Coronavirus: Interactive map shows how COVID-19 compares to SARS, swine flu and ebola

A new interactive map is highlighting how the current coronavirus outbreak compares to pandemics of the past.

Updated daily based on the latest data from the World Health Organization, the Covid 2019 tracker - named for the virus' formal name, COVID-19 - compares its spread across the world to that achieved by SARS and Ebola, and the death toll from the 2009 swine flu pandemic of 2009. 

"In isolation, the daily headlines can be difficult to interpret, offering a static snapshot of a moving target. It is hard, for instance, to tell if the situation is getting better or worse, and to what extent control efforts are having any effect," Edward Parker of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine wrote in Global Biodefence magazine.

"To provide a clearer picture of this evolving story, at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, we have developed a new outbreak mapping tool."

The tool starts at January 21, when the World Health Organization issued its first daily report on the disease. At that point, there had been only 282 cases reported and six deaths.

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine map
A screenshot of the interactive map. Photo credit: London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

"By tracing the course of the outbreak, it is clear that the last week of January was pivotal for the international spread of the virus," wrote Dr Parker.

"In the space of a few days, the number of affected countries increased from seven to 20, while the number of confirmed cases outside China increased almost tenfold (from 11 to 106).

"On the other hand, confirmed coronavirus cases have been reported in just four new countries since the start of February - a testament to the rapid, coordinated international response to this new threat."

The map shows how in the month, COVID-19 has spread far and wide compared to SARS and Ebola. 2003's SARS, which was caused by a similar coronavirus, spread in a similar geographic pattern to COVID-19. 

Although it was much deadlier - killing 10 percent of its victims, compared to COVID-19's 2 or 3 percent - it only infected slightly more than 8000 people. In contrast, COVID-19 has infected 79,000 and killed nearly 2500. 

The map also shows Australia had six SARS cases and 22 so far of COVID-19, while New Zealand had just a single case of the former, and thankfully none of the latter - though Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has warned it's fast spread means it's likely to get here sooner or later. 

Ebola's 2014 outbreak is shown to be largely limited to West Africa, with just a single death occurring outside that region - in the US. 

Swine flu on the other hand isn't represented by the number of cases, as it was a true pandemic - the first declared by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since the 1960s. It's estimated almost a quarter of the world's population were infected over the course of the next year, but as its mortality rate was only one in 5000, the death toll was limited to somewhere between 151,000 and 575,000. 

The Government will decide on Monday whether to extend its travel ban on foreigners who've been to mainland China in the past few weeks. 

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