Coronavirus: It is a health emergency
A student in Kerala became India’s first case of the new coronavirus, which has infected close to 8,000 people in at least 20 countries within three weeks. Ever since China reported the virus in its Hubei province, there has been growing global concern over the possible spread of the virus and its impact on public health and the economy. Following the biggest single-day jump in deaths that took the number of fatalities from 132 to 170 on Thursday, it is clear that the coronavirus is an international public health emergency. This is belated, but welcome, recognition of the scale of the crisis. This puts the outbreak on a par with H1N1, zika, polio and ebola, which, apart from taking a toll on lives, devastated livelihoods, public health systems and economies throughout the world, with less developed countries being hit the hardest.
The high population density and mobility in India make it one of the world’s hotspots for emerging infectious diseases, much like China which is witnessing the biggest-ever global lockdown that has confined 56 million people in affected provinces to their homes. Confirmed person-to-person transmission in China and three other countries makes the risk of a pandemic high, including in India.
There is no room for complacency as the chance of the disease being missed is high because only one out of five infected individuals develops severe illness, including pneumonia and respiratory failure, resulting in death in some cases. Unscientific advisories, such as the one from the ministry of Ayush, giving people unproven disease prevention and management tips against a virus that did not exist some weeks ago, put lives at risk by confusing and even misleading people. Instead, what is needed is for everyone, including asymptomatic people, with a travel history to mainland China since January 15, including to unaffected provinces, to be tested for the coronavirus in India, in accordance with a new health ministry guideline on Thursday. The earlier advisory only asked travellers to have no unprotected contact with family and friends for 14 days, and get tested if they develop symptoms. Follow science to stay safe.