A new virus called SARS-CoV-2 was discovered in Wuhan (China) in December 2019; the city’s lockdown failed to contain the outbreak, which quickly spread worldwide. As a result, on January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, and on March 11, 2020, the pandemic status was declared. Since 2021, multiple virus variants have emerged: Alpha, Beta, and Delta being the most virulent. On November 1, 2021, more than 246 million cases and 5 million deaths were confirmed, making it one of the deadliest pandemics in history.
COVID-19 symptoms range from non-existent to potentially fatal. Patients over 65 years old and those with certain underlying medical conditions are more likely to develop severe illness. The virus is spread when people breathe in contaminated air that contains droplets and tiny airborne particles. The risk of inhaling these is greatest when people are close together, but the virus can spread over long distances, especially indoors and poorly ventilated areas. Transmission can also occur through contaminated surfaces or fluids. People can be contagious for up to 20 days after contracting the virus and spread it even if they do not develop symptoms.
Social distancing, wearing face masks in public, ventilation and air-filtering, covering one’s mouth when sneezing or coughing, hand washing, disinfecting surfaces, and quarantining people who have been exposed to the virus were recommended preventive measures. Also, travel restrictions, lockdowns, business closures, workplace hazard controls, testing protocols, and systems for tracing infected contacts have been implemented by authorities worldwide. In December 2020, several approved vaccines were distributed in various countries, with mass vaccination campaigns.
The pandemic caused widespread social and economic disruption, including the worst global recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s. It has resulted in international supply shortages, exacerbated by panic purchasing, agricultural disruption, and food scarcity. Pollutant emissions were reduced to near-zero levels as a result of the near-global sustained quarantine. Many educational institutions and public areas were partially or entirely closed, and numerous events were canceled or postponed. Misinformation spread on social media and in the mainstream media, intensifying political tensions. The pandemic has heightened concerns about racial and geographic discrimination, health equity, and the balance between public health imperatives and individual rights.
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