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COVID maths: All the world’s virus in a drink can

Reuters, February 15, 2021 7:00PM Kids News

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An artist’s impression of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, which cause COVID-19. media_cameraAn artist’s impression of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, which cause COVID-19.


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All the COVID-19-causing virus circulating in the world right now could easily fit inside a single soft drink can, according to a calculation by a UK mathematician whose sum* exposes just how much devastation* is caused by minuscule* viral particles.

To make this calculation, Bath University maths expert Kit Yates used global rates of new infections with the pandemic disease, together with estimations of viral load — how much of the virus there is in one place, such as in each infected person’s body. He worked out there are around two quintillion SARS-CoV-2 virus* particles in the world at any one time. Two quintillion is two billion billion.

Detailing the steps in his calculations, Dr Yates said he used the diameter* of SARS-CoV-2, at an average of about 100 nanometres, or 100 billionths of a metre and then figured out the volume of the spherical virus.

Even taking into account the coronavirus’ projecting spike proteins (the pointy bits that stick out from the ball shape) and the fact that the spherical* particles will leave gaps when stacked together, the total is still less than in a single 330ml soft drink can, he said.

“It’s astonishing to think that all the trouble, the disruption, the hardship and the loss of life that has resulted over the last year could constitute* just a few mouthfuls,” Dr Yates said in a statement.

More than 2.34 million people have died in the COVID-19 pandemic so far, and there have been almost 107 million confirmed cases worldwide. As of February 15, Australia has had 28,898 confirmed cases and 909 people have died.

media_cameraThe volume of a standard can of soft drink is 330ml, which would be more than the volume of all the SARS-CoV-2 virus particles in the world right now.


  • sum: the total of things added together
  • devastation: damage, usually meaning lots of it or very serious
  • minuscule: tiny
  • SARS-CoV-2 virus: the virus that causes the disease COVID-19
  • diameter: distance across a circle or sphere
  • spherical: sphere or ball shaped


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  1. What is this story about?
  2. Who is Kit Yates?
  3. Describe the shape and features of a SARS-CoV-2 virus particle.
  4. How many people have had COVID-19 around the world so far?
  5. How many people have had COVID-19 in Australia?


1. Design a COVID-19 ‘DANGER’ Can
With all the COVID-19 particles in the world able to fit in one soft drink can, your job is to design a label for a can to warn people just how lethal that can is! It can’t have too much writing, but the letters, colours and symbols you choose to use should convey that this can is very deadly!

Share your designs with your classmates.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: Visual Arts, Design and Technologies

2. Extension
Work out the percentage of people who have died from COVID-19 in Australia, of the total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia. To do this divide the number of deaths by the total confirmed cases and then multiply by 100. You can use a calculator to do this.

Answer at the bottom of this page.

Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: Mathematics

Punctuation Thief
Pick a paragraph from the article, or about 3 sentences together if that’s easier, and rewrite it without the punctuation. At the bottom of the page write a list of all the punctuation you stole and in the order you stole it. For example; C , . C .

Then swap your book with another person and see if they can work out where the punctuation needs to go back to.

Make it easier: Underline where you stole the punctuation from but don’t put the list at the bottom in order.

Make it harder: Don’t put the punctuation in order at the bottom.

Underline where you took the punctuation from, but don’t tell them what pieces you took.

Just tell them how many pieces you took, but not what they are.

Don’t give them any clues!

HAVE YOUR SAY: What maths calculation would be fun to know the answer to?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

2. Extension answer: 909/28898 x 100 = 3.14 per cent

Extra Reading in mathematics