“We got it,” Mike said out of breath as he triumphantly smiled to the whole team. It was evening in The Doherty Institute, but it seemed like a brilliant sun just lit up the entire lab. Spending their years researching cures from different diseases, they never felt as excited as they were today. The scientists were just a few steps away from the goal, and everyone was so fired up despite working around the clock. Mike stared at the image of small dots on the lab screen once again, and uttered, “Fantastic.”
It was December of 2019 when a mysterious illness emerged from Wuhan City, China. Where some people started coughing nonstop, caught a high fever, and had trouble breathing. Others diagnosed with pneumonia, kidney failure, and other severe acute respiratory syndromes. No one knew how and where the disease came from. But one thing for sure, the epidemic was spreading like wildfire.
Day by day, new cases arise from mainland China until it reached the neighboring countries such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand, Japan, and Australia. It immediately alarmed the whole world as the mysterious illness began taking the lives of some of the infected. Then 80 days later, the numbers of recorded cases were unbelievable.
As of February 03, 2020, there were 17,190 confirmed cases from Mainland China, and 183 from the rest of the world. The virus also infected new countries like India, Cambodia, Vietnam, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and the United Arab Emirates. And even the non-Asian countries such as United States, France, Germany, Canada, Italy, and Finland! With a total of 362 deaths and 7,824 more suspecting cases, the records were surely overwhelming. But to find the cure, the scientists had to search the roots of the unknown virus.
The first case of the outbreak was in Wuhan City, China, and the connection explicitly found to a place they called Wuhan Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market. Also, it wasn’t just any regular marketplace because this was the area where exotic meats of animals like the koala, fox, dog, peacock, porcupine, swan, otter, deer, snake, kangaroo, salamander, donkey, camel, crocodile, and wolf cub were sold! This was the moment for the scientists when the puzzles began piecing together.
The exotic meats that were sold from the market likely caused the infection to its human consumer. And the first infected person had human to human contact with the crowd, therefore, contaminating the place. That was why the Wuhan Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market declared as the ‘ground zero’ where the virus confirmed originated. And so the scientists came up with the name…
The virus from China came from a big group of viruses called coronavirus. The SARS, MERS, pneumonia, and common cold included from the family. But all these viruses had one thing in common – their appearances resembled crown spikes. Hence, the new virus from China now identified as the novel coronavirus or 2019-nCov. Yet, some people still preferred calling it a ‘Wuhan virus.’ But what happened to Wuhan City during the outbreak?
Wuhan was the capital city of Hubei province in China. And it was the most populated city in Central China, where the number of residents was more massive than the population in London or New York City! And because of its location, Wuhan was the gateway center of China, where its train network linked to other major cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, and Guangzhou. So when the epidemic grew in the town, the residents began fleeing.
The government of China issued a lockdown on Wuhan by January 23, 2020. However, 5 million Wuhan residents already migrated into different places of China and other countries before the announcement happened. This caused the virus to spread rapidly from local to international because some residents that left the city were carriers of the virus. Which also lead the novel coronavirus from overtaking an old pandemic record.
By January 29, 2020, the novel coronavirus surpassed the record of SARS from the 2003 epidemic. The novel coronavirus had 9,816 infected cases from December 2019 to January 2020, while the SARS had 8,098 infected cases from 2002 to 2003. But scientists wouldn’t let the novel coronavirus overtake SARS for the fatality rate this time. Good thing, one team from Australia was already on its move to formulate the cure.
On January 25, 2020, in Melbourne, a first patient was tested positive in novel coronavirus, which immediately followed by 11 more cases from different places like Sydney, Brisbane, and Adelaide. This raised the emergency alertness of the Australian government and later closed their borders for the Chinese nationals. However, they knew it wasn’t enough because they have been developing something that would not just save their country… but the entire planet.
The University of Queensland received a request from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations concerning the novel coronavirus outbreak. Because of their advanced technology designed especially for generating vaccines, they assured that their laboratory could develop an antidote and would be available worldwide within six months. But to do that, they needed a sample of the infectious novel coronavirus.
Luckily, another institute was already on its way from getting the sample of the deadly virus. The University of Melbourne, together with Peter Doherty Institution for Infection and Immunity joint, took a sample of the novel coronavirus from the first patient that was confirmed positive in Australia. “We’ve planned for an incident like this for many, many years and that’s really why we were able to get an answer so quickly,” Mike Catton, the co-deputy director of Doherty Institute, stated. And in no time, their laboratory was able to formulate a solution.
Although the Doherty Institute wasn’t the only one that tried cultivating the virus in the lab because China was the first one to do it. However, China only released a genome sequence. Therefore, the laboratories from other countries still don’t have the physical and real sample of the virus… not until Australia decided to grow one.
The moment the Doherty Institute got hold of the virus sample, they immediately took the procedure. Their main goal was to develop a vaccine against the novel coronavirus, and by doing it, the lab needed to grow more samples so they could test and observe its behavior. Then Mike Catton and Dr. Julian Druce, who was the head of the virus-identification laboratory, lead the whole team from cultivating the deadly virus.
Since Friday, the whole institute had been working nonstop. Countless trials and errors happened while blood, sweat, and tears were devoted by scientists. Not until a suspended moment occurred on a Tuesday evening when Mike took a better look at their lab-grown samples. “We got it. Fantastic,” he said in a sharp breath.
It was a major breakthrough for their lab to re-create their own novel coronavirus because it would give way for them to produce an antibody test. The antibody could help from detecting a virus-carrying person without actually waiting for its symptoms giving a precise diagnosis of the patient from any parts of the world. However, there was still a long way for scientists to go.
“The virus will be used as positive control material for the Australian network of public health laboratories, and also shipped to expert laboratories working closely with the World Health Organization in Europe,” Dr. Druce said in a statement. This would also end the rising mortality rate from the novel coronavirus. But what would be the institute’s next move?
As the light etched on their lab, a new finding was discovered. They found out that the novel coronavirus wasn’t as dangerous as the Ebola and Sars. Although they were in the same family of viruses, the death rate of the novel corona was just three percent compared to 10 percent of SARS. Yet this doesn’t mean that we should relax because as the day goes by, the number of positive patients increases…
The Doherty Institute had been connecting with the World Health Organization as they were the ones that could dole out their lab-grown virus into different research facilities around the world. This would speed up the development of the vaccine if different countries join forces by using their own knowledge and technology. And hopefully, within two months, the antidote would ascend from their collective efforts.