Via Roma, Turin, northern Italy. Tino Romano/EPA

Coronavirus: a weekly update from The Conversation’s global network of academics

The year had barely begun when stories started to emerge of a worrying number of pneumonia cases in Wuhan, China, caused by a mysterious new “coronavirus”. The Conversation published its first story on the outbreak on January 13. At that point, it was spreading in China, with a few people testing positive in Thailand, South Korea and Japan.

Less than two months later, the virus (officially named SARS-CoV-2) has hit more than 100 countries, claiming more than 3,800 lives and infecting over 111,000 people. Regions on opposite sides of the globe are in lockdown. The international economy is in turmoil. Flights are grounded, with at least one airline already having gone out of business. Fear has lead to xenophobia and shops are selling out of essentials – including toilet paper.

The Conversation’s unique global network of academics, producing rapid, trustworthy journalism, has played a crucial role in separating fact from fiction at this time of international uncertainty. Operating in four languages (English, French, Bahasa Indonesia and Spanish), our editors have provided co-ordinated and pointed coverage that has reached millions of readers. Now, with the world still seemingly much nearer the beginning than the end of this crisis, we launch this weekly column spotlighting coronavirus coverage from all eight editions of the network. There is already so much being read and republished (for free, we have no paywall, as we exist to disseminate information and democratise knowledge for the public at large). This new weekly update will see different Conversation editors around the world focus on key themes related to the virus, highlighting some of the best of network’s content.

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The story so far

Initially, the World Health Organization (WHO) decided that the outbreak wasn’t a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC). We had an expert on hand to explain why. But the situation changed rapidly, and on January 30 the disease was declared a global health emergency. Aubree Gordon, a professor of public health at the University of Michigan, gave a clear account of exactly what that means.

By then, people were hungry for knowledge about the new threat. With access to thousands of experts via our global network, The Conversation has been able to provide evidence-based advice on everything from how to wash and (importantly) dry your hands, to how to protect your children, to whether facemasks provide any protection.

Economy in meltdown

We have also had authoritative coverage on the growing impact on the world economy of COVID-19 (the official name for the disease), how it is making science more open (and the concomitant risks it entails), and how vaccine development is progressing.

Our coverage has included a look at the steps Nigeria is taking to prepare for an outbreak, how governments in South-East Asia are tackling medical misinformation, and what the coronavirus emergency declaration means for Canada.

Authors have also sought to put the outbreak in context of other pandemics. A researcher at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine launched an interactive map on The Conversation that lets readers scroll through time to see how the disease has spread. It also compares the COVID-19 outbreak with other infectious disease outbreaks, such as Sars, swine flu and Ebola. Other authors went further back in time and compared the current outbreak with the Black Death, both in terms of the economic impact and the spread of misinformation.

Indeed, misinformation and conspiracy theories have been rife since the start of the outbreak. Paranoia even gripped beer drinkers, as sales of Corona beer suddenly slumped.

Global network

The antidote to this nonsense is sober and reliable information, clearly written and easy to understand, so it is able to reassure rather than alarm. The Conversation’s global network of academic authors works with professional journalists to provide you with informed and up-to-date information.

As the pandemic runs its course, we will continue to bring you journalism from experts, writing within their areas of deep knowledge. We are currently working on a range of articles, including one on how coronavirus should make us hopeful about our ability to tackle the climate crisis, another on how to stop anxiety about the pandemic from spiralling out of control, and one on how the seasons might change the course of the outbreak. As a network of not-for-profit organisations, our only aim is to help you stay informed.

Over the coming weeks please stay tuned to our coverage, sign up for your regional Conversation daily newsletter, wash your hands regularly, and only follow bona fide expert advice. And don’t be too despondent. A leading microbiologist at the University of Navarra in Spain says that we have never been more prepared to fight a pandemic. And millions of you have already read his words in Spanish, French and English.

This outbreak will undoubtedly continue. During that time, we will provide you with trustworthy content from our global network of experts. And each week will publish a post like this summing up the unfolding story.

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