Street art by Zabou on Brick Lane, East London, during the covid-19 outbreak. Credit: James Veysey/Shutterstock
On 7 January, New Scientist first reported on a mysterious illness emerging in China. At least 59 people had become ill with the disease, and seven were in a critical condition. SARS, MERS and bird flu had all been ruled out as the culprit. “It seems that a new virus or bacteria might be the cause of the disease,” one scientist told our reporter at the time. “That is worrying.”
Given what we know today, these words seem like something of a chilling understatement.
Back then, authorities said there was no evidence the disease could spread between people. If only that had proved to be the case. Two days after running the original news story, we were able to report that the cause was a new coronavirus, closely related to MERS and SARS. By mid-February, it had acquired a name, SARS-CoV-2, as had the disease it causes: covid-19.
Over the past six months, this terminology has become part of a new global language as we have had to adapt our lives in the face of this novel foe. What has not been lacking is science as researchers across the planet leapt onto the case. Very quickly, a picture of the virus began to crystallise. Thanks to fast and collaborative work by scientists, we learned about the biology of the virus, how it spreads, who is most at risk of disease and the symptoms people get. That knowledge helped to guide public policy and form a basis for action on a massive and global scale.
The research continues apace, and even though the virus had infected more than 21 million people and claimed in excess of 775,000 lives worldwide as this special edition went to press, there are many things we still don’t know about this coronavirus and the disease it causes. Indeed, it can be hard to keep up with the latest developments, especially when there are many sources of misinformation – even some of the world’s most prominent leaders.
A special edition
This is why we have put together this special issue of our Essential Guides collection – a curated selection of our best and most relevant content on the coronavirus published over the past six months and brought bang up to date with the latest developments. Here, you will find a wealth of accurate, well-reported information that we hope will help you not only understand the coronavirus and this pandemic better, but also assist you in navigating the decisions we are all having to make, not just now but in the crucial months to come.
The first section is dedicated to the virus itself – what it is, where it came from and how it works. Then we take a closer look at the enigmatic disease, covid-19, and examine the latest evidence on whether we can rely on immunity to protect us from it in the future. From here, we turn to look at the interplay between the virus and society. The way that pathogens spread is closely tied to the way we live our lives, and strategies to deal with the transmission of the coronavirus have varied wildly around the globe. So we assess which have worked best so far, what life will look like as lockdowns ease and the impact this having on our children.
In the penultimate part of this guide, we turn to the latest developments in the hunt for treatments for covid-19 and the race for a coronavirus vaccine. Here, there is some cautious good news. Several treatments have been shown to lessen the impacts of the disease, even if there is no systematic treatment yet. And there are more than 160 teams worldwide working on vaccines for the virus, several of which have made it to the final stages of testing. Finally, we turn to the future, and how to stop this ever happening again.
We hope that this guide’s hand-picked articles will help you build a clear picture of where we are with the science of the coronavirus today.
Available now in the app
To get your hands on the essential guide, download the New Scientist app from the Apple app store now.
And if you’d like to keep your finger on the pulse of this ever changing situation, you can find our latest coronavirus coverage, including a daily update of coronavirus news, on the New Scientist website, sign up to our newsletters and subscribe to the New Scientist Weekly podcast.
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