A woman looking at a vial of viruses in a lab

The Coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19 in Layman's Terms

I am tired of hearing inflammatory, incorrect, stories from around the world about the latest Coronavirus outbreak - SARS-CoV-2 causing the COVID-19 disease. So I did some digging and put together a beginner's guide to the virus, so you can stay informed.

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I’m a member of the Trends (by The Hustle) Facebook group. It’s a place where there are a lot of really intelligent people sharing ideas and engaging with one another — mostly around the topic of business. It’s the most valuable online group I am a part of.

Something struck me the other day when a few members started talking about stockpiling food resources. Some members mentioned they were buying non-perishable foods, water and supplies in the event that they might not be able to get them in the future.

There were even mentions made of new businesses sprouting up that basically provide you with a survival package in case of the world getting to a point of total failure. I might be reading too much into it, but the simultaneous mention of the two seemed more than co-incidental.

This seemed absolutely bonkers to me.

These are some of the smartest people I engage with. If they are prepping for an mini-apocolypse-typ- situation, should I be too?

So far, I’ve been getting all my information from news that is thrown at me by publications and outlets that stand to make money from creating hype — and therefore more readers. As cynical as this is, a worldwide (supposed) pandemic is good business for news outlets.

I’ve kept asking myself the question, is all the hype actually valid?

I decided to dive deep into what this particular strain of the Coronavirus is all about, and whether we need to be as afraid as the mainstream media is urging us to be.

Why don’t they report this heavily on Influenza — a virus which has caused an estimated 18 000 deaths in the US alone this season, versus just over 3000 deaths worldwide caused by the latest outbreak of Coronavirus since December 2019?

Let’s find out.

Brief Background: Coronavirus / COVID-19


First up, a virus is an organism that lives inside a host body. They have their own DNA/RNA and can’t replicate without a host. This makes them parasitic.

Viruses are all around us. They live in plants, animals, humans — or any living organism. They are widely considered the most abundant biological creature on the planet.

What you should know is that not all viruses are equal. They have different effects on different things. Where one virus may be deadly to a dog or cat, it may have absolutely no affect on a human.

There is often no cure for viruses, just ways to manage them. That’s why you were never prescribed antibiotics to fight off your chicken-pox as a kid. There are however anti-virals; which help your body fight off a virus, and vaccines; which help prevent infection from a virus. Flu shot, anyone?

Different viruses behave differently and attach different systems in your blood.

Here are some more well-known viruses:

  • HIV
  • Hepatitis
  • Influenza (Flu)
  • Herpes
  • Chicken Pox


We know what viruses are and how they act, so how does the Coronavirus fit in?

Coronavirus joke: Heinekens with a mask on from Corona beer bottle.
Hint: It has absolutely nothing to do with Corona beers. Source: @AzzaouiAnasse on Twitter.

Despite the Mexican beer-maker’s best efforts, beer sales at Corona have dropped dramatically (estimated at over 10% down on quarterly revenue), causing the company to lose over $225 million USD in profit for the quarter since the outbreak started.

Rest-assured, you can enjoy your favorite Mexican beer safely.

Back on topic; Coronavirus (CoV is the abbreviation) is a general term for a family of viruses which cause an onset of disease once a patient has become infected.

There are multiple known Coronaviruses which have caused disease outbreaks such as the Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome — Coronavirus (MERS-CoV)* and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV)**. It is important to note that SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV are the diseases caused by a specific strain of Coronavirus.

When there is an unidentified strain of the Coronavirus picked up, it is called a Novel Coronavirus (NCoV). The current strain of Coronavirus was a NCoV until it was named SARS-CoV-2, which causes the disease named COVID-19 (more on that in the next section).

Coronaviruses are transferred between humans and animals. This has been the cause for speculation that the disease originated out of a large live-animal food market in Wuhan, China.

Side note: Video’s surfaced of people walking through these markets — the conditions are deplorable and the cruel treatment of the animals is disgusting. As difficult as they are to watch, I’d encourage you to try and find them. The more pressure that can be applied to put an end to these markets — Coronavirus or not — the better.

So where did it actually come from?

*See Further Reading Section for information on MERS-CoV
**See Further Reading Section for information on SARS-CoV


SARS-CoV-2 is the official name of the most recent Coronavirus outbreak that was first identified in Wuhan, China in the latter parts of 2019. COVID-19 is the official name of the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The previous two instances of major Coronavirus outbreaks — SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV originated from bats. This has lead researchers to believe that SARS-CoV-2 did too.

Other research indicates that the virus sequences found in the first identified cases in the US are very similar to those originally posted by China. This further bolsters the argument that the disease originated from a singular animal host.

There is further speculation that pangolins* are the original source of the virus. They are a known carrier of the Coronavirus and are a popular commodity in Chinese culture — used for the supposed medicinal value in their scales — though this is widely refuted by modern science.

The fact that pangolins are the source of the latest Coronavirus outbreak has not been confirmed, though it is still a possibility.

The severely endangered Pangolin; poached and trafficked for its supposed medicinal benefits, might catch a small break after being named as a possible source of the latest Coronavirus outbreak. Source: Wildlife Justice Commission

So, in summary, Coronavirus is one type of virus. There are many strains of Coronavirus. SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV have been the two most common diseases in recent times. SARS-CoV-2 is the official name of the recent strain of Coronavirus which is causing the COVID-19 disease.

*See Further Reading Section (bottom) for information on the illegal pangolin trade.


As mentioned, COVID-19 is the disease which is killing people infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Let’s find out more.

Who Is at Risk?

Source: Worldometers

You may have heard that the majority of people that are dying from COVID-19 are elderly. This is true. The estimated death rate for people over 80 is between 14.8% and 21.9%. This varies from confirmed cases to suspected cases (not all cases are reported).

Compare this number to the death rate among 40–49 year-olds which is approximately 0.4%.

Note, death rate is the probability of dying if infected by the virus. That is a historical metric which = number of cases / number of deaths.

This points to the fact that the virus is killing people with a weakened immune system. The body of an elderly man or woman is simply nowhere near as adept as fighting off a virus compared with a middle-aged healthy person. This includes those with pre-existing immune-system weaknesses like asthma, diabetes, heart conditions, etc.


Its important to know that symptoms can take up from 2 to 14 days to manifest. This means carriers of the SARS-CoV-2 may not know they are infecting people around them for up to 2 weeks.

Symptoms of the COVID-19 disease are largely related to respiratory systems. These include shortness of breath, fatigue, dry-cough and fevers.

What Do You Die From?

Reported symptoms of COVID-19 range from mild (non-life-threatening) to severe (death). The disease attacks the respiratory system of the host which can lead to severe illness like pneumonia, which ultimately causes death. The first two deaths reported were both cases of pneumonia. Other causes of death include pulmonary oedema, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) or organ failure.


The virus is reported to have made its way into over 70 countries world wide (at the time of writing — 03 March 2020), with only one continent — Antarctica — not (yet?) effected.

Coronavirus spread worldwide. Source: ECDC

(FYI: Antarctica only has 1,106 inhabitants, giving it a population density of 0.00008 to 0.00040 people per square kilometer. Compare this with China’s 145 people per square kilometer.)

I digress.

This means, in approximately three months, the virus has made its way into nearly a third of all countries in the world.

It was also only recently discovered in Africa, where experts anticipate rapid spreading due to lack of education around the issue and poor government oversight.

Because of the travel restrictions imposed by some countries on those with highly infected areas, it is likely the spread will slow slightly.

Because of the fact that the virus can be within a host and not show symptoms for up to 14 days, it is difficult to contain. This has been one of the challenges since the beginning.

Is it as Bad as the Media is Making Out?

First off, it is important to know that there is no vaccine available at this time. Until such time as it has been developed (which is underway), there is very little way to stop the virus from spreading aside from quarantine measures. This is why you would have seen sports events and mass gatherings being cancelled in hotspots. The more people who get infected — the higher the spread rate — which means more people getting infected and so the cycle continues. The downside of the network effect!

There is also no anti-viral treatment available at this time. This means there is no medication you can take which can help your body fight the virus. Once you have contracted it, you have to manage your symptoms and health to make sure you give your body the best chance of beating the virus itself. This is especially important for those who have a compromised immune system.

Is A Vaccine on the Way?

When asked about the progress on development of a vaccine, Donald Trump said it was either 3 or 4 months, or about a year away — according to different experts. However, one of the scientists on his expert ‘Coronavirus taskforce’ immediately contradicted this and said “ A vaccine that you make and start testing in a year is not a vaccine that’s deployable”.

Whether that’s true or not is up for debate. I know where my intuition lies though, and its certainly not with Mr President on this one.

There are multiple companies tackling the problem, though. Two are furthest along in the process: Gilead Sciences and Moderna Therapeutics.

Gilead Sciences is not developing a vaccine, but rather an IV treatment for infected patients which helps them recover. It has already been used on one patient successfully and they intend trialing on another 1000 soon.

Moderna Therapeutics set a record for developing a potential vaccine in just 42 days once the SARS-CoV-2 had been sequenced. The company is working closely with the NHI in the USA to test its safety with healthy patients, after which further deployment will be discussed.

Doesn’t the Flu Kill More People?

It’s widely cited that the Flu (Influenza) kills more people on a daily basis than COVID-19. This is certainly true.

There are already a reported 18 000 deaths from the 2019–2020 flu season, with over 280 000 hospitalizations in the USA alone. This is in comparison with the approximate-3000 Coronavirus-associated deaths worldwide.

What is concerning however, is that its estimated over 35 million Americans contracted the latest bout of flu viruses. That leaves the fatality rate very low. A common cited figure for the flu is 0.1%.

Experts on the SARS-CoV-2 virus are citing a mortality rate around 2%. This is widely debated. However, it is important to note that it is significantly higher than the flu. The number is also skewed by the fact that a lot of those infected SARS-CoV-2 don’t ever experience symptoms and are therefore never reported.

We can then hypothesize that should the spread of the virus continue, and the number of infected people increase to the level of those who contract the flu every year, a much larger portion of people would die.

So yes, the flu does kill more people, for now. In time, that may not be true.

Characteristics of a Pandemic

So, the question most people are wanting an answer to is: Are we heading towards a worldwide pandemic?

Some perspective on previous pandemics. Source: WHO

A pandemic is the widespread outbreak of disease which is dangerous to human health and is contagious. If the spread of an endemic disease is stable, it is not considered a pandemic. That’s why cancer is considered a pandemic.

Some well known pandemics include:

  • Black death (75–200 million estimated deaths in 14th century)
  • Teberculosis (TB)
  • Smallpox
  • H1N1
  • 1918 Spanish Flu (500 million reported infections leading to between 50 to 100 million deaths)
  • HIV/AIDS (Only currently-known pandemic)

The risk associated with a viral outbreak can be assessed on the following characteristics:

  • Severity of the resulting illness(es) associated with the virus
  • Ease with which it spreads from host to host
  • The availability of control measures (vaccines, anti-virals etc.)

How severe is the resulting illness?

That’s COVID-19. Part of the problem with getting a good grasp on the severity of the situation is the poor reporting coming from the countries with infections. This was one of the criticisms of China in the early stages of the discovery of virus — that they didn’t report the outbreak soon enough.

On the topic of China, reports from the Chinese Centre for Disease Control indicate the severity of 44 000 cases as follows:

  • 81% developed mild symptoms
  • 14% developed severe symptoms
  • 5% became critically ill

Side note: The Chinese reporting on the SARS-CoV-2 has been widely criticized. It is still not widely accepted whether or not the figures they are reporting are completely true. These should be used as a guideline only.

Based on the information in the above section “What Do You Die From” and the information presented above, it’s certainly valid to say that COVID-19 is deadly. This is especially true for those with compromised immune and respiratory systems.

How easily does it spread?

In perspective, MERS-CoV infected approximately 1000 people in just over 2 years. SARS-CoV infected the same amount in 4 months while SARS-CoV-2 reached that in just 48 days.

The value of how quickly a virus spreads is known as the R_0 (“R-naught”) value. It is an indicator for contagiousness. Higher number = more contagious.

According to one source, an infected patient on average spreads the virus to another 2.2 people. So R_0 for SARS-CoV-2’s is 2.2. This might be slightly skewed because of the rapid outbreak that happened in China at the initiation of the outbreak.

By this logic, the R_0 value needs to be below 1 to decline and eventually die out. When it is positive, the infection is still spreading. To reduce the value of R_0 control measures need to be taken. Right now, all we can control is human interaction — quarantine and mass gatherings.

Currently, SARS-CoV-2 is present in more than 60 countries, meaning it has spread rapidly in its 3 months of existence.

Because the virus cannot live outside of a host, transfer from one person to another has to happen through a medium. This medium is usually referred to as a viral ‘droplet’. It is usually a tiny amount of bodily fluid in which the virus is present. If someone leaves a droplet on you, and you then transfer this droplet to a place where it can enter your system (normally the face), you could catch the virus. This is why it is important to avoid touching your face and eyes, and wash your hands regularly when coming into contact with other people — especially in public places.

This means the virus cannot be transferred through the air without a host — a common reason for the rapid spread of disease — which is good.

What control measures are in place?

Aside from restricting contact points; that is — the amount of times humans are interacting with each other, there is no way of controlling the spread of the virus. This is not playing in our favor.

Some experts suggest that due to the number of countries the virus already finds itself in, and because there is no governing body controlling the movement of infected patients and how governments should be quarantining their citizens, the spreading of the disease to a pandemic level is highly likely. This does not account for poor countries which do not have resources to protect its citizens and avoid mass infection.

So, pandemic, or not?

For now, it seems that two of the three pandemic boxes are ticked: Severity of illness and ease-of-spread. This means the only thing stopping this from becoming a pandemic is widespread infection.

Currently, the number of infections reported world wide is at 90 000 (at time of writing: 03 March 2020). This is not enough to be labelled as a pandemic by historical standards.

Only time will tell whether we’re able to contain the virus.

What Can You Do

Be Aware of the Symptoms

See the section above under COVID-19 to view what the symptoms are.

Don’t Fear-Monger

The main goal for this article was to gain a deeper understanding of the situation for myself, and articulate it clearly so that other people might benefit too.

The spreading of mis-information in the age of social media and online news is rife. This causes mass hysteria and over reaction. The decline of the Dow, S&P 500 and NASDAQ were symptoms of this — all experiencing their worst performing days in many months (27 Feb was the NASDAQ’s worst day since 2011). It is widely accepted that this is a market over-reaction.

Stay informed by reading a wide variety of sources and not only relying on one news-outlet’s reporting on the issue. Read medical publications from reliable sources. Don’t take anything on its word. Always fact check — especially before passing on the information.

Undoubtedly, there are people dying from this virus, and we should be cognitive of that. However, being properly informed is part of your responsibility before passing on information.

Maintain a Healthy Immune System

As we’ve discovered, people with compromised health are the ones likely to be most severely affected. If you do contract the virus, you need a healthy body to you fight it. Without anti-viral treatment being available, your immune system is your shield to fight the virus and the COVID-19 disease that it causes.

Suggestions include (Please note these are merely suggestions, and cannot guarantee your health. Each person has a unique body and immune system, you should consult your general practitioner if you want a complete guideline on keeping your immune system topped up.):

  • Take multi-vitamins
  • Exercise regularly, but not too much as to compromise your immune system
  • Drink lots of water
  • Eat a balanced, healthy diet
  • Wash your hands with anti-bacterial soap with a decent alcohol content.
  • Avoid touching your face at all times!

Avoid Hotspots

Undoubtedly the best (and most obvious) way to avoid getting sick is to avoid exposure to the virus.

The best way to do this is stay away from hotspots. Check out this map for known high-risk areas.

Places of high people concentration should be avoided. Stay away from airports, public transport, schools, hospitals etc. as much as possible.

Be Prepared

I started this article with a note on how people were talking about stock piling resources. Maybe they aren’t over-reacting, based on their situation.

If you’re in an area with a high-concentration of infections, it is possible that there your government may implement stay-at-home laws. This would mean getting access to food and water would be limited or difficult. Having some back ups in place is not a bad idea.

If you have the capacity to do it, why not?


6 March 2020

Confirmed Cases: 100 347

Confirmed Deaths: 3408

2 Strains

Scientists in China have discovered that there are likely two strains of the virus; one which is more aggressive than the other. This corroborates the theory that the virus is infecting many more people than reported, simply because they are not experiencing any symptoms.

China Situation Improving

Despite a growing death toll and infection rate, China has seen a reduction in the number of cases. This has been the trend for roughly two weeks, from mid February. There are now more cases outside of China (rest of the world) than there are internally. The three countries with the most reported cases, in descending order are, South Korea, Iran and Italy.

Further Reading

China’s wild animal trade

Pangolin as a possible source

Illegal trade of the endangered Pangolin for its ‘medicinal’ benefits

The RNA of the SARS-CoV-2





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