AT the time of writing, the new coronavirus sweeping China has broken out in 25 countries across the world, infecting more than 43,000 people.
So far, quarantine and travel restrictions have not contained the outbreak, with the first cases of those who have not been to Wuhan happening here in the UK.
Now named COVID-19, and designated a ‘global health emergency’ by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the virus is infecting thousands more every day.
Perhaps reassuringly, 80 per cent of sufferers have only mild cold symptoms, according to Dr Silvie Briand, head of WHO’s infectious global hazard division.
As a result, Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College believes the disease has been hugely under-reported, meaning the mortality rate is much lower than previously thought.
And, while there are slight signs that the outbreak is peaking in China, he warns that it could become a pandemic in coming months, affecting 60 per cent of us.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has assured us that the government will do all it can to tackle the virus and keep people safe, including developing a vaccine and preparing hospitals for an influx.
New powers under the Public Health Act will ensure that virus carriers are isolated, forcibly if necessary, to protect the wider population.
There’s no doubt that these developments are sobering and have unexpected knock-on effects on the global economy, especially in China.
COVID-19 will demand international co-operation at an unprecedented level, especially if trade and travel grind to a temporary halt.
But the truth is that scientists have long predicted an outbreak, with several recent skirmishes in the war between virus and man.
Quite literally in this case, when China sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold.