The novel coronavirus detected in China in 2019 is closely related genetically to the SARS-CoV-1 virus. SARS emerged at the end of 2002 in China, and it caused more than 8 000 cases in 33 countries over a period of eight months. Around one in ten of the people who developed SARS died.
As of 10 April 2020, the COVID-19 outbreak had caused over 1.700.000 cases worldwide since the first case was reported in China in January 2020. Of these, more than 100 000 are known to have died.
While the viruses that cause both COVID-19 and seasonal influenza are transmitted from person-to-person and may cause similar symptoms, the two viruses are very different and do not behave in the same way.
ECDC estimates that between 15 000 and 75 000 people die prematurely due to causes associated with seasonal influenza infection each year in the EU, the UK, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. This is approximately 1 in every 1 000 people who are infected. Despite the relatively low mortality rate for seasonal influenza, many people die from the disease due to the large number of people who contract it each year. The concern about COVID-19 is that, unlike influenza, there is no vaccine and no specific treatment for the disease. It also appears to be more transmissible than seasonal influenza. As it is a new virus, nobody has prior immunity, which means that the entire human population is potentially susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection.