Coronavirus outbreak in China January and February 2020

The current outbreak of coronavirus was first reported on the last day of 2019 (coincidentally 31st December). A cluster of people with severe pneumonia had made health professionals suspicious and tests showed a new virus was at work. It seems to have spread from a seafood and live animal market in the city Wuhan, Hubei province. It is officially designated as Covid-19 or SARS-CoV-2 and is a new form of Corona virus. Corona-viruses are so called because their genetic material is protected by a spiky envelope. There are a wide range of different corona-viruses. SARS from 2013 caused similar severe respiratory problems. It is likely that the virus originated from animals at the market; snakes and bats have been suggested as possible carriers.

What makes this virus hard to tackle is that some people become infectious before they display any obvious symptoms. It currently seems most life-threatening to people with other serious health issues rather than the young and fit.

NOTE: This page is updated daily with the latest statistics.

spread of coronavirus

Chart of the number of people infected with the virus, and also those that have died and those that have fully recovered.
The large peak on 13th Feb is because Hubei province included probable infected cases as well as definite cases, it does not represent a huge number of new infections.


From its initial origin the virus spread quickly within the city of Wuhan. To contain the outbreak the Chinese government put the whole province of Hubei on lock-down on 23rd January - severely restricting the free movement of potentially infected individuals. As at 23rd February 87% of cases were in Hubei, 10% in the rest of China and only 3% in all other countries put together. New cases are currently running at about 1,000 per day. Wuhan has a population of 10 million people and the province of Hubei 58 million so the number of people infected is still a very small proportion of the population (less than 0.01% for Wuhan) so the chance of meeting someone infected is extremely low. It is easily spread to anyone by close contact with someone infected: family, health care workers and friends.

daily change of statistics for coronavirus
Chart of the daily increase in people in the confirmed infected/died/recovered categories. Some of the changes look odd because on some days the statistics were not reported on time so 7th and 8th February should be taken together. The number of new confirmed cases needs to go down to zero before the outbreak can be considered contained. This is currently (22nd Feb) running at about 600 new infections per day and one hundred deaths per day.
The large peak on 13th Feb is because Hubei province included probable infected cases as well as definite cases, it does not represent a huge number of new infections.
status of coronavirus location
Chart showing the proportion of infected people in Hubei province compared to the rest of China (excluding Hubei), the rest of the world and the grand total. As of 22 nd Feb only 13 deaths have been recorded outside China. The status indicates the containment measures have so far proved pretty effective.
medical testing


The incubation period of the virus is when people do not display any symptoms but still be infectious. This seems to vary between 1 day and 12 days, on average 5 days. Because of this a quarantine period of two weeks is necessary to be sure someone is not infected. During the incubation period a carrier can not be detected by thermal image scanning.

Many people will begin with 'flu like symptoms - a cough, sneezing and elevated temperature. Severity of symptoms of the coronavirus varies substantially between different individuals. Some will develop 'pneumonia' as lung inflammation and build up of fluid in the lungs caused by the virus lead to shortness of breath. People may then suffer from a secondary bacterial infection in the lungs. Some people develop kidney failure.

As of 23rd February 3% of those infected have so far died but the majority of these are still under observation and may will fully recover but could potentially die. As of 23rd February 29% of those infected have made a full recovery. It will take a few more weeks before an accurate death rate can be established but it does seem to be less fatal than Ebola and SARS.

If you feel unwell, stay at home making a note of everyone you have recently come into contact with. People on the list can then be made aware of the risk and quarantined. Only if you begin to develop severe symptoms (kidney or lung) should you contact health care professionals by phone. Attending clinics is not advisable as this may spread the infection.

status of coronavirus location
Chart showing where all the reported cases are located. The province of Hubei predominates the statistics followed by much smaller numbers in neighboring provinces. 'Oceans' refers to people on ships.

New cases of the Coronavirus reported 23rd February by location

South Korea169
ChinaHong Kong5
Wuhan, Hubei, Yangzi River, river
Wuhan, from the Yellow Crane Tower. October 2005.
Image by CraigTheBrit available under a Creative Commons license


The official test for coronavirus known as a kind of PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test that looks for the specific genetic fingerprint of the virus.

status of coronavirus infection

Chart showing the proportion of people still considered infected compared to those who have fully recovered and those who have died. For safety a long quarantine period is being imposed (two weeks) to ensure people are fully recovered and can then go back home. Many of those infected may be showing only mild symptoms and will soon fully recover.

Antibodies and vaccines

As it is a new virus among humans no-one will have antibodies that would quickly detect and kill virus particles.

Developing a specific vaccine has begun but will take months to develop and test and so is not a quick solution. Antibiotics will have no effect on the virus, they may be used for secondary infections when someone is very ill with the virus.

The media is awash with stories that certain medicines, foods or vaccines will give immunity. Nothing so far has been proven. Keeping fit and healthy is the best advice at present as a healthy natural immune system should deal with the virus without extra medication. Vitamin C, garlic, sesame oil and herbal teas are not going to help except perhaps contribute to general health.


Myths about coronavirus

  • Hot air hand dryers do not kill the virus.
  • Spraying with alcohol or bleach is both dangerous and will not kill the virus.
  • Boxes and packages can not harbor the virus - a package from China is not dangerous.
  • A thermal imaging only spots people who have begun to develop symptoms not when virus is incubating.
  • Regular nasal washing with saline or gargling with mouthwash does not help.

Map of cases of Coronavirus in China
Map showing the density of infected people in China. It uses a percentage of population scale to take account of relative population density. Even in the most infected province Hubei the proportion of the population infected is less than 0.1% (less than 1 infected for every 1,000 people).

Coronavirus Timeline

Monday 24th February

With no new cases reported in Hubei and only 21 in the rest of China the statistics look suspect as on Saturday will need to wait until tomorrow for a clearer picture. South Korea has moved up from 7th to the 3rd location with the most infections.

Sunday 23rd February

Another blip in the statistics. The number of new cases per day has tripled in China going from 644 to 1756 and so no longer indicates a downward change. The number regarded as recovered has jumped up from 713 to 3996 and deaths from 4 to 207, both these suggests the figures for 22nd were inaccurate and the data for Saturday and Sunday should be taken together and average to look for any trends. Elsewhere the number of new cases outside China has almost doubled to 305. The real fear must be that it may have reached countries where it is not yet being recorded as coronavirus. For example would North Korea want to admit it has an outbreak? The good news is that the overall total of number of people still infected continues to fall.

Saturday 22nd February

For the first time no deaths have been recorded in China yesterday, and just four elsewhere in the world. The worrying spread to new locations continues with Lebanon and Israel added to the list (this may in part be due to repatriation of patients from the Diamond Princess cruise ship). There is a low number of new infections but they are widely scattered. South Korea continues to be a concern with numbers doubling in one day.

Friday 21st February

There is both good and bad news today, the cases in China and particularly Hubei continue the downward trend but new cases in South Korea, Japan and Iran suggest that containment within China may not have been achieved. Over 2,000 people are classed as recovered on 20th Feb for the first time.

Thursday 20th February

On the previous day a landmark was reached - the total number of currently infected people reduced slightly. Thursday's figures continue the trend of overall reduction. The total number of new infections in Hubei has dropped dramatically from 1,693 to just 349 (the lowest number here since 27th January). This may be due to a problem with classification of cases, only time will tell. Elsewhere, it is only Japan that is showing a worrying accelerating trend in new cases.

Also a round-up from various news items recently reported in the South China Morning Post .

Studies are showing that the corona-virus is much more infectious than similar viruses, it seems to bind very easily to human cells. Autopsies of those that have died show the virus principally attacks the lungs but also the liver. Some people are being treated with corticosteroids and some results show that their use may lead to damage of the liver and kidneys so these steroids are not recommended for widespread use. There continues to be reports that herbal medicines based on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) are effective. It looks like that someherbs can significantly aid recovery but will not prevent people becoming infected.

The knock-on effects of the virus are showing in China and other countries. With many people either forced (as in much of Hubei province) or voluntarily staying at home the impact on all sorts of businesses is showing. With far fewer people traveling the airlines are canceling flights and laying off staffs. Tourist destinations are pretty much deserted. As people are not out shopping many businesses are struggling, book shops seem badly hit, people are ordering by post to avoid going out. Restaurants are badly affected and some are quickly turning to offering take-away and delivery services to keep the businesses going. Farms are hard hit with livestock markets closed. Imports of frozen chicken, beef and pork are being held up at the ports due to a shortage of truck drivers to distribute them inland.

On a somewhat lighter note, a popular video game is letting people play at killing off the virus at least in the virtual world. With many millions stuck at home having something useful to do must becoming increasingly hard.

Tuesday 18th February

The number of new cases has remained steady at 2,000 a day with very few in other countries. The total number who have made a full recovery continues to grow and the daily number of recovered cases is very nearly the same as new infections. When that cross-over is reached the net number of people still infected will start to fall. All the professionals must be concerned that now is not the time to relax measures as people continue to be unable to work or do pretty much anything. All the occasional needs like plumbers, electricians, builders and so on must be causing real hardship. Yesterday it was reported how one group of volunteers in Hubei are rescuing pets that had to be left on their own - because their owners were unexpectedly put into enforced quarantine.

Sunday 16th February

After statistical adjustments the new figures show new infections running at same rate as 11th February and suggest a downward trend. Malaysia and Singapore are looking the other countries that need watching closely. The continuing spread on the 'Ocean Princess' cruise ship seems to show how easy it is to spread the virus in an enclosed area even though in quarantine.

Friday 14th February

In Hubei an error was found in the statistics - around 100 deaths had been counted twice so this figure for 14th should be about 226 to reflect the actual 'new' deaths since yesterday. Now Hubei is using a new wider definition of virus infection and deaths it should be expected that the daily rate of 4,000 new infection is the normal baseline figure. Apart from cruise ships no new cases have been reported outside China. People are continuing to recover with

Thursday 13th February

There has been a large peak in the number of cases reported today in Hubei both for those infected (+14,840) and deaths (+242). This is because of a change to the way cases are designated rather than an underlying huge spike in cases. From now on the 'infected' figure reflects people showing the symptoms not just those who have had a positive test result for the virus. Similarly the figure for deaths is now including cases where the virus may have been a factor rather than only those as the definite direct cause. Health professionals elsewhere in the world had been concerned that the figures looked too low and so less strict criteria are now applied.

At the same time the Hubei provincial governor Jiang Chaoliang has been replaced by former Shanghai mayor Ying Yong. Jiang Chaoliang had faced severe criticism over the handling of the outbreak in its first few weeks.

Monday 10th February

The cruise ship “Diamond Princess” is quarantined. It has 3,700 people on-board and 135 have been infected, this makes it the largest cluster of cases outside China. It is moored at Yokohama, Japan and will not move before this local outbreak has been contained.

Thursday 6th February

One of the whistleblowers who alerted the wider public about the virus in its early stages Li Wenliang dies of the virus. When he reported a cluster of cases of a SARS -like virus in mid December on social media he was told by officials in no uncertain terms to shut up and stop creating malicious rumors. It now looks like that if his suspicions had been taken seriously the outbreak could have been much better contained.

Wednesday 5th February

It is estimated that Wuhan will need 11 makeshift hospitals to cope with all those infected. There are now about 17,000 confirmed cases in the city, all of which need to be quarantined. World coverage followed the rapid construction of the first one 'Huoshenshan Hospital' but others are now being built.

Thursday 30th January

The World Health Organization (WHO) Director General declared the outbreak of the novel coronavirus “2019-nCoV” as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).

Thursday 23rd January

The Chinese government imposes a 'lockdown' on the city of Wuhan and other major cities in Hubei province. There were 800 cases confirmed with most of them in Hubei but also in other Chinese provinces. This was the eve of the Chinese Spring Festival when many people travel to be with their families. All public transport was suspended: planes, trains, coaches and major roads. This was the largest lockdown in modern times affecting over 11 million people.

Friday 10th January

The virus is sequenced and identified as a new coronavirus '2019-nCoV' related to MERS and SARS .

Tuesday 31st December 2019

The World Health Organization (WHO) designates the outbreak as a “pneumonia of unknown cause”.

Tuesday 1oth December 2019

First person dies in Wuhan from the then unknown virus. 41 other people test positive for the same infection. The first cases seem to be from the Wuhan South China Seafood Market.

face mask

Face masks

Many photographs of people with face masks has lulled people into thinking that a face mask offers full protection. It can only contribute to protection but does not offer a full solution. Protection is only effective if it is used very carefully. In particular it must be taken off without touching the cloth area as it is here that virus particles may have accumulated. More important is the frequent washing of hands with soap and avoiding touching the face with hands. It is recommended to sneeze into a tissue covering mouth and nose, and dispose of the tissue with minimal contact and then wash hands with soap or medicated hand-rub.

Future Strategy

The only strategy available to control the outbreak of coronavirus is containment. The idea is to stop the virus spreading, it will be particularly hard to tackle it is spreads to areas with poor medical care knowledge and facilities. If the contacts of everyone infected are checked out and if necessary put in quarantine this could all be contained and naturally disappear as an outbreak within as little as a month. Vigilance is key, any relaxation of quarantine risks a widespread infection.

The outbreak will be under control when the number of new cases each day starts to fall and the number of people considered fully recovered becomes the majority.

containment clinic


This information is based on the World Health Organization (WHO) web pages with some additional sources.

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