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This article was written in February 2020.

What is the difference between an endemic, epidemic and pandemic?

Watch this short video to understand what a virus is and how they spread by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

What is the coronavirus?

The coronavirus (nCoV or CoVid-19) is from a large family of viruses. It is an extreme form of the flu which attacks the respiratory system, making the young and the old particularly vulnerable. These viruses are zoonotic which means they are transmitted between animals and people. They are grouped as –CoV viruses. There was an outbreak of the SARS (SARS-CoV) virus (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2002 which you can read about here and in 2012 there was an outbreak of the MERS (MERS-CoV) virus (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) with further information here. 774 people died from SARS whilst 858 people have died from MERS. More information about the coronavirus can be read here.

What is the currently overall picture?

Esri’s StoryMaps team have produced an excellent, engaging resource with a live-update map and an interactive banner to zoom in on the Huanan seafood market, quarantined cities, international flights and global fatalities. There is also a fantastic world map tracker to use from the University of Washington.

Why are people so worried?

The new coronavirus has killed more people in six weeks than SARS did in eight months. The mortality rate for the coronavirus is only 2% of patients. This is low compared to the outbreak of SARAs in 2002 which had a mortality rate of 9.6% but more importantly, the ease of transmission is causing significant alarm as it remains unclear how long the virus can live for on surfaces. It is thought that the coronavirus spreads from cough droplets. You can receive NHS advice if you suspect infection. .

Viruses spread in the 21st Century due to globalisation and the international movement of people. To understand this read the article Coronavirus: Why Singapore is so vulnerable to coronavirus spread by Karishma Vaswani.

What is a ‘super-spreader’?

Learn what a super-spreader is by reading this report from the Independent. Professors are still debating whether a super-spreader is someone who ‘sheds’ more of the virus or whether it is simply an individual who is doesn’t display any symptoms. Either way the individual infects an unusually high number of people, normally due to global travel, international business trips or a holiday abroad.

What is an epidemiologist?

Epidemiology is a study of disease – how and why it occurs in different groups. An epidemiologist is a medical clinician who investigates patterns and causes of diseases, like the coronavirus. There are various projections of up to 60% of the UK being injected if the disease is left unchecked. Read the Guardian article to learn about the potential scale of this disease. 

How bad could this outbreak get?

The BBC ran a virus stimulation in 2018 with citizen science, called Contagion! It aired on BBC Four. The programme involved nearly 30,000 volunteers who downloaded an experiment app which Dr Hannah Fry then used to run a pandemic scenario. This stimulated how a virus would spread in the UK. You can read about citizen science from the University of Cambridge. Watch Contagion! but hurry this episode is only available until mid-March. If you don’t have time or miss this window, there is a great write up of the programme from the BBC Media Centre.

There are multiple knock-on effects socially and politically. Read The coronavirus has only heightened Hong Kong’s hostility to Beijing by Ilaria Maria Sala to understand the growing anxiety and geopolitical ramifications.

Find out more about the current situation and how to protect yourself by reading the BBC article Britain’s race to control the coronavirus by Nick Triggle – and watch the video 5 things you need to know about CoVid-19.

Mathematics and Data Skills

Now time for some skills. Using an atlas, can you practice your latitude and longitude by identifying the coordinates for Wuhan, China? There is a huge confirmed death toll from the virus but outside China only 5 people have died in Taiwan, France, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Japan. Can you work out the coordinates for these additional places?

The virus spread rapidly in early February 2020. Using the following data, draw a line graph of confirmed cases for the first 15 days of the month: 14,500, 17,400, 19,900, 23,900, 27,600, 30,800, 34,400, 37,100, 40,200, 42,800, 44,800, 45,200, 60,400, 66,900 and 69,000. Once drawn describe the trajectory. Is there positive or negative correlation? Can you extrapolate a future trend?

Open the ArcGIS proportional map from the World Health Organisation (WHO). Using a world map template, create a proportional circle map for the cases of infection in southeast Asia.

Further reading

Try our intermediary platform Geography Directions to learn more. You can also click here to improve your subject knowledge on the delicate balance between disease control and privacy.

Read this article on liberalised air transport and the spread of infectious diseases by Helen Pallett to understand the effect of international travel.

To understand more about influenza Professor Steve Hinchliffe uses the bird flu epidemic to discuss pathology. Perhaps we are all over-worrying? Read this article on the effect of the mass media and decide for yourself.

Information from Esri UK: