This week marks 100 days since the World Health Organization (WHO) received its first report about an unknown illness – soon to be known as coronavirus – that was affecting people in Wuhan, China.
That virus has since become a pandemic, claiming tens of thousands of lives across the world and fundamentally altering how society functions.
With the UK under strict lockdown since 23 March, people have been forced to stay at home, only leaving for essential journeys or to buy food.
The government has said it will review the lockdown guidelines after three weeks – but it is not thought there will be any relaxation until the curve of new cases has been flattened so the NHS can cope.
When did the outbreak begin?
The outbreak of a mystery respiratory illness in the central Chinese city of Wuhan that had left 27 people with viral pneumonia was recorded on 31 December, 2019, and reported to the WHO.
With cases rising in the new year, on 8 January the Chinese state broadcaster CCTV identified a possible cause: a new type of coronavirus – a class of virus that includes one of the main causes of the common cold.
On 11 January, a 61-year-old man with “severe underlying health issues” became the first person to die from the illness.
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What has happened in the first 100 days?
The virus soon spread outside China, with Japan and Thailand among the first to record cases. Wuhan went into travel lockdown, while other countries restricted travel to and from China, but it wasn’t enough. Cases of the disease, which was given the name COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) soon entered into the thousands, while the death toll started to mount.
The WHO declared the outbreak a global emergency on 30 January – the day before the first two confirmed cases in the UK were recorded.
Since then, the government has closed schools and ordered a full lockdown, and on Monday Boris Johnson was admitted to intensive care after he contracted the illness.
Over 83,000 people around the world have died since the start of the outbreak, with nearly 1.5 million confirmed cases, according to Johns Hopkins.
What will the government do next?
The UK is over two weeks into its lockdown, which the government said it would review every three weeks – but ministers have signalled that they will follow scientific advice, and will only start to relax rules if there is evidence that cases are starting to drop as a result of social distancing.
In the meantime, Britons have been told to continue working at home wherever possible, only venturing outside for limited exercise or to make essential trips to buy groceries or care for vulnerable people.
Wuhan ended its lockdown this week and residents have started to fill the streets once again. China has pointed to success of the lockdown, reporting no new cases on Wednesday – however, the accuracy of its claims have been questioned.
Nevertheless, the UK government will be hoping that if Britain successfully flattens its curve there may be a return to some sort of normality in the coming months.
How might the government relax lockdown?
The government may be looking at countries like Denmark and Austria, which have set out plans for ending the current standstill.
Both countries have said they will start to open smaller shops by the middle of April, while larger shops could open from the beginning of May. Germany has also said it will reopen schools on a regional basis. If the UK reached the peak of coronavirus over Easter, similar plans could also be introduced.
Get shops and businesses of less than 50 people back open.
It's great news we've seen this happening elsewhere in Europe.
Keep the vulnerable shielded till June, but stop the isolation of families. 2/5
— Professor Karol Sikora (@ProfKarolSikora) April 8, 2020
Karol Sikora, a professor of medicine at the University of Buckingham, has suggested smaller shops in the UK could reopen towards the end of April, with lockdown removed on 4 May. This could result in schools reopening and people being allowed to go back to work.
If the trajectory of a downward curve continues, mass gatherings and international travel may once again be permitted by the start of June, according to Sikora.
When will the pandemic end?
While there are signs of infection rates dropping in some countries like China, they follow months of lockdown that restricted people's movement.
There are a limited number of ways out of the crisis: through vaccination, by enough people developing immunity through infection, or by permanently changing the way we live to keep some of the measures that have been introduced in place.
A vaccine may be 12-18 months away, and it may take years for “herd immunity” – where so many people have already been infected that the virus struggles to spread – to develop.
While the UK government insists herd immunity is not a policy aim, over time it may become a reality.