As the world continues to struggle to contain the spread of the deadly coronavirus, concerns continue to mount about what the long-term effects will be on the globe.
According to infection disease expert Associate Professor Dr Sanjaya Senanayake, from the Australian National University, scientists have made progress in understanding the virus.
How does coronavirus compare to other major epidemics?
Coronavirus has brought back haunting reminders of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed 774 people and also originated in China.
COVID-19 and SARS are both a form of coronavirus, sharing about 80 per cent similarity.
However, according to Dr Senanayake, coronavirus appears to be more infectious but less deadly in comparison to SARS.
“It took SARS about eight months to cause 8,000 cases, but this virus seems to be more infectious in that it reached that 8,000-case mark within eight weeks,” Dr Senanayake told Today.
“SARS was quite deadly. It killed about 10 to 15 per cent of people. Coronavirus has killed two per cent of confirmed cases, but there are lots of cases we don’t know about, so it seems like the death rate is much lower.”
In recent years, the Ebola epidemic killed more than 11,000 people.
“Ebola is a different beast,” Dr Senanayake said.
“It is not a respiratory infection. It would be less infectious than the coronavirus infection, but it has a much higher death rate.
“The thing about SARS and Ebola, and hopefully this virus as well, is that if you isolated people as soon as they developed symptoms you could stop them from infecting other people,” he added.
How long will COVID-19 last?
Dr Senanayake said there are still a large number of suspected cases that have yet to be reported, making it difficult to determine how long the epidemic could last.
He also suggested coronavirus could be a seasonal virus and only time will tell if this is the case.
“When the warmer months appear it could suddenly disappear and then reappear in the colder months,” he said.
Despite reports indicating the virus is spreading at a rapid rate, Dr Senanayake said the infection rate is slowing down.
“China has changed the way it has counted cases which is muddied the waters a little bit. But if you go back to the old way of counting cases, in the last few days there has been a reduction in the number of confirmed cases and if that trend in the cases we know about is reflected in the cases we don’t know about, maybe we are getting it under control,” he said.
“But if not, it is very likely to spread across international borders.”
What happens when the travel bans are lifted?
A number of extended travel bans and quarantines have been put in place around the world to control the virus, including in Australia.
However, Dr Senanayake said these measures won’t last forever and when restrictions are lifted, there is a possibility the virus will spread further.
“Ideally, when the restrictions occur the outbreak will be under control for China, but the reality for poor China, how long can you keep people in lockdown for?” he said.
“Children have to go to school. People have to go to work and China accounts for 16 per cent of the world economy. If China is shut down, it has downstream effects for all of us.”