Most countries have now implemented their own form of 'lockdown' in a bid to prevent further transmission of the virus and to stop health services from being overloaded.
The COVID-19 global pandemic that is currently sweeping over us hardly registered in public discourse even as recently as February 2020. But where did Coronavirus start, how did it progress, and what has been (and will continue to be) the impact for global and UK immigration?
Almost everyone on the planet has heard of COVID-19 and will know it is a virus, but they may not be aware of what it really is. Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses which affect both animals and humans. In fact, the SARS virus from the early 2000s was a Coronavirus. Coronavirus disease 2019 (or COVID-19 to give it it's shortened name) is also known as 'severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2' (SARS-CoV-2). The virus is typically spread through contact with infected surfaced and airborne droplets created when coughing, sneezing, or talking. What characterises this group of viruses is the impact on the respiratory system, but in some cases, it can lead to serious respiratory tract problems, including viral pneumonia. For some, this can progress to multiple organ failure and possibly death. Most cases are, however, mild and patients go on to make a complete recovery within two weeks.
There is currently considerable debate over how and when Coronavirus (COVID-19) developed. The precise origin is unknown, but, according to the South China Morning Post, the earliest case was unofficially reported to have occurred on 17th November 2019 in Wuhan, China. It is believed COVID-19 may have started from a seafood market in Wuhan, where wild animals, including marmots, birds, rabbits, bats and snakes, are butchered and sold illegally. There is, however, no definitive proof that this was the real source of Coronavirus.
If anyone is in any doubt as to how fast the virus has spread, only as recently as 18th January the BBC News ran with an article 'New virus in China 'will have infected hundreds'’. The article stated, "Two people are known to have died from the respiratory illness, which appeared in Wuhan city in December. Data from Johns Hopkins University shows that on 22nd January, there were over 500 cases confirmed in China, two in Japan, two in Thailand, one in South Korea, one in Taiwan, and one in the United States. Fast forward just one week, and there were over 6,000 cases in China, and the virus had spread into Europe, including France and Germany. By late-February, the second largest number of cases outside of China were on the Diamond Princess cruise ship (691 cases on 23rd February). After this point, cases in other parts of the world exploded. By 25th March 2020, Italy was the second most impacted country with nearly 75,000 confirmed cases. As of the day of writing this article (3rd April 2020), the United States has the highest amount of confirmed cases at 245,138, with Italy at 115,242 cases, and Spain at similar levels.
The number of cases of Coronavirus can be misleading as a measure of the global impact of the virus. This is because each country has different testing regimes, and not all countries will be reporting data in the same way. From the perspective of how many people have now died from COVID-19, Italy has the highest amount of fatalities at 13,915 as of 3rd April 2020, followed by Spain at 10,348, and France at 5,387. The United States is seeing a rapid increase in the number of deaths now. Given the explosion in the number of confirmed cases, it is likely it will soon rise to the top of the table for Coronavirus related deaths. In large part, this is because of the known lag between the initial onset of symptoms and death. According to research by Verity et al., entitled 'Estimates of the severity of coronavirus disease 2019: a model-based analysis', "the mean duration from onset of symptoms to death to be 17·8 days". Hence, the near quarter of a million confirmed cases as of today will likely translate to a large number of deaths by the middle of April 2020.
Most countries have now implemented their own form of 'lockdown' in a bid to prevent further transmission of the virus and to stop health services from being overloaded. Not only have lockdown measures halted the movement of people within their own countries, but many have also closed their borders, effectively curtailing international travel and hence migration. This has led many airlines to halt their operations, including British Airways who recently announced the suspension and furloughing of over 30,000 staff.
In practical terms, for immigrants in the UK whose, the visa is about to expire but cannot leave the UK because of travel restrictions or self-isolation, the Home Office has confirmed that those visas will be extended to 31st May 2020. Those in this situation should contact the Coronavirus immigration solicitors help centre to extend their visa.
NHS workers from overseas who are currently in the UK and whose visas are due to expire by 1st October 2020 will have their stay automatically extended by one year.
UK based visa application centres were closed on 27th March, and Sopra Steria who process applications for UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), has suspended all services. This means that any new or existing immigration applications will not be processed until UKVI resumes its normal operations. Additionally, many UK's Visa Application Centres (VACs) are closed across the world, and VFS Global has stopped UK visa services until further notice.
COVID-19 poses a unique threat in our modern world, to our health, daily lives, and economic prosperity. Any impact is only expected to be temporary and it is hoped that countries will start to resume nearly normal service within six to twelve months. Only time will tell.
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