This coronavirus is novel in a number of ways
In a few short weeks, coronavirus went from something we heard about on the news to our new reality, causing the shutdown of offices, schools, restaurants, theatres, and anything deemed “non-essential.” Not only has it changed how people are going about their day-to-day lives, but it is also costing the world a lot from an economic standpoint. This rapidly spreading virus causes an infection called COVID-19 (short for “coronavirus disease 2019”), which has now been confirmed in 208 countries.
One of the many aspects of COVID-19 that is hard to wrap our heads around is that there’s no road map for a pandemic of this magnitude. We don’t know how long it will last, how many people will be infected, and, ultimately, how many will lose their lives. Though we’ve seen a variety of pandemics and epidemics throughout history—including H1N1, the Ebola virus, the 1918 flu pandemic, and AIDS—this is something else entirely. Here are 13 ways the coronavirus is different from anything we’ve ever encountered.
The response has been based on projections
Though the number of COVID-19 cases is increasing quickly, some precautions countries began before the disease reached pandemic proportions were based on projections. “With COVID-19, the extreme measures of isolation and economic shutdown weren’t taken because of the number of deaths that occurred, but rather those that could happen,” Dr Talya Miron-Shatz, an expert on medical decision-making, tells Reader’s Digest. For example, during the 1918 flu pandemic, which killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide, nobody knew the toll it would take, especially when it first began, she says. “As a decision scientist, I was fascinated by how most world leaders treated the virus,” Miron-Shatz explains. “When it was in the bud, they ignored it. It’s because humans don’t deal well with small probabilities, or with probabilities in general. We tend to turn them into ‘all or nothing.’”
The fatality rates
The fatality rate is how we measure the ability of a virus to cause human deaths—and given that the coronavirus is still spreading, we don’t have that figure yet. “Reliable estimates of fatality are difficult to obtain, as it is affected by the provision of medical care, the number of people screened for mild disease, the age group that is targeted by the virus, and the extent of preventive measures adopted by a society,” Dr Naval Asija, a epidemiologist based in India, tells Reader’s Digest. “As these vary across countries, fatality also varies from low to very high.” The overall fatality estimates of the coronavirus can only be established once the pandemic is officially over. However, preliminary analysis suggests that the fatality of COVID-19 is higher than that of Ebola and Swine flu, but lower than that of the 1918 flu pandemic, according to Dr Asija.