We may associate the city of Wuhan in China as the site of the unofficial rendezvous between Narendra Modi and Xi Jingping in 2018. But soon, Wuhan might procure another, and a more dubious, distinction - as the origin of a new human coronavirus.
Corona-What?: Coronaviruses are a group of pathogens that have crown-like surface projections (hence the name). They first infected the news in 2003 when SARS - severe acute respiratory syndrome - caused a global panic. SARS had a mortality rate of 10% and originated in China and surfaced elsewhere including in Canada and Philippines. But it was fortunately contained.
Then, in 2012, another coronavirus-caused disease MERS - Middle East respiratory syndrome - caused alarm for a brief period of time. This one had a mortality rate of 36%.
Is It Back Again?: On December 8th, a new coronavirus was identified in Wuhan, China. Its symptoms are fever and pneumonia. As of January 17th, 41 cases have been reported in the region, with five patients in serious condition and two having succumbed to the virus.
The same coronavirus has also been confirmed in Japan and Thailand.
Why the Worry?: Coronaviruses are dangerous because (1) they have high mortality rates, (2) they can spread quickly - though not as quickly when it comes to human-to-human contact, and (3) we still don't know enough about them - there's no known cure.
This is Vir-us: SARS came from bats, MERS was traced to camels, but we still don't know the source of the coronavirus that has sprung up in Wuhan and elsewhere. Containment efforts by authorities and researchers are presently underway. The case in Thailand involved a Chinese visitor at the Bangkok airport whose symptoms were picked up by equipment installed for that very purpose.
At a time when a virus can travel halfway around the world before authorities can even realise it exists, such diligence is something to be grateful for.