What is the Coronavirus? 

Did you know there isn’t just one coronavirus? Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that have certain features in common. In humans, they cause respiratory symptoms, everything from a mild cold to pneumonia. What they all have in common is part of their structure which makes them look like a little like small crowns, hence the name ‘corona’ which originates from the Latin for ‘crown’. 

The coronavirus in the news is currently called the ‘novel coronavirus’ meaning it is newly discovered and is a place holder name, it may well end up with a different name in the future.  

Other strains that have caused global issues in the past are the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) viruses.  

How is it linked to SARS? 

SARS was a coronavirus strain that eventually infected 8098 people across 17 countries between 2001-2003. Out of the people infected, there were 774 deaths and at the time produced a sense of fear and panic across the world.  

The SARS virus is still fresh in the minds of many people, including the Chinese government- particularly as they were criticised by the United Nations (UN) for some of the ways they dealt with it. The positive news about SARS is that there have been no new cases since 2004 and so eventually the spread was controlled.  

The Chinese government learned a lot of lessons from SARS. The reaction to the novel-coronavirus outbreak seems to be different from what happened back in 2002. There are signs that they have responded to the past criticism; they are now openly working with other countries to help manage the outbreak and they have been seen to be forthcoming about the scale of the problem. 

So, what do we know about this current virus? 

As far as scientists can tell, it started in December 2019 in the city of Wuhan. As of the 30th January 2020, there have been 7,711 confirmed cases across 16 countries with 170 deaths. It is still spreading daily and the numbers of infections and deaths continue to increase. It is estimated that we are still around 10 days away from the peak infection rates.  

It can be difficult to distinguish the novel-coronavirus from other viral illnesses common at this time of year. A lot of the symptoms are very generic to most viruses and may include: 

  • A high temperature (an oral temperature of over 37.8 ° C / 100 °F) 
  • Sneezing 
  • Coughing 
  • Sore throat 
  • Headache 
  • Breathing problems 

It is important that anyone who has been in an area where the virus is known to be and develop these symptoms are cautious. People should be encouraged to comply with local screening procedures and isolation requests. It is worth noting that it looks like the virus is infectious before full symptoms develop, which is another reason for the heavy restriction on people moving around.  

Why is Wuhan important? 

Wuhan is a major city in China. It is approximately the size of London and is one of the travel hubs for China with many connections to other major cities. It is also the home of one of the most prestigious universities and so a center where a lot of students mix from various areas of China. The outbreak of the virus coincided with New Year celebrations, a time when a lot of students would have been returning home and possibly helping to spread the infection. In terms of global spread, Wuhan has a large international airport with connections all over the planet. So, in many ways, it was the worst possible place for this virus to start as it has allowed it to spread to other places.  

How is being reported in the media? 

The media often don’t help in situations like this. We live in a world that demands 24-7 news coverage and there are consequences to this. Rumours spread quickly and news reaches people often before the facts have been established. This can lead to unnecessary panic. There is also a rhetoric of fear in the way the headlines report the infection. Words like ‘killer’, ‘death’ and ‘fear’ are common to see in news reports, alongside images of people in hazmat suits can add to the panic.  

What are the real dangers? 

Based on current figures, it looks like the virus has a fatality rate of around 2%. This means that 2 out of every 100 people who contract the virus will die as a result. To compare this to other viruses, the flu virus can have fatality rates of around 7%, so in its current form, the coronavirus does not appear to be as deadly as the headlines suggest. Looking at the people who have been struck down with the virus, around 75% of them only have mild cold-like symptoms and will go on to make a full recovery. In the remaining 25% who have a more serious form of the illness, again, most go on to eventually recover. It appears it is those people with a pre-existing vulnerability such as old age or serious health problems that the virus proves to be fatal in.  

One of the problems with this virus is the infection rate. For a virus to continue spreading it must have a basic reproduction number of anything higher than 1. From current figures, the novel-coronavirus seems to have a reproduction number of around 2. The consequence of this is that each person with it can spread it to at least two other people, meaning preventative measures must be put in place, this virus will not disappear on its own. 

How can we stop the spread of Coronavirus? 

The good news is that the Chinese government appears to be doing all the correct things to limit the spread. They have closed major cities to stop the movement of people. Although this can be tough for our Breadies who are stuck at home, it is the correct thing to do on a public health level.  

One of the best preventative measures is to encourage effective handwashing. This has been shown to reduce the spread of coronaviruses. It is simple to do and something we could encourage our Breadies to do, especially if they have come into contact with other people.  

How should we talk about the virus with our Breadies? 

Our Breadies are just children. They will probably be scared by what they are seeing around them on the news and in person. Many will be directly impacted and may have their own movements restricted. We know many aren’t back in school yet after the New Year celebrations. One thing is certain, they will all be aware that this is happening.  

Some Breadies are now discussing this in their classes so here are a few tips for the classroom: 

  • Don’t just ignore the issue or dismiss it if they bring it up. A news blackout is rarely helpful for children as it can increase the level of anxiety. However, it is important we don’t directly talk about what is being reported in the Western News as it may conflict with advice from the Chinese Government.   
  • Reassure them that it is normal to be worried. Often, we don’t acknowledge that worry and concern is a normal part of being human and it is important children realise this.  
  • Do not bring up the subject unless the Bready mentions it. Overexposure is a real issue and they may have been talking about it constantly outside of lessons and want a sense of normality in our lessons.  
  • Let the Breadies discuss what they want but don’t add your own opinion, just reassure them that people are working to try and deal with the problem. 
  • Try to remain positive in your approach but remain truthful. It’s okay that we don’t know everything. 
  • Try to continue with the set lesson materials if possible.  
  • Report any Breadies who are extremely upset to our safeguarding team so we can follow up with the families if needed.  
  • Encourage any Breadies who are upset to talk to their parents about the issue too. 
  • Remember our Buddy support team is available too if you are finding this difficult to deal with.  
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Finally, although this is a worrying time for many of us and our Breadies. There are things we can do to help. We can be there for our Breadies in lessons to provide that sense of normality and for someone to talk to, especially they are feeling isolated. It is important we look after our own mental health too and that we don’t get too swept up in the 24-7 sensationalist news coverage. We should think about the factual nature of anything we are sharing and if it is just something to add to the sense of fear and panic. Remember we are working with children who are in the middle of this, we need to maintain a sense of rationality.