COVID-19: Numbers, projections, impact on markets and companies

The number of patients in England to have tested positive for coronavirus remains at 9, as it has been for a week. According to the Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England, as of 18th February, a total of 4,916 people have been tested for the virus.

Official World Health Organisation data, also from the 18th February, reports 73,332 laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus globally, of which 1,901 were confirmed in the previous 24 hours – almost all of which (1,891) were in China. Additionally, there have been no new countries reporting cases of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours.

To put these numbers into perspective, tens of millions to hundreds of millions of people a year contract the flu in China; and hundreds of thousands of people die from flu-related complications each year globally. But there is obvious concern around the reporting of the figures -- particularly those coming out of China.

Some academic studies estimate that cases could reach hundreds of thousands globally before the end of February. Projections from cat modelling firm, AIR Worldwide's Pandemic Model, believe this may be a "moderately conservative projection"; but that the vast majority will be asymptomatic or mild. AIR’s model-based estimates account for both uncertainty and underreporting, and does not suggest substantial transmission of the disease outside of China.

"Some factors contributing to the spread of the disease are international travel, the fact that it is an airborne virus -- meaning that it can be spread through respiratory droplets from the coughing and sneezing of infected individuals -- and the relatively high proportion of infected individuals who may not experience severe symptoms but can play a role in disease spread," AIR states.

"There is high uncertainty around the lethality of the disease; however, it is estimated that COVID-19 has a higher case fatality rate (CFR) compared to seasonal flu (~0.1-0.4%) and a lower CFR compared to the 2003 SARS outbreak (~5.0%-10.0%). The current estimation for CFR ranges between 0.5% and 4%."

In the UK, foreign secretary, Dominic Raab has been in discussions with international counterparts to determine the most effective actions to take. Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, he said the government's crisis response team, which is headquartered in the Foreign Office, has been working with its teams in China and at embassies throughout the world. "Looking ahead, the overriding international objective is to prevent the spread of coronavirus, and stop it turning into a global pandemic," he wrote.

The outbreak has had a significant impact on commodity markets, with ING reporting oil to have borne much of the brunt and leading to a weaker demand outlook. Disruption is filtering through to companies in a range of sectors, including Apple, Jaguar Land Rover and HSBC. Chanel is also reported to have cancelled an upcoming Beijing fashion show, in a similar move to that made by the organisers of the Mobile World Congress, when it cancelled the largest gathering of its kind in the world, which had been scheduled to be held in Barcelona in the coming weeks.

Coronaviruses (Source: World Health Organisation)

Coronaviruses are a group of viruses belonging to the family of Coronaviridae, which infect both animals and humans. Human coronaviruses can cause mild disease similar to a common cold, while others cause more severe disease (such as MERS - Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and SARS – Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome).

Signs and symptoms include respiratory symptoms and include fever, cough and shortness of breath. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome and sometimes death. Standard recommendations to prevent the spread of COVID-19 include frequent cleaning of hands using alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water; covering the nose and mouth with a flexed elbow or disposable tissue when coughing and sneezing; and avoiding close contact with anyone that has a fever and cough.

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