January 24, 2020 | Jessica Hamzelou
At the end of 2019, health authorities in China alerted the world to a potentially new virus that had caused pneumonia in a handful of people in Wuhan since mid-December. The number of cases has since exploded, with more than 600 cases confirmed as of 23 January. The virus has been confirmed to be a new coronavirus, in the same family as SARS and MERS.
What is a coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are common, and typically cause mild respiratory symptoms such as a cough or runny nose. Some are more dangerous. SARS, which infected more than 8000 people, was responsible for 774 deaths during an outbreak that began in 2003. MERS, which was first identified in 2012, is even more deadly – around 34 per cent of people infected with the virus die.