The outbreak of COVID-19 disease caused by a novel coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2 has now claimed 2,005 lives and caused at least 75,079 cases of infection. The vast majority of those cases have occurred in China, though officials have cautioned that thousands more people there and around the world may have been infected and not show any symptoms of the illness.
The place where there are the most infections outside of China is a cruise ship, the Diamond Princess. An infected passenger boarded the ship on January 20, and didn't disembark until January 25 in Hong Kong, where they later tested positive for the virus. By February 4, the cruise was ending in Yokohama, Japan, but ten passengers tested positive for the virus.
The government of Japan the decided to quarantine the ship, and while that probably prevented people in Japan from getting infected, the virus spread among passengers and crew that were on the ship. There have now been 542 confirmed cases of the virus among the 3,711 passengers that were quarantined. People were supposed to stay in their rooms and away from other passengers during the quarantine, and officials want to learn more about how the virus may have been transmitting.
The quarantine will end for most cruise ship passengers on Wednesday, but 328 Americans that were on board have already flown back to the States. Thirteen people considered to be high risk were taken to the National Quarantine Center at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. There, they will be tested for the virus and treated if necessary with medicine that deals with the symptoms, as there are no treatments specifically for SARS-CoV-2 yet. The remaining passengers that came back to the United States will undergo another fourteen-day quarantine, and some American passengers opted not to end their cruise ship quarantine early.
Another cruise ship, the MS Westerdam, left Hong Kong last Friday and is now docked in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. The passengers were supposed to disembark in Shanghai on Saturday, but the coronavirus outbreak disrupted those plans. Although they have had no cases of the virus, multiple ports have turned the ship away. However, an 83-year-old American woman that got off the ship and went to Malaysia later tested positive for the virus.
SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted from person-to-person, and researchers are working to learn how else it transmits; the pathogen may be able to survive on surfaces and cause an infection when someone touches that contaminated surface, for example.
The virus appears to be fatal to only about two percent of people who are infected, although that rate rises for the elderly. Since we don't know how many people have been infected but are not showing symptoms, the fatality rate may actually be even lower than two percent, with some saying it's much lower.
According to the World Health Organization, outside of China, there have been 92 cases in which a person has spread the virus to another person, and it's happened in twelve countries. They are not declaring a global pandemic yet, noting that sustained local transmission outside of China had not yet happened.
"We still have a chance of preventing a broader global crisis," said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
COVID-19 has also claimed the life of the director of a hospital in Wuhan, where the outbreak is thought to have originated. The director, Liu Zhiming, is one of about 1700 healthcare workers in China that were infected with the virus.