Saturday, May 8, 2021

Coronavirus outbreak

The situation arising out of mystery virus spreading out of Wuyan province of China to other parts of the world requires dynamic reaction from the world health bodies to check and contain its spread in an epidemic form. Till date, China’s toll due to the coronavirus outbreak rose to at least 106 on Tuesday. The total includes the first death in Beijing, the Chinese capital, and 24 more fatalities in Hubei province, where the first illnesses from the newly identified coronavirus occurred in December. Mongolia has closed its vast border with China, and North Korea said it was strengthening quarantine measures. Hong Kong and Malaysia are barring visitors from Hubei. There were 1,771 new cases confirmed in China on Monday, raising the national total to 4,515, according to the National Health Commission. It said 976 people were in a serious condition. China has reported eight cases in Hong Kong and five in Macao, and more than 45 cases have been confirmed elsewhere in the world. Almost all involve mainland Chinese tourists or people who visited Wuhan. Germany confirmed its first case late Monday. Infections also have been confirmed in the United States, Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Nepal, France, Canada, Australia and Sri Lanka. Indeed the recent reports of cases being detected in other parts of the world have revived the memories of SARS epidemic, suspected to have been caused by coronavirus, which killed almost 800 people and infected more than 8000 other across the world during 2002-2003. It is a horrific situation that a mystery virus is infecting people with human contact after it has infected humans from the animals, the cause is still being investigated with no anti-biotic drugs found effective against this virus. The preliminary analysis of the new virus’ genetic code shows that it is more closely related to SARS than any other coronavirus detected in humans in the past two decades. And, though experts suggest that the new flu may not be as lethal as SARS, there are enough reasons for health authorities around the world to be vigilant. The infection, initially transmitted from animals, was first detected in Wuhan province in mid-December. Some reports have hinted that the virus spread from a seafood market in Wuhan. But the fact that several people who contracted the flu never visited the market has complicated the search of the disease’s origins. Chinese researchers now believe that, given the large number of cases, the likelihood of human-to-human transmission is big enough. But the failure to isolate the animals that transmit the virus in the first place could compromise efforts to contain the outbreak in an epidemic form. It is important to note that the WHO report in 2016 suggested that more than 75 percent of the new viruses that have affected humans over the last one decade have been caused by pathogens hosted by animals or from products of animal origin. Population pressure and clearing vegetation, whether for agriculture or urban expansion, is bringing humans, domestic animals and poultry into closer contact with animals known to be carriers of diseases, particularly rodents, primates and bats. And when humans and animals share space, they also share organisms and microbiology. The genetic make-up of most viruses allows them to jump from an animal host to humans. It also allows them to adapt to a foreign environment, like the human immune system, and makes several of them resistant to drugs over a period of time. Compounding this public health challenge are the forces of globalisation, especially the speed and volume of global air travel, which speedily spreads the virus from one corner of the world to the other in a matter of 24 hours or in days. Significantly, after originating in China, the SARS virus travelled nearly 30 countries in less than a year. That is why health authorities across the world should be careful in case of the new coronavirus. The outbreak in Wuhan this time has coincided with the Chinese Lunar New Year, the vacation time in China, when millions of Chinese travel across the world. This phenomenon itself makes it a challenge for the health authorities across the world to check and contain its spread. In India, the situation is complex for the reason that screening of the passengers from China is not sufficient in the absence of proper diagnostic facilities. The challenge has to be met with proper care and detection facilities.