists, the virus almost certainly came from bats. Coronaviruses in general tend to originate in animals – the similar SARS and MERS viruses are believed to have originated in civet cats and camels, respectively.

The first cases of COVID-19 came from people visiting or working in a live animal market in Wuhan, which has since been closed down for investigation.

Although the market is officially a seafood market, other dead and living animals were being sold there, including wolf cubs, salamanders, snakes, peacocks, porcupines and camel meat. 

A study by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, published in February 2020 in the scientific journal Nature, found that the genetic make-up virus samples found in patients in China is 96 per cent identical to a coronavirus they found in bats.

However, there were not many bats at the market so scientists say it was likely there was an animal which acted as a middle-man, contracting it from a bat before then transmitting it to a human. It has not yet been confirmed what type of animal this was.

Dr Michael Skinner, a virologist at Imperial College London, was not involved with the research but said: ‘The discovery definitely places the origin of nCoV in bats in China.

‘We still do not know whether another species served as an intermediate host to amplify the virus, and possibly even to bring it to the market, nor what species that host might have been.’  

So far the fatalities are quite low. Why are health experts so worried about it? 

Experts say the international community is concerned about the virus because so little is known about it and it appears to be spreading quickly.

It is similar to SARS, which infected 8,000 people and killed nearly 800 in an outbreak in Asia in 2003, in that it is a type of coronavirus which infects humans’ lungs. It is less deadly than SARS, however, which killed around one in 10 people, compared to approximately one in 50 for COVID-19.

Another reason for concern is that nobody has any immunity to the virus because they’ve never encountered it before. This means it may be able to cause more damage than viruses we come across often, like the flu or common cold.

Speaking at a briefing in January, Oxford University professor, Dr Peter Horby, said: ‘Novel viruses can spread much faster through the population than viruses which circulate all the time because we have no immunity to them.

‘Most seasonal flu viruses have a case fatality rate of less than one in 1,000 people. Here we’re talking about a virus where we don’t understand fully the severity spectrum but it’s possible the case fatality rate could be as high as two per cent.’

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If the death rate is truly two per cent, that means two out of every 100 patients who get it will die. 

‘My feeling is it’s lower,’ Dr Horby added. ‘We’re probably missing this iceberg of milder cases. But that’s the current circumstance we’re in.

‘Two per cent case fatality rate is comparable to the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 so it is a significant concern globally.’

How does the virus spread?

The illness can spread between people just through coughs and sneezes, making it an extremely contagious infection. And it may also spread even before someone has symptoms.

It is believed to travel in the saliva and even through water in the eyes, therefore close contact, kissing, and sharing cutlery or utensils are all risky. It can also live on surfaces, such as plastic and steel, for up to 72 hours, meaning people can catch it by touching contaminated surfaces.

Originally, people were thought to be catching it from a live animal market in Wuhan city. But cases soon began to emerge in people who had never been there, which forced medics to realise it was spreading from person to person. 

What does the virus do to you? What are the symptoms?

Once someone has caught the COVID-19 virus it may take between two and 14 days, or even longer, for them to show any symptoms – but they may still be contagious during this time.

If and when they do become ill, typical signs include a runny nose, a cough, sore throat and a fever (high temperature). The vast majority of patients will recover from these without any issues, and many will need no medical help at all.

In a small group of patients, who seem mainly to be the elderly or those with long-term illnesses, it can lead to pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection in which the insides of the lungs swell up and fill with fluid. It makes it increasingly difficult to breathe and, if left untreated, can be fatal and suffocate people.

Figures are showing that young children do not seem to be particularly badly affected by the virus, which they say is peculiar considering their susceptibility to flu, but it is not clear why. 

What have genetic tests revealed about the virus? 

Scientists in China have recorded the genetic sequences of around 19 strains of the virus and released them to experts working around the world. 

This allows others to study them, develop tests and potentially look into treating the illness they cause.   

Examinations have revealed the coronavirus did not change much – changing is known as mutating – much during the early stages of its spread.

However, the director-general of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Gao Fu, said the virus was mutating and adapting as it spread through people.

This means efforts to study the virus and to potentially control it may be made extra difficult because the virus might look different every time scientists analyse it.   

More study may be able to reveal whether the virus first infected a small number of people then change and spread from them, or whether there were various versions of the virus coming from animals which have developed separately.

How dangerous is the virus?  

The virus has a death rate of around two per cent. This is a similar death rate to the Spanish Flu outbreak which, in 1918, went on to kill around 50million people.

Experts have been conflicted since the beginning of the outbreak about whether the true number of people who are infected is significantly higher than the official numbers of recorded cases. Some people are expected to have such mild symptoms that they never even realise they are ill unless they’re tested, so only the more serious cases get discovered, making the death toll seem higher than it really is.

However, an investigation into government surveillance in China said it had found no reason to believe this was true.

Dr Bruce Aylward, a World Health Organization official who went on a mission to China, said there was no evidence that figures were only showing the tip of the iceberg, and said recording appeared to be accurate, Stat News reported.

Can the virus be cured? 

The COVID-19 virus cannot be cured and it is proving difficult to contain.

Antibiotics do not work against viruses, so they are out of the question. Antiviral drugs can work, but the process of understanding a virus then developing and producing drugs to treat it would take years and huge amounts of money.

No vaccine exists for the coronavirus yet and it’s not likely one will be developed in time to be of any use in this outbreak, for similar reasons to the above.

The National Institutes of Health in the US, and Baylor University in Waco, Texas, say they are working on a vaccine based on what they know about coronaviruses in general, using information from the SARS outbreak. But this may take a year or more to develop, according to Pharmaceutical Technology.

Currently, governments and health authorities are working to contain the virus and to care for patients who are sick and stop them infecting other people.

People who catch the illness are being quarantined in hospitals, where their symptoms can be treated and they will be away from the uninfected public.

And airports around the world are putting in place screening measures such as having doctors on-site, taking people’s temperatures to check for fevers and using thermal screening to spot those who might be ill (infection causes a raised temperature).

However, it can take weeks for symptoms to appear, so there is only a small likelihood that patients will be spotted up in an airport.

Is this outbreak an epidemic or a pandemic?   

The outbreak was declared a pandemic on March 11. A pandemic is defined by the World Health Organization as the ‘worldwide spread of a new disease’. 

Previously, the UN agency said most cases outside of Hubei had been ‘spillover’ from the epicentre, so the disease wasn’t actually spreading actively around the world.

 


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