3 isolated in Delhi over coronavirus suspicion
Authorities in Delhi isolated on Monday three people at the Ram Manohar Lohia (RML) hospital with flu-like symptoms after they returned from China, the first time anyone has been quarantined in India’s national capital over the coronavirus outbreak that has infected nearly 3,000 people across the world in less than a month.
A confirmed coronavirus case is yet to be discovered in India but a series of similar hospitalisations in four cities – Kolkata, Jaipur, Chandigarh and Patna – as well as the death of a Thai national in West Bengal’s capital on Monday raised fears of the pathogen having arrived on Indian soil.
The outbreak has expanded alarmingly since it began less than a month ago in China, where at least 2,840 people have now been infected and 81 have died, officials said on Monday. The infections were at 2,000 and fatalities at 56 a mere 24 hours before that. Outside the country, infections have been confirmed in 11 countries, taking the total number of sick to at least 2,901.
“Three people with suspected coronavirus were brought to the hospital today. They had shown no symptoms after they came back from China and were living with their families in Delhi-NCR. They were brought to the hospital after they started showing some respiratory symptoms,” said Dr Minakshi Bhardwaj, medical superintendent of RML hospital, which has been designated as the main facility in the city to deal with such cases.
Two of these patients arrived in the last week, while the third had returned from China nearly a month ago.
In Kolkata, a Chinese tourist was admitted to the isolation ward of a government hospital while another woman – a citizen of Thailand – died after developing a respiratory illness. Thailand accounts for the highest number of reported infections outside of China.
A patient each were also isolated in Jaipur, Chandigarh and Patna, with all three being Indian citizens who returned from China recently and now have symptoms such as fever.
Samples from all of the patients have been sent to the National Institute of Virology (NIV) for testing and results were awaited.
So far, NIV-Pune has received 17 samples from across India. Of these, 14 have been tested and none was positive.
The virus, titled the 2019 novel coronavirus (nCoV), is believed to have infected the first human in late December in the central China city of Wuhan. The city and at least 17 others like it are now under a near-total lockdown, stranding millions of people – including approximately 200 Indians.
On Monday, chief ministers of two states, Kerala and Gujarat, appealed to the Union government to airlift Indian nationals stranded in Chinese cities. The Union cabinet secretary also held a meeting of top bureaucrats from several ministries on Monday, according to officials who asked not to be named, and asked for preparations to start for possible evacuations soon.
In Beijing, Chinese officials briefed a group of diplomats – including from India – about efforts to contain the virus and discussed possible evacuations of foreign citizens.
“Various options for evacuating foreign nationals from Wuhan/Hubei province were also discussed. We continue to engage with the Chinese authorities to ensure the safety and well-being of Indian nationals in Hubei province. We will update you when we have more information from the Chinese authorities,” said a message from the Indian embassy in China sent to Indian residents who remain in Wuhan.
‘BIGGER RISK THAN SARS’
According to a new assessment of the outbreak by researchers from China’s Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in Guangdong, the pandemic risk appears to be higher than the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak – which, too, began from China before it killed nearly 800 people globally in 2002 and 2003.
The average incubation period, the report added, was 4.8 days – which means people could be infected during this period, and possibly be infecting others, before they show the first signs of the disease.
On Sunday, another group of Chinese health officials said the pathogen’s ability to spread was becoming stronger – a claim that was backed up by the Guangdong CDC, which said each infected person was, on an average, passing it on to nearly three other people.
To be sure, the fatality ratio – the number of deaths for every infection – will determine whether the virus is deadlier than the SARS virus, which, too, belonged to the coronavirus family and manifested in similar flu-like symptoms.
The Lunar New Year period, when millions travel outside of China, the ability of the virus to spread while patients are asymptomatic, and symptoms that can easily be mistaken as a case of the common cold make containing the outbreak a difficult task.
India has joined most other countries in screening airline passengers from flights originating in Chinese cities. In the two weeks since the screening began, 33,552 people in 155 flights have been checked for signs that they may be infected.