COVID-19: Unprecedented event?
COVID-19 – An event without precedent?
SARS-CoV-2 is a novel (new) strain of Coronavirus so the disease it causes – COVID-19 – is something everyone is having to learn about as we go along.
Deadly Coronaviruses are not new
There are many types of Coronavirus and whilst most cause only mild illnesses, at least two other human coronaviruses are known to cause severe symptoms: (1) SARS-CoV (2002-3) which emerged out of China and caused the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) was more deadly but much less infectious than COVID-19. The virus rapidly spread across 29 countries but was eventually contained and there have been no outbreaks of SARS anywhere in the world since 2003. (2) MERS-CoV (2012) which emerged out of Saudi Arabia and had a death rate of 34% but which has been mainly limited to the Middle East. There are currently no vaccines or specific drug treatments for coronaviruses.
Conditions that facilitate the creation of new strains
Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning that they can be transmitted from people to animals. Both SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV and likely SARS-CoV-2 originally came from bats, though other animals that act as intermediaries spreading coronaviruses to humans. Many of the early cases of COVID-19 were traced back to the Baishazhou wet market in Wuhan (which has now re-opened despite pressure from the US in particular).
Flu Pandemics are not new – see attached chart. The deadliest was the “Spanish flu” which had both a high infection rate and death rate. Whilst this did not occur within the lifetime of most world leaders, there are still plenty of people alive today who would have been young children when that hit.
The combination of high infection rate, a significant death rate and long incubation period have forced world governments into unprecedented action – lockdowns/stay-at-home orders have impacted most of the world’s population. As to what else is truly unprecedented, make your own mind up…