The count of those infected by ‘COVID-19’, the novel Coronavirus is increasing at a dizzying speed. And so is the global response. The virus, centered in China’s Wuhan city, with a population of 11 million people, roughly the same size as London, has its tremors felt, across the world. As we go to press, the death toll has already crossed 1,300, close to 50,000 people have been infected and new infections are being reported every few hours. These figures are for China alone.
China is trying its best to contain the spread of the new virus but efforts are failing to be enough. Despite a quarantine of the entire Hubei region containing 50 million people, the virus has managed to enter at least 25 other countries. As of now, over 500 cases and 2 deaths have been reported from countries across the world. The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak a global public health emergency. Most of the countries have sealed their borders to China, have evacuated their citizens from Wuhan and impacted districts and have temporarily banned any travel to and from the country.
India has 3 confirmed cases of the virus, all reported from Kerala. The infected 3 are students who were studying in Wuhan and are stable and being closely monitored. Additionally, thousands of people are under surveillance in 29 states. Airports and seaports are being tightly scrutinised. The Chinese citizens and other nationalities living in China have been temporarily barred from flying to India. The travellers returning from China to India are also be tested and monitored. The Indian government has set up a task force to monitor the situation and control its spread. 28 isolation facilities have been set up and a helpline has also been introduced.
But questions and fears are swirling about this new virus. We have tried to answer a few of them here.
What is Coronavirus?
It is a large family of viruses that typically attack the respiratory system. The name comes from the Latin word corona, meaning crown, because of the spiky fringe that encircles these viruses. Most of these viruses infect animals, such as bats, cats, and birds. Only six of these including SARS and MERS were known to infect humans till now. The latest one i.e. COVID-19 is the 7th.
What is its origin?
No one knows where it came from. SARS which happened in 2003 was thought to have evolved from bats to civet cats to humans in China; MERS evolved from bats to camels to humans in the Middle East. So, for now, COVID-19 is believed to have made the leap from animals or may be bats or pangolins. The virus seems to infect their intestinal system and through that passed on to their feces. Deforestation drives these animals out of their homes to the mainland and spread diseases or wildlife hunting provides a perfect way for them to get in our systems and spread viruses..
What are its symptoms?
Most people infected by this virus start with a fever, muscle pain, fatigue, cough, and shortness of breath. The current fatality rate of the virus is 1-2 percent.
How does it spread?
It mainly spreads through exposure to droplets from coughing or sneezing. So when an infected person coughs or sneezes, they let out a spray, and if these droplets reach the nose, eyes, or mouth of another person, they can pass on the virus.
How to keep safe!
Countries with weaker health systems need to be on high alert because of the potential damage the virus could do. Do not panic, but stay alert! Cover your cough. Protect your sneezing or cough with your elbow or use a tissue that you dispose of properly after use. Wash your hands. Avoid contact with people who are coughing or are ill.
What could stop this?
Perhaps public health measures – identifying cases fast, putting infected people in isolation – will stop the spread of this coronavirus. (That’s what stopped the spread of SARS in 2003.) Because this is a zoonotic disease, which came from an animal, finding and eliminating that source would also help. Or maybe a vaccine or antiviral will be invented quickly to curb a broader epidemic (though that would likely take years). In the long term, we need to seriously mull a ban on deforestation or the killing of wildlife.