Coronavirus

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The Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is a respiratory illness first identified in Wuhan City, China. Symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. The virus can be spread person-to-person in close proximity or from contact with contaminated surfaces.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic and has named the disease caused by the virus COVID-19. It is related to other coronaviruses such as SARS and MERS, but is not the same virus.

“The virus enters the body through the nose, mouth or eyes, then attaches to cells in the airways that produce a protein called ACE2,” according to the New York Times in its explainer “How Coronavirus Hijacks Your Cells.”

Infection by COVID-19 is rarely fatal, according to the WHO.

“It can be more severe for some persons and can lead to pneumonia or breathing difficulties,” reads a statement on WHO’s website. “Older people, and people with pre-existing medical conditions (such as, diabetes and heart disease) appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus.”

On February 13, 2020, the known worldwide death toll was being reported as “at least 1,357,” with more than 60,000 confirmed cases (see below for recent numbers).

In March, large gatherings such as Austin’s SXSW, Rome’s marathon and St. Patrick’s Day parades in Chicago, Dublin and Boston were cancelled. Students were sent home early or classes went online at MIT,  Harvard University and Cornell University.

On March 11, 2020, WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, with 118,000 cases in 114 countries, and 4,291 fatalities.

“The WHO had not declared a pandemic since 2009,” according to the New York Times, “when it gave that designation to a new strain of H1N1 influenza.” (The CDC estimated that between 151,700 and 575,400 people worldwide died from H1N1.)

Notable figures infected with the virus include Oscar-winner Tom Hanks, the UK’s Prince Charles, actor Idris Elba and US Senator Rand Paul. On March 24, Tony Award-winning playwright Terrence McNally (Kiss of the Spider Woman) died of complications from COVID-19.

On March 24, the 2020 summer Olympics in Japan were postponed.

As of March 25, worldwide cases were being reported as 438,100 people infected with the virus, with a death toll of at least 19,641. In the US, there were 59,502 known cases, according to a New York Times database, and at least 804 deaths due to the pandemic.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists publishes stories about nuclear risk, climate change, and disruptive technologies. The Bulletin also is the nonprofit behind the iconic Doomsday Clock.

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