In 2003, a dangerous coronavirus with a very high death rate – then one in ten people who were infected died – spread outside of China and spread to several countries. Within eight months after the virus was detected, it was stopped. Free News asked one of the world’s leading virologists why this happened then and why the new coronavirus spread around the world in 2020.

On April 29, 2003, the world was faced with a disease that could become the first pandemic in the 21st century. SARS turned out to be a new mysterious coronavirus; it claimed the lives of about 10 percent of those infected. Most of the patients died of respiratory failure; their lungs were overflowing with fluid.

SARS was identified in late 2002. The coronavirus, which is believed to be common among bats, has infected a civet. This animal infected a man in southern China. Viruses can be transmitted from animals to humans through the inhalation of infected animal sputum particles, the consumption of food contaminated with animal excrement, or the so-called exchange of biological fluids (for example, if a butcher with a wound on his hand works with the carcass of an infected animal).

Transmission of the virus from one species to another is common. However, the coronavirus that infected “patient zero” in 2002 mutated and gained the ability to easily be transmitted from person to person. This threatened a pandemic.

The new disease has affected dozens and then hundreds of people in China, but the country’s Communist Party have tried to hide the extent of the unfolding crisis. The doctors were silenced, and travel and travel continued without any restrictions or controls.

On February 21, 2003, a doctor from mainland China, Liu Jianlun, who was secretly treating patients with a disease called “SARS” in Guangdong, went to Hong Kong for a wedding. He checked into a room on the ninth floor of the Hotel Metropole. Soon his temperature rose. Before he was taken to a nearby hospital with severe symptoms of the disease, several tourists staying at the same hotel managed to catch the new virus. Liu Jianlong threw up in the hotel corridor, possibly the vomit was the source of the infection. The Chinese doctor died on March 4. He admitted to doctors that he had been dealing with an outbreak of a strange viral infection on the mainland.

Authorities attempted to contain the outbreak quickly, but by the time they raised the alarm, several infected guests had left the hotel, left Hong Kong, and inadvertently brought the virus to their home countries.

The elderly Metropole guest left the hotel on February 23 and flew home to Canada, where her son met her. In less than three weeks, the mother and son died.

The infected guests of the Metropole hotel from Vietnam and Singapore returned to their countries, which caused new outbreaks of SARS and led to the further spread of the disease. Some drastic measures of deterrence were taken. By June, at least 774 infected people had died. At the same time, in the summer of 2003, the spread of the disease stopped.

Professor Oxford told the fact that the SARS outbreak quickly came to an end in 2003 (the number of deaths from SARS is less than 1 percent of the deaths as a result of COVID-19) is largely the result of a lucky combination of circumstances.

“I think the two viruses are very different,” says Oxford. —In this respect, we were very lucky with SARS in 2003. It is not as widespread as the COVID-19 coronavirus.” Countries have taken strict measures to contain the infection, the infection was stifled “in the bud,” the professor believes.

Oxford says it is still difficult to understand why the new type of coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has spread so quickly. “Why do dachshunds have short legs and greyhounds have long legs? This is evolution. The new coronavirus has spread rapidly, causing many cases of asymptomatic disease and, in some cases, deaths. It has different characteristics,” says the professor.

A recent study by Chinese scientists shows that the rapid spread of the new virus is due to its ability to pass from person to person before symptoms appear.

Professor Oxford notes that not only those who are not yet aware of their infection can become infected, but also those who will never feel the symptoms of the disease (that is, people who have the disease in an asymptomatic form). Patients with SARS in 2003 could infect others only after they showed symptoms of SARS — this gave health workers invaluable time to isolate the infected patient.

John Oxford says that regardless of what ultimately caused the new coronavirus to spread around the world, the virus clearly has more cunning behavior than the more deadly but less contagious SARS coronavirus. “I believe that it will retain these characteristics,” the professor concludes.