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The world is currently caught in the grip of a coronavirus – COVID-19 – which has infected hundreds of thousands of people, including thousands of Australians, across dozens of countries after originating in China late last year.
“Coronavirus” is a name given to a family of viruses, so named because it appears to have crownlike protrusions when viewed under a microscope (“corona” is Latin for “crown”).
This family of viruses includes the common cold, bronchitis, pneumonia and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The current outbreak, which has been named COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019), is a “novel” – or new – strain of the virus, thought to have been initially transmitted to humans from animals in Hubei Province, China.
The WHO has classified it as a pandemic.
The virus has significantly disrupted economies around the world, as countries introduce strict “social distancing” measures to try and curb its spread.
Australians are now learning to live with a “new normal” of border closures, restrictions on movement, and impacts on social gatherings.
Symptoms of COVID-19 can vary depending on many factors. The Australian Department of Health states that symptoms can range from a mild illness,
which may include flu-like symptoms, to pneumonia (an infection of the lungs).
“Some people will recover easily, and others may get very sick very quickly,” it states.
“People with coronavirus may experience fever, flu-like symptoms such as coughing, sore throat and fatigue, and shortness of breath.”
However, people exhibiting those symptoms are being advised to use the government’s COVID-19 symptom checker before phoning your GP (do not visit without calling first) or the National Coronavirus Hotline on 1800 020 080.
The virus is thought to spread in the same way as the common cold does, although it is considered to be more contagious. The Department of Health states that the virus is most likely spread through:
Close contact with an infectious person
Contact with droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze
Touching objects or surfaces (like doorknobs or tables) that have cough or sneeze droplets from an infected person, and then touching your mouth or face
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Australian Government Department of Health Coronavirus (COVID-19) information
World Health Organisation’s COVID-19 situation map
World Health Organisation’s Coronavirus information
The Conversation: How do we detect if coronavirus is spreading in the community?