There is a plethora of news on the Coronavirus Covid-19 outbreak. Much of it is fixated on where the latest cases are being reported around the world, generating anxiety amongst the public.
However, this article uses an intelligence-led approach to the situation and will focus on facts that are not likely to change for the time being.
The research has been gathered from scientists who are trying to contain the spread of the disease.
This latest respiratory novel coronavirus, named Covid-19 is thought to have crossed from animals to humans in late 2019 in Wuhan, China, possibly at a market selling wildlife. It has spread fairly rapidly around the world and everyone is going to have a part to play in containing it.
There is no vaccine, treatments are limited and testing can be problematic. One of the most effective tools is basic hygiene. There are also a number of other practises, procedures and behaviours that can help combat the virus.
#1 While Covid-19 is infectious, the symptoms are mild in most cases
Most people only exhibit low level symptoms and many do not show any symptoms at all.
#2 At least 87,000 people have recovered from the coronavirus
This figure was recorded at the time of writing (5th March 2020). Potentially thousands, or even tens of thousands more people may have contracted the virus and not shown any symptoms at all.
#3 The mortality rate could be as low as 1%
Scientists in Wuhan have conducted the lengthiest study of the outbreak so far. They observed a death rate of 1.4% amongst just over 1000 patients admitted to hospital. This means that in the general public, the mortality rate is likely to be even lower.
The World Health Organisation reports a death rate of 3.4% in globally reported cases, but thousands of cases are likely going unreported. The exact figure is not yet known but it is overall very low.
#4 Older people are more likely to die
This is widely known, but even in the most at-risk group (over 80-year olds) the mortality rate is still less than 15%. Still – this means that health authorities should conserve and direct their resources so that they are able to prioritise at-risk patients when dealing with the outbreak.
#5 Those with underlying health conditions are also vulnerable
Patients are likely to suffer more severe symptoms if they have existing conditions such as diabetes, heart and lung disease and compromised immune systems.
#6 Around 16% of sufferers will develop a serious illness
Another way to look at this statistic is that 84% of people who contract the virus will not develop a serious illness. Essentially, most people will be fine.
#7 The median age of patients is 47
Most of those hospitalised during the Wuhan study were older. It may be stating the obvious, but the elderly are therefore more likely to suffer serious illness as well as facing a higher mortality rate.
#8 Around 68% of sufferers experience a cough
That’s according to the same study in Wuhan. Anecdotal evidence suggests a dry cough at the back of the throat.
#9 Around 44% of sufferers experience a fever
Although of those hospitalised, this figure rose to 89% within a day or two of admission.
#10 The body temperature of over half the patients remains below 37.5°C
This is normal for an uninfected person. This means that checking for temperatures alone is not an effective means of spotting the virus in sufferers.
#11 Around 5% of sufferers experience nausea or vomiting
Individuals worried about feeling nauseous may not have the virus at all.
#12 Less than 5% of sufferers experience diarrhoea
This is also low figure.
#13 The median incubation period is thought to be 4 days
In the Wuhan study this ranged from 2-7 days, but further research is still needed to clarify this as the range could be wider. In a number of cases symptoms have not presented until 14 days after initial suspected exposure.
#14 You can spread it even if you don’t have any symptoms
This is one of the reasons why the virus has spread so quickly. So called ‘super spreaders’ have carried it across the world without knowing they even had it.
#15 The virus can possibly infect you more than once
A woman in Japan appears to have been re-infected after contracting and recovering from the virus. The case is still being studied.
#16 Men are slightly more likely to show symptoms
It’s not a big gap, but slightly more men were hospitalised during the Wuhan study than women. This could be due to biological reasons but it may also be down to other unassessed factors such as culture. Those working around the marketplace at the centre of the outbreak are more likely to be male, for example.
#17 The virus spreads from person to person
It is thought to spread in airborne droplets, particularly from the nose and mouth. These can travel up to 6 feet and can either land around the nose, mouth or eyes of the next person, or on a surface where they are picked up by touch.
#18 Scientists don’t yet know how long the virus can survive on a surface for
It could lurk on railings, handles, lift buttons or a variety of other surfaces for an unknown period of time. It’s therefore vital to regularly clean surfaces, particularly those which might be touched frequently.
#19 Washing your hands is hugely beneficial
It defies belief that scientists are having to remind society to do this in 2020 but here we are. Spend at least 20 seconds doing so each time. AT LEAST. It’s not just good practise, it’s one of THE MOST effective means of slowing the spread of the virus. Ordinary soap is fine.
Do it after you cough, sneeze, blow your nose or go to the bathroom. Do it after using your laptop, public transport or touching anything that might have been touched by other people in public (ranging from lift buttons to door handles).
Just make sure you do it often, properly, whenever you potentially touch germs or before putting your hands anywhere near your face.
#20 Alcohol wipes and gels are helpful
If soap and water are not available alcohol cleaning products can be a substitute, but they need to have an alcohol content of at least 60%.
#21 Cover your mouth and nose
Again, scientists are having to remind us what previous generations tried but evidently failed to teach us in childhood. Cover your coughs and sneezes with tissue and throw it away afterwards, before washing your hands again.
#22 Touching your face can significantly increase your risk of contracting the virus
This is why it’s important to regularly wash your hands, especially after coming into contact with surfaces or materials touched by others.
#23 Disinfectant is your friend
Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces is another very effective method of tackling the virus. Scientists deem normal domestic cleaning agents to be absolutely fine for this.
#24 Facemasks are mostly for keeping the germs in, not out
The main purpose of facemasks is to stop potentially infected droplets from spreading from the wearer to other members of the public. Bear in mind that they are only effective for a few hours.
They also do not protect the wearer from contamination if you accidentally touch an uncovered part of your face (especially around your eyes).
Furthermore, if you are sick, don’t wear a mask to go outside if you don’t have to. Stay at home. If you need to go outside, perhaps to seek medical treatment you should wear one to prevent spreading any germs, but this should not be a common practise.
#25 Save facemasks for those who really need them
If you are a healthcare worker or caring for someone showing symptoms, a facemask is an important part of your PPE (personal protective equipment).
However, for the rest of society, strongly consider whether you actually need to wear one. Supplies are already in short supply in some parts of the world. You could be using up supplies that are genuinely needed by higher-risk groups.
#26 Avoiding close contact with the sick lowers your risk
This is a no-brainer but needs to be stated. However, those who need to come into contact with the sick such as carers need to take particularly stringent protective measures.
#27 It spreads easily within a household
If someone you share a home with falls ill, you will have to be particularly vigilant. Avoid sharing personal household items (glasses, dishes, utensils, towels, bedding etc) and wash everything thoroughly and frequently.
#28 Healthcare workers are at higher risk of exposure
This is to be expected, given that they will often come into close contact with patients. However, it also increases the risk that they may spread to those they are caring for.
#29 The outbreak will put a burden on all existing healthcare systems
Healthcare systems which do not have reserve supplies and staff as well as other forms of redundancy and resilience built into their systems will struggle to cope with the influx of patients. Many non-urgent treatments and surgeries will have to be delayed. Medication and equipment needed to relieve the symptoms of patients may become unavailable.
#30 Calling ahead can literally save lives
If you are sick and think you need hospital treatment, call ahead so they can prepare for your arrival and possibly send transportation. Don’t expose yourself to an unsuspecting taxi driver or arrive without protection in an already busy ward, likely containing people with underlying conditions that could make them more susceptible to the virus. Otherwise, it might be best to stay at home.
#31 Testing is not straightforward
Proper testing kits for the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 are available but they are not universally available yet. Otherwise, swab tests of the nose and mouth or examination of urine, stool or tissue tests can also reveal the presence of the virus but this can take time.
#32 Not every country has the ability to even test for the disease
Iran has suffered crippling sanctions for years. These have hit its medical sector particularly badly. As such, resources are stretched extremely thinly.
#33 Medications don’t work
We can’t stop the virus with existing medications. All doctors can offer is treatment to help relieve some of the symptoms.
#34 There is no vaccine
Scientists are attempting to develop a vaccine but this could take months and even then may not be fully effective.
#35 Flu vaccines can be helpful
If you are vaccinated against the flu you are less likely to get sick and otherwise put a burden on your healthcare provider, freeing up resources to deal with the Covid-19 outbreak. However, it might be late to get a vaccine now if your local health providers are already struggling.
#36 Expect more shutdowns
Schools, workplaces, conferences, religious centres, trading houses, concerts, transportation hubs, logistical centres and any other venues and events where large numbers of people are expected to gather are likely to be shut, delayed or cancelled.
#37 Access to care homes may become restricted
Those residing in care homes are likely to belong to higher risk demographics. Measures may therefore need to be taken to shield them from possible infection from outside. Family members may have to refrain from visiting loved ones as a result.
#38 Flexible working will be necessary
Companies are encouraged to review their HR policies. Test IT systems to allow more employees to work from home where they can, so as to avoid unnecessary journeys into crowded areas. Companies are also being asked to show leniency towards staff requesting sick days.
#39 Stock up but don’t panic buy
Companies should make sure that their employees and clients have access to plenty of soap, water, paper towels, disposable wipes and alcohol gels to make sure they can adhere to strict standards of hygiene in the workplace. The same applies to schools and anywhere else where large groups of people congregate.
#40 Resilience comes from practise
Businesses, local authorities, emergency responders and other bodies should practise for serious scenarios. Crisis management is not something you try out as you go along. Define the potential developments that could affect areas within your responsibility and test them out with things like stock assessments, role playing and stress testing. It may become apparent that your organisation needs to procure additional items, recruit more staff (or volunteers) or start rationing certain items.
#41 A reported 88% of British SMEs have continuity planning in place
This is a good statistic. The research, from the Institute of Directors, indicates that more than three quarters of the country’s small businesses have taken the time and resources to prepare for possible business interruption.
#42 Less than half of those firms have actually tested the plans
Unfortunately, however, continuity planning often isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on if it hasn’t been tested out. Testing reveals bottlenecks and vulnerabilities. It also instils confidence in staff members (especially the board) that if a crisis ever does hit, everyone knows what to do – or at least where to start without being overwhelmed.
#43 There is no one-size-fits-all crisis management plan
Whether you run a café, a fire service, a local hospital or a regional government, you may be facing the virus, but you have different priorities, geographies, cultures, behaviours, experience, expertise, demographics and resources. Only you can create a crisis management plan.
#44 What the FCO says is important
If the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises against travelling to an area, it’s not just a guideline. It doesn’t matter if you’re from the United Kingdom or not. Many travel insurance companies use the FCO advice as grounds for automatically cancelling travel insurance. If you fail to heed the advice you may no longer be insured for your journey. Getting sick abroad without insurance could end up costing you a fortune in medical bills. As such, contact your insurance provider directly for their latest advice if you are in any doubt.
#45 Closing borders does not stop the spread
It can actually encourage determined travellers (often people intent on returning home) to try to enter a country via other means, therefore evading detection. This puts the country at even greater risk because if an infected person enters the country undetected, he or she could spread the virus without the authorities being able to identify the origin of the outbreak or contact those who might have been exposed.
#46 Law enforcement could become challenging
In more serious cases where the authorities struggle to cope with public demand, there could be a break down in law and order, with issues such as looting. Hopefully we will not get to this stage but it is something that security forces around the world should examine as a potential scenario to prepare for.
#47 Discrimination is wrong
Once again, scientists are having to state the obvious here. Discrimination against individuals because of their ethnic, cultural or national background is not only wrong, it is stupid. The virus does not discriminate and victims, including those who have taken it across borders, are from various backgrounds.
#48 The livestock and animal trade needs to be more tightly regulated
We encourage governments to impose tighter regulation on agricultural sectors where high risk practises are currently taking place, particularly in the sale of live and wild animal species. This might be China’s moment to act. Millions of Chinese people want better control and improved hygienic practises but some quarters have resisted what they see as unpopular government intrusion. While the government has hitherto turned a blind eye, it may now act with little fear of a public backlash.
#49 We don’t know if humans can infect animals yet
It is not currently certain whether or not infected humans can pass on the virus to animals. However, current recommendations are for sick people to avoid contact or sharing items (such as furniture or a bed) with pets such as cats and dogs. Those working with animals such as farmers and veterinarians are also advised to avoid contact with animals if they show any symptoms of the illness until they have made a full recovery.
#50 FINALLY – the most reliable information is from the CDC
Media coverage has included sensationalist, misleading and outright scaremongering content. Politicians have also issued guidance based on PR and reputation rather than fact and science.
Therefore, if you want the most reliable, actionable and up-to-date information on the Coronavirus outbreak, keep up to date with the Centers for Disease Control.
It is the main public body in the United States with responsibility for preventing disease, not just in the US but around the world.
Its scientists have been at the frontline of protecting humanity from malaria, Ebola, Zika and a range of other diseases since the end of WWII. So stay up to date with their research, findings and advice on their dedicated coronavirus page.
Otherwise, if you have any location advice or updates you would be willing to share with the rest of the Starling community please register with our site and share your tips and updates on our site.