By now you will almost certainly have heard about coronavirus. It is everywhere in the news, with countries around the world closing schools and restricting travel.
Coronavirus is a new flu-like virus spreading around the world. The virus causes an illness called Covid-19.
On Wednesday it was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. The WHO is part of the UN and their aim is to look after the health and wellbeing of people around the world.
A pandemic is a disease that is spreading in multiple countries around the world at the same time.
At this stage, the number of people affected is relatively small. Covid-19 hadn’t been seen in humans until December 2019, so scientists are keen to limit its spread.
This article should answer all your questions about the virus, where it came from, how it has spread and, importantly, what government and medical officials are doing about it.
Where did Covid-19 come from?
The first cases were in China, in city called Wuhan, but has now spread across the world.
It is thought the disease originated at an animal market in the city, where it was transferred to a person.
The World Health Organization (WHO) have named the disease Covid-19, though you’ll still hear lots of people refer to it as ‘coronavirus’ as that is how it was known at first.
What is the WHO?
The WHO is a special group, which is part of the United Nations.
It was formed in 1948 and its aim is to look after the health and wellbeing of people around the world.
Since it began, it has done lots of medical work. For example, it helped to rid the world of the smallpox disease – the first disease to ever be officially wiped out by human effort.
The organisation is full of scientists and doctors who are helping to improve world health by stopping the spread of diseases and educating people about being healthy.
What is Covid-19?
The coronavirus is a respiratory virus – that means it affects people’s breathing and lungs.
Like the cold and flu bugs we get in the NZ, it can spread from person to person by coughing, or contact with contaminated surfaces or skin.
What is happening in New Zealand?
New Zealand has five confirmed cases of COVID-19. See the Ministry of Health latest media release for a summary of the current status.
The Ministry of Health believes with continued vigilance the chance of widespread community outbreak is expected to remain low.
What are the signs people have coronavirus?
The symptoms of COVID-19 are:
- a cough
- a high temperature (at least 38°C)
- shortness of breath.
These symptoms do not necessarily mean you have COVID-19. The symptoms are similar to other illnesses that are much more common, such as cold and flu.
Shortness of breath is a sign of possible pneumonia and requires immediate medical attention.
We don’t yet know how long symptoms take to show after a person has been infected, but current World Health Organization assessments suggest that it is 2–10 days.
These symptoms may lead to more serious illnesses like pneumonia. This is dangerous for vulnerable people, such as the very old or people who are weaker due to other illnesses.
How does Covid-19 spread?
COVID-19, like the flu, can be spread from person to person.
When a person who has COVID-19 coughs, sneezes or talks, they may spread droplets containing the virus a short distance. These can settle on surrounding surfaces.
You may get infected by the virus if you touch those surfaces or objects and then touch your mouth, nose or eyes.
How can you protect yourself and others?
- Cough or sneeze into your elbow or by covering your mouth and nose with tissues.
- Put used tissues in the bin or a bag immediately.
- Wash your hands with soap and water often (for at least 20 seconds).
- Try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell.
- Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean.
- Avoid personal contact, such as kissing, sharing cups or food with sick people.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects, such as doorknobs.
- Stay home if you feel unwell.
What is New Zealand doing against Covid-19?
A plan against coronavirus has been put in place by the government to help deal with a possible major outbreak in New Zealand.
The government may stop public gatherings if there was a major outbreak. The Ministry of Health also has detailed plans to cope with outbreaks of disease and the increases in demand on health services they could cause.
Some countries have already started to lockdown areas or regions. Italy has locked down the entire country.
This means travel around cities, and travel between them has been almost entirely stopped.
There have also been a lot of restrictions placed on international travel, with several European countries preventing flights between them.
In some places, people arriving from certain countries have been told they have to self-isolate.
How is Covid-19 treated?
Because it is a new virus, there’s currently no vaccine or medicine available yet to treat it. However, lots of scientists are working to develop one.
The only way to prevent it from spreading until then is to stop close contact with people who have the virus.
Doctors say properly washing your hands can also help to reduce the spread of the virus.