Abigail BanerjiJan 23, 2020 10:08:57 IST
Update: This article was originally published on 22nd January but has been updated to show the correct number of deaths, people infected and the results of the WHO meeting.
The Coronavirus is a new virus that started in China and now threatens to become a global epidemic. While the immediate risk of contamination is low, the situation can change at any moment. The virus was first made known in December and has racked up a death toll of 17 people till now and around 571 people have been infected. However, the number of people infected is constantly rising with each passing day.
About the virus and its origin
The coronavirus is a family of viruses that can cause a lot of mild to life-threatening diseases. It is the cousin of the more popular Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus. Mostly these viruses affect animals and do not spread to human beings. However, there are seven strains of this virus that can affect humans. The symptoms include cough, fever, shortness of breath, and difficulty in breathing. In severe cases, the condition can progress to pneumonia, kidney failure and even death. For now, there is no vaccine for the new virus.
🔹What is a #coronavirus ?
🔹Where do they come from?
🔹 How can I protect myself?
— WHO Jordan (@WHOJordan) January 22, 2020
The virus is supposed to have originated in the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan province in China as many of the infected individuals either worked or visited this area. The WHO and Gao Fu, head of the Chinese Centre for Disease and Control have said that an animal is most likely the primary source of the outbreak but they have not found the animal in question. Around 62 cases of the coronavirus have been identified in the city of Wuhan.
“All the six coronaviruses known to humans, including the one that caused severe acute respiratory disease, originated from wild mammals,” Gao said in a report in China Daily.
After the connection between the epidemic and the market was made, the authorities shut down the market to contain the spread.
A new coronavirus in China that has killed nine people is adapting and mutating, underscoring the challenges for health authorities in controlling the outbreak https://t.co/0dZLq8R433 pic.twitter.com/fXjaMvpLU0
— Reuters (@Reuters) January 22, 2020
Gao said that the virus is constantly adapting and mutating which makes controlling the outbreak a challenge for the authorities.
Some of the infected patients, who denied visiting the market, contracted the disease from other people who had visited ground-zero. The virus can spread via human-to-human contact and can also spread via respiratory transmission.
Wuhan municipal authorities have released information about a married couple that contracted the virus. The husband, who got sick first, worked at the market but the wife denied any exposure to the place. Some medical professionals like the nurse and doctors, treating the patients have also reported that they have been infected. Till now, fifteen medical personnel have been infected.
What is China doing to contain the outbreak?
The Chinese government does not want to have a repeat performance of the SARS epidemic that happened in 2002-2003. It started in mainland China and spread throughout the world, killing around 774 people and infecting around 8,098 people in 37 countries. Later on, the source of the virus was traced to cave-dwelling horseshoe bats in the Yunnan province in South China.
This time around, China is doing its best to nip it in the bud and contain the spread of the virus especially since there is an increase in travel, both domestic and overseas as it is the Lunar New Year holidays.
With over 440 cases of pneumonia reported (at the time of publishing this article), a report in China Daily tells us that the country is sticking to the strategy of early discovery, diagnosis, treatment and quarantine, to control the outbreak. The country’s CDC says that the outbreak can be reversed if the right measures are taken to control it now.
“We identified the new Coronavirus just two weeks after the outbreak was reported, and we have very good virus monitoring and quarantine measures,” said Zhong Nanshan, head of a team organised by the National Health Commission and a respiratory disease expert, in an interview with China Daily. “I believe the outbreak will not have an impact on society and the economy that SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) did 17 years ago.”
China has a three-tier system that classified the seriousness of the epidemic. Currently, Coronavirus is classified as a class B. However, the death of a fourth person in China had intensified the preventive measures in the country to category A.
Public gathering, in the Hubei province, is being discouraged to prevent further spread. China has suspended bus and subway services in the city and close outbound travel at train stations and airports from 23 January. People gathering in public places such as hotels, restaurants, cinemas, parks, shopping centres and public transports have been asked to wear masks in order to stop the virus from spreading.
Chinese airlines are offering passengers – prevented from leaving Wuhan, Hubei provinces – full refunds for their tickets. The airline crew of Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways are being told to wear masks while operating in mainland China to protect themselves from contracting the virus. They too are allowing passengers to change or cancel their flights, without charge, till 15 February.
The demand for face masks has increased tenfold in China due to the outbreak of the virus. Online vendors, like Taobao and JD, have been swiped clean of their inventories for the masks. Other medical delivery services have seen a spike as well.
India’s response to the virus
With uncertainty surrounding the virus and caution being the go-to, India’s Union Health secretary has asked the states and union territories to “review their preparedness, identify gaps and strengthen core capacities in the area of surveillance, laboratory support and in particular, hospital preparedness in terms of isolation and ventilator management of patients with severe respiratory illness.”
The Airport Health Organisations in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata have put up signs at prominent locations informing the public about self-reporting of illness. Hospitals attached to these airports have been reviewed for provision of isolation and critical care facilities, the statement said.
According to PTI, the National Institute of Virology in Pune, ready to test samples of the virus and 10 other laboratories under the Indian Council of Medical Research’s Viral Research and Diagnostics Laboratories network are also equipped for the testing.
The Health Ministry has asked for the details of those people who have applied for Indian visas since 31 December.
“The Ministry of Health has also written to Ministry of External Affairs to provide details of travellers from Wuhan city who have sought visa to travel to India, since 31 December and to counsel the applicants while issuing visa. They have also been requested to provide daily details. As for E-visa issue, the Ministry of Home Affairs is being approached,” the statement stated.
India has issued a travel warning to its citizens who are visiting China after a second person died from the virus.
The statement said, “An infection with a novel coronavirus has been reported from China. As on 11 January 2020, 41 confirmed cases have been reported so far.”
International response to the outbreak
Cases of people infected with the virus are popping up in countries outside of China. They all have one thing in common which is they have recently visited the country.
South Korea’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said that they have identified a 35-year-old lady with the virus. She flew out from Wuhan, China to South Korea’s Incheon International airport on Sunday, 19 January and was isolated on arrival.
On 8 January, a traveller from the Wuhan was identified by Thailand’s authorities to have contracted the disease and was hospitalised. The person was hospitalised and is currently recovering from the illness.
Japan has also reported a case of the virus. A person travelling to the Wuhan Province contracted a fever on 3 January. While he did not visit any of the ground-zero areas of the virus, he was in contact with a person who had pneumonia. He has been discharged after being treated for the virus.
An Indian teacher, residing in China, has also contracted the virus. She is being treated in the intensive care unit and is currently on a ventilator. Doctors have said she could take a long time to recover.
On 18 January, officials from the US’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said that they will begin screening travellers who come from China’s Wuhan city. They will take temperatures and ask about symptoms of the passengers at five airports – New York City’s Kennedy airport, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta and San Francisco airports.
On 20 January, a man from Washington State was diagnosed with the virus after he travelled to China, his hometown. He is the first American victim to have contracted the disease and it is reported that he is in a ‘satisfactory condition’ according to Reuters. CDC officials are also tracking down anyone that came in contact with the man, to check for symptoms. However, they have not found any additional patients.
According to AP, the CDC’s Dr Martin Cetron said, “So far, the risk to the American public is deemed to be low, but the CDC wants to be prepared and is taking precautions.”
Other Asian countries are also starting to screen travellers, for the virus, coming in from China.
The World Health Organisation tweeted that it has called for an emergency meeting. A panel of experts, the Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus and representatives of the countries that are affected by the virus will meet on Wednesday, 22 January to determine “whether the outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern” and how it should be managed.
The Emergency Committee on the novel #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) will ascertain whether the outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern, and what recommendations should be made to manage it pic.twitter.com/dFpOkM0CSN
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) January 20, 2020
A public health crisis is usually declared for epidemics that are very severe and can cross international borders, they usually need international cooperation. On previous occasions, global emergencies have been declared for crises including the ongoing Ebola outbreak in Congo, the emergence of Zika virus in the Americas in 2016 and the West Africa Ebola outbreak in 2014.
Geng Shuang, the spokesman for the Foreign Ministry said that the Chinese will share information about pneumonia caused by the virus, according to a report in China Daily.
In the meeting on Wednesday, the WHO hailed the measures taken by China to rein in the outbreak and said that these measures will “minimise” the risk of further spread. However, they failed to find a consensus on the issue declaring it a global emergency. The panel will reconvene on Thursday to further debate the issue and decide on the way ahead.
The WHO has published a guide for all countries to follow on how they can prepare in the case of an outbreak and how to monitor, care, and control the spread of this virus.
The health organisation has also stated that there is no need to restrict the travel, as yet, since the risk of the virus spreading is low.
More information will be made available after the meeting.
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