Coronavirus Pandemic – Global Impact of Coronavirus Outbreak
A Stark Reminder Why We Must Promote Life Sciences Research
Table of Contents
Novel Coronavirus – Covid-19
Edging towards pandemic levels, the novel coronavirus or the officially known Covid-19 has kept our blood running cold proving to be a deadly infection. Covid-19 has been causing havoc around the world as the virus has infected more than 80,000 people worldwide and the death toll has crossed 2000 deaths. As the virus originated in Wuhan, China, most of the deaths are in and around the epicenter in China.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are known to cause severe diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and also cause less severe illness such as the common cold. Similar to SARS and MERS, the source of the Covid-19 infection is from an animal. This is a new coronavirus that has not beenpreviously encountered by humans. The Covid-19 has known to be transmitted mainly from person-to-person, via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).
After the virus infects a person, there are symptoms like coughs, fever and breathing difficulties, which can also lead to pneumonia. The antibiotics and the antiviral drugs we have against the flu will not work as this is viral pneumonia. The recovery of an infected person depends on the strength of the immune system. There is no antiviral treatment or approved vaccines developed against coronaviruses yet.
How did this Coronavirus Outbreak emerge? What is the source of Covid-19?
Finding a cure or treatment for this disease would be possible when the source of the disease is identified. Sadly, scientists are yet to confirm the source of Covid-19. Researchers are racing to identify the source of the coronavirus outbreak. Chinese scientists suggested that the animal pangolin, the scaly, ant-eating pangolin was the prime suspect, based on the genetic analyses. However, the mystery is far from being solved as there were further studies that suggest that the animal is still only a contender and the source is not yet identified.
The Timeline of Covid-19
- December 31, 2019: China alerted WHO about several cases of unusual pneumonia-like illness in Wuhan, a port city of 11 million people in the central Hubei province. The virus was unknown and the illness was not confirmed.
- January 1: City’s Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market was shut down as many of those infected worked at the market.
- January 7: Chinese officials identified the new virus. The novel virus was named 2019-nCoV and was identified as belonging to the group coronavirus, a family of viruses which includes SARS and the common cold.
- January 11: The first death from the novel coronavirus outbreak, a 61-year-old man who had purchased goods from the seafood market. Treatment did not improve his symptoms after he was admitted to hospital and he died of heart failure on January 9.
- January 13: The first case outside of China, WHO reported a case in Thailand. A woman who had arrived from Wuhan tested positive for the infection. Authorities in Nepal, Singapore, France, Australia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, South Korea, and the United States confirmed cases over the following days.
- January 23: Air and rail departures were suspended in Wuhan and the city placed under effective quarantine.
- January 30: As the death toll in China jumped to 170, with 7,711 cases reported in the country with the virus spreading to all 31 provinces in the country, WHO declared coronavirus outbreak a global emergency. The first cases of the virus were confirmed in India and the Philippines.
- February 2: First death outside China was reported in the Philippines. A Chinese man from Wuhan died of coronavirus.
- February 6: Malaysia reported it’s first known human-to-human transmission and the number of people infected in Europe reached 30.
- February 9: With 811 deaths recorded and 37,198 infections, the coronavirus pandemic death toll in China surpassed that of the 2002-03 SARS epidemic.
- February 14: In Africa, Egypt became the first country to report a case and the first death from the virus in Europe was reported from France.
- February 27: Georgia, Norway, North Macedonia, Romania, Greece, Pakistan, Brazil, Northern Ireland, Estonia, Denmark, and the Netherlands reported their first coronavirus outbreak cases. Worldwide, the number of infections passed 82,000 worldwide and the deaths more than 2,800.
- March 5: The total number of infections raised to 95,000 with the death toll crossing 3,000.
China’s War Against Coronavirus
Chinese officials call it “waging war on two fronts”. The first war was to battle coronavirus which was discovered in the central city of Wuhan in December and since then has infected more than 80,000 people in China and killed more than 2,000 people. Reviving the country’s economy which is hit hard due to the impacts of the disease, is the second struggle.
The largest quarantine in Human History
Nearly half of China’s population — more than 780 million people — were under various forms of travel restrictions as authorities race to contain the spread of a deadly virus. Everything from self-quarantines to limiting people on who can come and go from neighborhoods was included in the restrictions. All the residential complexes and communities were completely sealed off in the cities of Wuhan, Huanggang, Shiyan, and Xiaogan, along with banning the use of non-essential vehicles on local roadways. As the residents were not permitted to leave their homes, in each city, they received daily necessities from neighborhood and community committees.
For all the people, including residents entering the semi-autonomous city from the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong announced a mandatory 14-day quarantine. This move was to try and contain the virus after all but three border crossings were closed. At least 56 million people remain under strict instruction to remain inside their residential communities and villages in the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, the Hubei province
Cruise ships quarantined
In Hong Kong, more than 3,600 passengers and crew were people stranded aboard a cruise ship after eight travelers from mainland China who were on the Diamond Princess cruise ship were tested positive for the virus. Three crew members had to be evacuated off the ship to receive treatment in the hospital as 33 crew members showed symptoms of illness of varying degrees. Around 1,800 people were let out of the ship after all of them tested negative for the infection. One of the world’s largest cruise operators, Royal Caribbean, was canceling eight routes out of China. In the Japanese port of Yokohama, south of Tokyo, another cruise ship remains docked. Since early Tuesday, at the Japanese harbor, this ship has been held.
China’s First Coronavirus Hospital
Hospitals were prepared to quarantine people, treat the people who may be infected. Workers spent just 48 hours converting an empty building into a hospital, the Dabie Mountain Regional Medical Centre. To open the hospital in the Huangzhou District, more than 500 construction workers, electricians, and police worked around the clock. Two specialized coronavirus hospitals, the 1,000-bed Huoshenshan, or Fire-God Mountain, hospital and the 1,600-bed Leishenshan, or Thunder God Mountain, the hospital was built within weeks and started treating patients. The World Health Organization, WHO, praised China for its efforts to battle the infection and reduce the spread of the disease to other countries.
Global Impacts Of Coronavirus Outbreak
The coronavirus outbreak that began at the city of Wuhan in China has now affected 45 countries around the globe, among which South Korea, Iran, and Italy facing serious threats besides China.
The large scale lock-down, quarantining of the cities and travel restrictions in China halted the factory and economic activities in the country. Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak is one of China’s industrial centers. Leading car makers like Honda and Nissan and several European rivals have factories there. Producers of electronic components, industrial equipment, and car parts also have their manufacturing facilities in Wuhan. Most of the factories had to lock down as their employees were unable to return after the Chinese New Year Holiday. According to Stephen Roach, an American economist, the outbreak is likely to hit over two-quarters of the Chinese economy. The outbreak has cost China around 1.38 trillion yuan (US$196 billion) in the first two months of the year.
This lockdown in China affected the global companies’ supply chains across Asia. Countries that export commodities to China received the hardest hit, Taiwan at the front end of the list followed by Vietnam, Malaysia, and South Korea. The exports of Chinese products, mostly food and clothing to Japan was also disrupted by dampening the economic growth of China’s trade partners.
Middle East countries have also started to feel the pain as the stock markets in oil-rich Gulf countries dropped on 1st march due to the cancellation of flights, shuttered businesses and quarantine of millions.
According to a leading economic forecaster, the outbreak will cost the global economy more than $1tn in lost income if it turns out to be pandemic.
As Covid-19 continues to spread even outside China, major events like Facebook’s annual conference, Workday’s annual internal sales meeting, Formula One’s race in Shanghai and this year’s Mobile World in Barcelona are being canceled or postponed.
There is a growing fear that the disease will disrupt the opening of the Tokyo Olympic Games in July.
Where are we with the Coronavirus Vaccine?
The World Health Organization (WHO) officials who attended a news conference on novel coronavirus held at Geneva on 10th February, announced that the coronavirus vaccine will be available in 18 months.
But why would it take so long despite the global efforts?
When China publicly shared the full RNA sequence of the virus, it kickstarted the quest for a vaccine around the world, including the US, Europe and the University of Queensland in Australia.
Melbourne’s Doherty Institute researchers laid the foundation by growing the virus outside China for the first time. This was a crucial step as it gave the other countries access to the live virus. Understanding the characteristics of viruses was critical for the development of vaccines and this would have been impossible with no live viruses available.
If we go back to history, vaccines have taken two to five years to develop. No single research institute has the facilities to develop the vaccine by themselves. This is why a global effort is required. And with a global effort, we might be able to develop the vaccine in 18 months as WHO officials said.
Developing a vaccine involves multiple steps. An animal model has to be developed first. Once the vaccine is developed, scientists need to prove that it is safe and can trigger the immune system the right way. This will be followed by a preclinical animal testing of the vaccine in the animal model, followed by human trials if successful.
The vaccine has to pass the regulatory approval, once found to be safe and effective. And scientists usually face challenges in each of these steps.
Drug developers Inovio Pharma and Moderna, in collaboration with the researchers at the University of Queensland, Australia began their quest for coronavirus vaccine by the end of January. Other pharma companies like GlaxoSmithKline (GLAXF) and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) and NIAID scientists also joined the quest.
By February 26th, the biotech firm Moderna Claimed that their coronavirus vaccine mRNA-1273 is ready to be tested in a clinical trial. The speed at which the vaccine was developed is a breakthrough. If successful, mRNA-1273 would be the first-ever vaccine developed against Covid-19. But don’t be too excited. The vaccine will still take at least a year before its made available to the public.
As of now, China is treating its coronavirus patients with a combination of two HIV drugs, lopinavir and ritonavir. Meanwhile, the biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences will be testing its potential antiviral medication called remdesivir against coronavirus in 1,000 people.
Why every nation must promote research in Life Sciences?
With the ever-increasing number of emerging diseases and pandemics like Covid-19 in both fragile and strong economies, threatening global peace and development, research in life science becomes more important.
Despite the extraordinary advances in the medical field such as in vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics, the emerging infectious diseases have become difficult to contain due to the increased global interdependence and ease of world travel. These infectious diseases affect not only the health but also the economic stability of the countries.
Coronavirus, SARS, MERS, and H1N1 are only a few among the many emerging infectious diseases in the modern world. Interestingly, 60 to 80% of these emerging infectious diseases originated from animals like rodents or bats.
While we were able to eradicate many infectious diseases like smallpox, it seems nearly impossible to eliminate most of the emerging diseases in the near future. The ability of pathogenic microorganisms to undergo rapid genetic changes leading to new properties, enabling them to change environmental and host conditions increase the risk of these diseases. The vaccines or treatments established against the pathogen stops being effective in containing the disease. Antibiotic resistance of bacteria is another major threat to the world in the coming years.
A global effort is required to fight these emerging pathogens. Promoting life science research will help the nations prepare for any novel diseases. The development of vaccines or treatments needs to be quicker to contain new infectious diseases as fast as possible. This can only be achieved by the combined effort of life science scientists around the world.
The role of science in a nation’s development cannot be neglected. The role of research can vary as science research varies from one field to another. Some life science researchers would have immediate goals, clearly directed towards solving specific problems or addressing particular conditions in the society like the coronavirus outbreak’s threat we have now. But many medical researchers interested in resolving why cancer cells develop and how to inhibit their growth will take longer but the results will benefit a large number of people and uplift the nation. Thus, research in life sciences must be promoted in every nation so that we are prepared to win the future deadly diseases.
Promote Life Sciences or Be ready to see the destruction of everything Humans ever built
Author: Namitha Thampi & Prathibha HC
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