A new form of the deadly coronavirus, dubbed "Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV)," is raising alarm in countries all over the world including in the Arab region.
The virus' outbreak is believed to have originated in Wuhan, China, where it infected several workers at a seafood market back in mid-December. At the time of writing, the illness has infected over 3,000 people and claimed the lives of at least 80 in China.
Over the past few days, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Kuwait announced they have started screening passengers arriving from China at local airports to ensure they are able to limit the spread of the highly contagious illness. Authorities at Dubai International Airport - one of the region's major travel hubs - confirmed they are taking precautionary measures.
"All passengers arriving on direct flights from the People's Republic of China must receive thermal screening at the gate upon arrival," they said in an official statement.
On Thursday, Abu Dhabi International Airport took to Twitter to announce it also began screening passengers arriving from the East Asian country. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese businessmen, workers, and tourists travel to the UAE annually.
The spokesman for Kuwait's Directorate General of Civil Aviation, Saad al-Otaibi, said all passengers arriving from China will be subject to checks. The Gulf nation will also screen anyone "coming from countries determined by the health ministry if the virus spreads."
As for Bahrain, officials at the country's airport said they would screen all passengers arriving in the country.
There is no vaccine available for the current outbreak but those infected are treated symptomatically and provided with supportive care. Late on Sunday, Chinese officials said treatment for the virus is in the works and will launch within days.
Scientists are also racing to develop vaccines and other medications to combat the disease.
The areas that have been affected so far
The viral illness originated in China but has proven to be a fast-moving outbreak, spreading to over 10 countries in less than a month. Even though Chinese authorities practically isolated Wuhan in the past few days, blocking its 11 million residents from leaving the city, the virus continues to spread.
Most people affected are in China, however, cases have also been reported in Hong Kong, Thailand, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Macau, the U.S., France, Canada, and Australia.
On Saturday, China officially ordered nationwide "measures to identify and immediately isolate suspected cases of a deadly virus on trains, airplanes and buses." Other countries have since followed suit in a bid to prevent further cases.
Despite the ongoing rise in cases being reported, the World Health Organization (WHO) has yet to declare a global health crisis over the outbreak. The organization said "it was too early to do so" but has been rebuked by health experts who believe emergency measures must be taken to prevent it from spreading further.
What is coronavirus?
According to WHO, coronaviruses (CoV) "are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV)."
The latest coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that was recently identified in humans for the first time. Coronaviruses are zoonotic, which means they are transmitted between animals and people. Research conducted on previous outbreaks found that SARS was first transmitted to humans from civet cats while MERS saw infections originate in dromedary camels.
The exact animal source of the latest outbreak has yet to be confirmed, but two recent research papers said that bats and snakes could be possible culprits. Both animals were traded at the Wuhan market where the virus originated. The place sold several other animals including marmots and poultry. It housed tens of stalls where live creatures were available alongside prepared food and is considered one of the thousands of similar "wet markets" that exist in China.
Not much is known about the most recent version
Not much is yet known about the nature of the latest coronavirus outbreak but infectious disease experts are learning more about it by the day. Many of them believe it will take time to truly understand the illnesses' nature, how fast it spreads, and how it infects people. Experts believe the virus can spread before symptoms appear in those infected.
Global authorities are working in a bid to contain the virus, though it is expected that its death toll will rise in the next few weeks.
As with SARS and MERS, the new disease causes pneumonia-like symptoms. The first signs of infection are somewhat like the flu and include fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, the virus majorly affects the respiratory system, causing pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure, and even death.
According to WHO, measures that can be taken to prevent infection include: Regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs, and avoiding close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.