Editorial

No room for panic: On novel coronavirus

The best way to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus is by raising public awareness

The Emergency Committee convened by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on January 30 has declared the novel coronavirus outbreak in China as a ‘public health emergency of international concern’, a development that comes after its meeting for the second time in just a week. The virus, that has been infecting hundreds and killing several each day in China, is now being reported in at least 23 other countries — nearly 14,380 cases as on Sunday — since the committee last met on January 22-23. There has also been the first confirmed fatality outside China, with a death in the Philippines. As on Sunday, Chinese authorities said 45 more deaths had been recorded in Hubei province by the end of Saturday, bringing the death toll in the country to 304. All of China’s provinces and territories have now reported cases. But the critical factor that prompted WHO’s emergency declaration is the virus’s human-to-human spread in other countries. In fact, WHO’s committee reconvened to assess the situation mainly because of local transmission in other countries — a scenario for further global spread. China is also having to deal with another disease outbreak — a “highly pathogenic” strain of bird flu, or H5N1.

All about the Coronavirus

In Kerala, after a student who had travelled from Wuhan city, the epicentre of the current outbreak, was found to be infected, State health authorities, on Sunday, reported a second case being detected. This patient too had a history of travel from China. Besides isolating those who exhibit overt symptoms and conducting contact tracing, there is an urgent need to raise public awareness. This is essential so that they report to a hospital when symptoms show up later or in case of contact with a person who has travelled to China recently. There is evidence that those who appear to be healthy despite being infected can spread it even during the incubation period. Also, cases have been reported wherein people have not exhibited symptoms in spite of being infected. In both instances, thermal screening at airports, which is largely helpful, would fail to detect infected people — as in the case of the Kerala patients. Hence, time-tested measures which include handwashing and hand hygiene, wearing protective gear while attending to sick people and covering one’s mouth and nose properly when coughing or sneezing will drastically reduce the infection risk. There is no clinical evidence whatsoever that any specific drug, either modern or of the traditional system of medicine, can prevent infection or treat infected people. And it is the novel virus transmitted through physical contact or droplets that causes the infection, and not any food items as social media claims.

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Printable version | Feb 24, 2020 11:28:12 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/no-room-for-panic/article30721007.ece

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