For all the mysteries that remain about the novel coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease it causes, scientists have generated an incredible amount of fine-grained knowledge in a surprisingly short time.
Thousands of different coronaviruses may inhabit the planet. Four of them are responsible for many of our common colds. Two others have already triggered alarming outbreaks of disease: in 2002 a coronavirus caused severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which killed more than 770 people worldwide, and in 2012 a different strain started Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), taking more than 800 lives. SARS burned out within a year; MERS still lingers.
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