Coronavirus update 12 Feb: WHO officially names virus COVID-19, rate of infections appears to slow down, death toll at 1,115 and more
Encouragingly, cases outside Hubei have been falling for 8 days consecutively - in fact, Tuesday saw the lowest rate of infection in 10 days.
The coronavirus that has instilled fear all over the world has a new name: COVID-19 . Dr Tedros, the director-general of the WHO, released the name on February 11 and said that it stands for coronavirus disease 2019. He added that a name matters since it can "prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatizing". To that end, the name makes no mention of China or the area where the outbreak started.
According to the latest count, 1,115 people have lost their lives to COVID-19 and 45,188 cases have been confirmed, most of them in Hubei province. Encouragingly, cases outside Hubei have been falling for 8 days consecutively - in fact, Tuesday saw the lowest rate of infection in 10 days.
Experts weigh-in on how long the virus is likely to last
As the extended Lunar new year holidays end, some health officials are worried that returning migrant workers to major provinces such as Guangdong could bring an increase in the number of infections. The Chinese representative of the WHO, Dr Gauden Galea, said that it is too soon to comment on whether the epidemic had peaked. WHO confirmed this and said there was not sufficient data to make claims about how long the virus is likely to last.
On the other hand, the premier health advisor of China, Dr Zhong Nanshan told Reuters that the virus is likely to peak this month and then begin to taper and fizzle by April. He based this prediction on the slowly falling rate of infections around the country. Other health experts from around the world, however, echoed the WHO and said it wasn’t appropriate yet to make predictions.
WHO says the vaccine could be ready in 18 months and says an expert team is now in Beijing
The WHO said that there has been a major push to roll out a vaccine as early as 18 months from now. Until then, preventative measures such as regular hand washing and maintaining a distance from those displaying signs of infections is the best course of action.
Another group of researchers at Imperial College London said that they were perhaps the first group to test a new coronavirus vaccine on mice. While they said it would take a couple of weeks before they would be able to see if the vaccine had any effect on the mice, they are hopeful that a vaccine may be widely available a year from now. Clinical trials and regulatory mechanisms to ensure safety and effectiveness usually take a considerable amount of time but the team hopes to fast-track this process as much as possible.
The WHO also said that a group of international experts had assembled in Beijing to assist local health officials in understanding the characteristics of the virus and bolstering the public health response.
In a potential breakthrough, a sub-species of bats called Rhinolophus may be the original carrier of COVID-19 . While the intermediary species still remains a mystery, the WHO said that identifying the primary carrier is crucial since it would “help to ensure that there will be no future similar outbreaks with the same virus (and) it would also increase our understanding of the virus and help us understand how these viruses jump from animals to humans”.
Cases of concern
Tianjin, which lies just south-east of the Chinese capital Beijing, has raised concerns of human to human transmission. About 102 cases have been confirmed and about a third of them (33) has been traced to a departmental store. Those affected were either workers at the store or in contact with people who had visited the store. This is problematic because it suggests that human to human transmission is stronger than previously imagined.
Similarly in Hong Kong, two residents living on different floors of an apartment building were found to be infected with the virus. Officials have quarantined the residents because they think an unsealed pipe transmitted the disease between the two who lived 10 floors apart from each other.
So far, the number of cases outside of China is around 393, with only two deaths outside the mainland. However, a cruise ship docked in Japan carrying 3,600 passengers now has 174 confirmed cases. It has been quarantined for over a week and those that have tested positive have been moved to land to get treatment. It has been reported that a health official inspecting the passengers has also contracted the disease. It remains to be seen how long the ship will be quarantined and how much the infection spreads. For now, the ship called the Diamond Princess could be the biggest threat in terms of infections outside China.
For more information, read our article on Coronavirus Infection: Symptoms, Types, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention.
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COVAX is co-led by vaccine alliance – GAVI, the CEPI and the WHO and has 190 participating economies.