COVID-19 is closer than you think. Are governments prepared to deal with it?

COVID-19 is transversing borders at breakneck speed and two more cases have been confirmed in India. How are governments around the world responding to the virus?

 |  6-minute read |   02-03-2020
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COVID-19 has hit home.

As of Monday evening, two new cases of the novel coronavirus disease — officially named COVID-19 by World Health Organisation (WHO) — have been diagnosed in Delhi and in Telangana. While the infected person from Delhi has travel history from Italy, the one from Telangana has travel history from Dubai. In early February, three students from Kerala were treated for the disease and subsequently discharged from the hospital after they recovered and tested negative for the novel coronavirus. All three were students who returned from Wuhan in China — the epicentre of the outbreak, in January.

We don’t need to assert how important it is to rush to the doctor and get yourself screened in case you have been feeling under the weather lately. If you are down with a runny nose, headache, cough and fever, and have travelled to a part of the world with sustained community transmission of COVID-19; within 14 days of feeling sick, you need to rush to the hospital. Sustained community transmission means that the local population has been infected with the virus and the spread is ongoing. Getting yourself tested (and quarantined till full recovery if tested positive) is the first step to save yourself and also others.

main_covid19-agartal_030220075022.jpgA health desk to screen travelers for signs of the coronavirus at Maharaja Bir Bikram Airport in Agartala, India. (Photo: Reuters)

You will need to get your blood tested if you are suspected of having been infected by the virus that is officially named severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) and has contracted the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). According to health officials at NIV (National Institute of Virology), Pune, it takes about two to three days to get the test results. However, informed sources tell DailyO that the test result normally should be out in three to four hours. "DNA extraction takes an hour. RT-PCR takes about two to two and a half hours. The extra time sought could be because of the paucity of testing kits. Also, it requires a lot of skill to perform the test. The lack of skilled hands is also a problem. We need more kits and better-trained personnel," the source says.

Despite this, Indian authorities are taking no chances. According to the Minister of Health for State Ashwini Choubey, 15 laboratories are working to control the disease and 19 more are in the process of being set up. All these are working closely with NIV and Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). The government has announced 011-23978046 as the helpline number for COVID-19 and email The Indian government has upped the ante by imposing travel restrictions to the worst-affected countries, including China, South Korea, Iran, Italy and Singapore, preparing itself for the testing and treatment for COVID-19 and being transparent about the number of cases diagnosed.

main_covid19-south-k_030220074332.jpgA woman walks past South Korean soldiers wearing protective gear while they sanitise a street in front of the city hall after the rapid rise in confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Daegu, South Korea. (Photo: Reuters)

Not the same can be said of other countries. While China was infamously suppressing information on the outbreak and spread, North Korea lags no far behind. In South Korea, 599 new cases were confirmed on Monday. With the new tally at 4,335 confirmed infections and at least 26 deaths, South Korea has the second-largest national caseload after China. However, its hostile neighbour North Korea has not confirmed any cases of the deadly virus yet. On Friday, its leader Kim Jong Un held a meeting with officials to discuss stricter enforcement of “top-class anti-epidemic steps” in the country, according to the state media — Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA further said that people exhibiting symptoms have been subject to a month-long quarantine. “In case the infectious disease spreading beyond control finds its way into our country, it will entail serious consequences. No special cases must be allowed within the state anti-epidemic system,” Kim was quoted as saying at the meeting.

In the Middle East, Iran is the epicentre of the outbreak. In an announcement on state TV, Iranian Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raisi said that 66 people have died and 1,501 people have been infected in the country by COVID-19.

main_covid19-iran_re_030220074410.jpgMembers of the medical team spray disinfectant to sanitise outdoor place of Imam Reza's holy shrine, following the coronavirus outbreak, in Mashhad, Iran. (Photo: Reuters)

Death toll in Iran is the highest after China. The situation in Iran is something to be especially concerned about since it mirrors most of the overpopulated and developing countries around the world. For instance, millions of Muslim pilgrims travel in the region to visit Shiite holy sites in Iran and Iraq. In January alone, it is estimated that over 30,000 people returned to Afghanistan from Iran, and hundreds of others continue to make the pilgrimage every week to Qom — the site of the outbreak. Afghanistan’s first confirmed case — a 35-year-old man from Herat — was the one who had recently travelled to Qom, following which, on Sunday, the Afghan government suspended all air and ground travel to and from Iran. The public health system is not too robust in Iran following years of unrest and political turmoil. Further, thanks to the sanctions imposed by the US and world leaders ostracising the country, Iran’s economic lifeline remains to be trade relations with China. With barely any travel restrictions on Chinese travellers to the country and inadequate screening processes, Iran has made itself very vulnerable to the outbreak.

So what can you do to prevent being infected?

As to contain the spread of the infection in India (and across the world), here are a few very simple steps for prevention, as prescribed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

1. Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds

2. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser with at least 60 per cent alcohol

3. Avoid close contact with people who are sick

4. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth

5. Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash, and wash your hands

6. Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces

7. Stay home when you are sick

Also read: What is coronavirus? Should Wuhan flu worry you?


Rajeshwari Ganesan Rajeshwari Ganesan @rajeshwaridotg

Assistant Editor, DailyO

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