In the past 24 hours, the number of cases of the new coronavirus originating in Wuhan, China, nearly doubled to more than 4,400. Since the outbreak was announced on December 31, the virus has taken the lives of 107 people.
Less than four weeks into the outbreak, fear about how bad this could get is spreading faster than the virus. And with good reason.
While the vast majority of cases and deaths are occurring on mainland China, 2019-nCoV has already made its way to at least a dozen other countries, including the US, Germany, and Canada. People are buying face masks. Markets are on edge. Cities and countries are responding with mass quarantines and travel bans. The whole thing feels a lot like the 2011 pandemic film, Contagion.
An answer to this question requires knowing the answers to two other questions: How easily does the 2019-nCoV spread from person to person, and how deadly is the virus? At the moment, scientists only have informed guesses, which are likely to solidify in the coming weeks and months. But what we know so far is instructive.
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