| 9.2°C Dublin

Close

Premium


'How do you identify a murderer if there are no clues?' - five months of coronavirus, what we know now - and what we don't

Luke O'Neill


It quickly became clear that Covid-19 wasn't like the flu - and now today scientists stand in awe of it, writes Prof Luke O'Neill

Close

January: People wear masks while walking in the street in Wuhan, China, as health officials begin efforts to contain the spread of the newly discovered disease. Photo: Getty Images

January: People wear masks while walking in the street in Wuhan, China, as health officials begin efforts to contain the spread of the newly discovered disease. Photo: Getty Images

Getty Images

January: People wear masks while walking in the street in Wuhan, China, as health officials begin efforts to contain the spread of the newly discovered disease. Photo: Getty Images

When did you first hear about the new coronavirus? It probably crept into your consciousness, and then, in what seems like overnight, it changed your life.

I heard about it during the first week in January. Scientists in China reported on a new coronavirus that was causing an illness that looked like a respiratory disease we'd seen before called SARS. It belonged to the coronavirus family, which includes four members that cause the common cold, and two others that are more dangerous but rare - SARS and MERS. I didn't think much of it other than a vague sense of unease, because this was a new virus, related to SARS, which I knew had killed people back in 2003.

I then went to a meeting in Rotterdam of virologists and immunologists. This was part of an EU-funded programme training PhD students across Europe at the interface between immunology and virology. An area that now seems so important, but which at the time was just another scientific gathering.