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What happens if you catch the new coronavirus?

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A new coronavirus that emerged in China late last year has spread to at least 188 countries on six continents, with the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring the outbreak of the pathogen a pandemic. 

More than 350,000 people have died from the virus worldwide and the number of reported cases stands at over 5.6 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. More than 2.3 million people have so far recovered.

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As fear has spread, scientists and researchers around the world have ramped up efforts to understand the new virus and how it affects the human body. Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent coronavirus disease.

Here is what we know about the coronavirus and the highly infectious respiratory disease it causes, COVID-19, and what happens if you are infected.

‘Varying levels of severity’

The new virus belongs to a family of viruses that can cause respiratory illnesses in humans ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

Thought to have been transmitted to humans from an as-yet-unidentified animal source, the new virus spreads primarily through respiratory droplets, such as those generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

On average, it takes about five to six days for someone to show symptoms after becoming infected. However, some people who carry the virus remain asymptomatic, meaning they do not show any symptoms.

The virus multiplies in the respiratory tract and can cause a range of symptoms, according to Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, who heads the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme.

“You have mild cases, which look like the common cold, which have some respiratory symptoms, sore throat, runny nose, fever, all the way through pneumonia. And there can be varying levels of severity of pneumonia all the way through multi-organ failure and death,” she told reporters in Geneva on February 7.

However, in most cases, symptoms have remained mild.

“We’ve seen some data on about 17,000 cases and, overall, 82 percent of those are mild, 15 percent of those are severe and 3 percent of those are classified as critical,” said Van Kerkhove.

Fever, cough, pneumonia

A study of 138 patients infected with the new virus in Wuhan, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) on February 7, showed the most common symptoms were fever, fatigue and dry cough. A third of the patients also reported muscle pain and difficulty breathing, while about 10 percent had atypical symptoms, including diarrhoea and nausea.

The patients, who ranged in age from 22 to 92, were admitted to the Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University between January 1 and 28. “The median age of patients is between 49 and 56 years,” JAMA said. “Cases in children have been rare.”

While most cases appeared to be mild, all the patients developed pneumonia, according to JAMA. 

About a third subsequently developed severe breathing difficulties, requiring treatment in the intensive care unit. The critically ill were older and had other underlying conditions such as diabetes and hypertension. 

Six of the 138 patients died – a figure amounting to a 4.3-percent death rate, which is higher than estimates from other parts of China. Less than 2 percent of the total number of infected people have died from the virus so far but that figure could change.

Meanwhile, a study published on January 24 in The Lancet medical journal found what it called a “cytokine storm” in infected patients who were severely ill. A cytokine storm is a severe immune reaction in which the body produces immune cells and proteins that can destroy other organs.

Some experts say this could explain deaths in younger patients. Statistics from China show some people in their 30s, 40s and 50s, who were not known to have had prior medical issues, have also died from the disease.

A timeline of how the disease progresses

According to JAMA, on average, people became short of breath within five days of the onset of their symptoms. Severe breathing trouble was observed in about eight days.

The study did not give a timeline for when the deaths occurred.

However, an earlier study published in the Journal of Medical Virology on January 29 said that, on average, people who died did so within 14 days of the onset of the disease.

The New England Journal of Medicine, in a study published on January 31, also offered a look at how the coronavirus infection affects the body over time.

The study examined the medical data of a 35-year-old man, the first case of infection in the United States. The first symptom was a dry cough, followed by a fever.

On the third day of illness, he reported nausea and vomiting followed by diarrhoea and abdominal discomfort on the sixth day. By the ninth day, he had developed pneumonia and reported difficulty breathing.

By the twelfth day, his condition had improved and his fever was subsiding. He developed a runny nose, however. On day 14, he was asymptomatic except for a mild cough.

According to local media reports, he sought care on January 19 and was discharged from the hospital in the first week of February.

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Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO chief, told reporters on February 24 that statistics from China suggest the recovery time for people with mild disease is about two weeks. People with severe or critical disease may take between three and six weeks to recover.

On February 28, Tedros said nations should prepare themselves for a potential pandemic, as countries aside from China at that point accounted for three-quarters of new infections.

On March 4, he warned that a global shortage and price gouging for protective equipment was compromising countries’ abilities to respond to the epidemic, and called on companies and governments to increase production by 40 percent.

On March 11, the WHO chief characterised COVID-19 as a pandemic and expressed concern over the “alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction”. 

On March 13, Tedros said that Europe had become the epicentre of the pandemic after reporting more cases and deaths than “rest of the world combined, apart from China”.

But later the US became the worst-hit country.

By April 29, the US death toll had surpassed 60,000 amid more than 1 million cases. 

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Iran and world powers hint at talks over nuclear deal | Nuclear Energy News

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Tehran, Iran – Unofficial talks between Iran and world powers that signed an ailing 2015 nuclear deal appear to be the only way forward as neither side seems willing to take the first step.

Iran says the United States, which in 2018 unilaterally abandoned the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), must first return to full compliance under the accord by lifting all economic sanctions it imposed.

President Joe Biden has said former US leader Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign has failed, but nevertheless insists Iran must first reverse steps to reduce its commitments under the deal in response to the sanctions.

This week, Iran said it is considering an offer by the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to hold unofficial talks with the P4+1 – China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and Germany minus the US – that would also include the US as a “guest”.

Ali Vaez, director of the Iran Project at the International Crisis Group, said it is likely officials from Tehran and Washington would sit together at an informal meeting hosted by the EU in the coming weeks.

“There, they are likely to agree to an interim set of measures to buy more time for negotiating a timetable for a mutual return to full compliance with the JCPOA,” he told Al Jazeera.

The meeting was called in light of Iran’s latest move on Tuesday to stop voluntarily implementing the Additional Protocol – a document that gives the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) broad inspection authorities of Iranian nuclear sites.

In a statement after Iran stopped providing the United Nations’s nuclear watchdog with short-notice inspection capabilities, the three European signatories of the nuclear deal called the move “dangerous”.

“It will significantly constrain the IAEA’s access to sites and to safeguards-relevant information,” the E3 foreign ministers said. “It will also constrain the IAEA’s ability to monitor and verify Iran’s nuclear programme and nuclear-related activities.”

Three-month window

But an agreement Iran’s government reached with the IAEA on Sunday seems to have bought more time for diplomacy.

After IAEA General Director Rafael Grossi travelled to Tehran, the two sides agreed Iran would continue monitoring activities of its nuclear sites, but would not hand over the camera tapes.

The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran announced that if the US fails to lift sanctions on Iran within those three months, the data would be permanently deleted, leaving a gap in the IAEA’s monitoring of the country’s nuclear activities.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said earlier this week the US has imposed 1,600 sanctions on Iran, all of which need to be lifted to restore the nuclear deal.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also said this week Iran could boost its uranium enrichment to a purity of 60 percent from the current 20 percent if the country needs to, but stressed his nation does not seek nuclear weapons.

On Wednesday, Iran’s ambassador in Geneva told the UN-sponsored Conference on Disarmament it is up to the United States to make the first move.

“The onus is on the offending party to return, restart, and compensate for the damages as well as to reassure that they would not renege again,” Ambassador Esmaeil Baghaei Hamaneh said.

‘Increasing suspicions’

Vaez said the IAEA agreement “deferred a crisis that could have derailed diplomacy before it even had a chance of getting off the ground”.

Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council, said the time bought by the deal could open the way for all sides to negotiate – and implement – a road map back to JCPOA compliance.

She told Al Jazeera “it won’t be the end of the world but it won’t be good” if the nuclear deal signatories fail to come to an agreement in those three months.

“Iran will continue to take steps out of the JCPOA and to reduce cooperation with the IAEA, increasing suspicions that it is working on weapons,” Slavin said of the ramifications of a no-deal scenario.

“Iranians will continue to suffer from the impact of sanctions. Iranian politicians opposed to the deal and to any relaxation of tensions with the West will get stronger, and Iran will likely also be more difficult to deal with in Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, et cetera.”

Presidential elections loom

The fact that the June presidential elections in Iran are fast approaching only adds to the pressure to find a solution to the nuclear deal dilemma.

President Hassan Rouhani, who won his office by promising to engage with the West and improve Iran’s economy by ending isolation, is nearing the end of his second term.

It is widely believed a conservative or a hardliner – who could come from a military background – will emerge victorious in the elections.

Iran’s last large-scale elections came in February 2020 when the lowest voter turnout in the f40-year history of the country gave way to the current hardline parliament whose December law obliged Rouhani’s administration to boost uranium enrichment and restrict IAEA inspections.

“It is obviously much easier to negotiate a return to the nuclear deal with individuals who negotiated it in the first place than to work with a new cast of characters – or old ones from the Ahmadinejad days – who are much more antagonistic to the United States,” Slavin said in reference to former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Vaez concurred saying: “It will be a risky gambit for Washington not to restore the JCPOA fully before its key proponents in Iran leave power.”

But he added it would be unlikely for the next Iranian president to undo what has been state policy as the supreme leader is always the ultimate decision-maker.

Meantime, however, Rouhani’s opponents are likely to mount more opposition to his dealings with international stakeholders.

On Monday, angry legislators said Iran’s agreement with the IAEA is “illegal” and called for the president to be handed over to the judiciary for legal punishment.

The heated confrontation even prompted the supreme leader to intervene, saying they must resolve their differences so a single voice would be communicated from Iran to the world.



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