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Corona Is Not a New Virus…It Is Just Different

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COVID-19 is not the first virus, but nobody can ignore that it is a different one. Many experts have discussed the huge global transformations expected to take place as a result of COVID-19. They are talking about the “new normal”, where nations and communities will restore their normal lives but surely they will not be the same as before. On March 11, the world was shocked by the announcement of the World Health Organization of the outbreak of a global pandemic that spread across more than 100 countries. COVID-19 has been expected to affect the global economy significantly; we have begun to witness a recession whose effects will prevail in the different sectors.

Surely, COVID-19 is not the first infectious disease facing the world; the world had encountered many pandemics, such as the Spanish flu, or the most recent examples of SARS, MERS, and Ebola viruses. Despite the wide scale and the rapid spread of COVID-19, the fatality rate of this virus remains low compared with other viruses. The SARS virus, for example, killed around 10% of the infected people, while the 2012 MERS outbreak had a fatality rate of around 35%. Also, Ebola had been one of the deadliest diseases spread in West Africa from 2014 to 2016 causing almost 29,000 cases and 11,316 deaths in this region.

The following figures show the fatality rate, along with the infection velocity rate, of those viruses.

Source: World Economic Forum, “3 charts that compare coronavirus to previous outbreaks”, February 2020, available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/02/comparing-outbreaks-coronavirus-mers-sars-health-epidemic
Source: World Economic Forum, “3 charts that compare coronavirus to previous outbreaks”, February 2020, available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/02/comparing-outbreaks-coronavirus-mers-sars-health-epidemic

We can tackle in brief the SARS virus to learn from its history the opportunities and challenges that arise, especially that the COVID-19 virus belongs to the same family of SARS. The globe began the 21st century with its first pandemic – the SARS virus, or severe acute respiratory syndrome as the WHO announced in March 2003. This announcement came when this virus had spread from China into 29 other countries on 5 continents, resulting in the infection of around 8000 people with fatalities of around 774 people. Various studies estimated that SARS caused economic losses worldwide that ranged from $40 billion to $80 billion. The most important sectors affected during this period were tourism and air travel; for example, the hotel occupancy rate in Singapore fell to almost 17% , along with canceling 50% of the airlines.

Once countries began to realize the seriousness of this pandemic, they followed several measures like the shutdown of schools, applying safety measures at airports such as random temperature checks, rapid information distribution, early case identification and isolation, monitoring and quarantining of SARS contacts, traveler screening, raising public awareness, and developing more strict health care infection control. All those measures had successfully resulted in containing the virus within 2 months.

Many crises can reveal that history repeats itself, but the only way to prevent its repetition in a drastic way is to learn the lesson. Concerning pandemics, for instance, early notification of the outbreak to neighboring countries and the WHO is important to prevent international spread. Any outbreak of infectious diseases can transmit rapidly across the globe through air travel. Finally, monitoring, tracking, and quarantining the infected and their contacts is vital for containing the outbreak. We must learn and implement these measures wisely, especially that COVID-19 will possibly not be the last virus. Humanity may face deadlier diseases if they fail to learn from the past, control the present, and plan for the future.

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