What makes Covid-19 a global public health enemy?

Covid-19 has caused 1,380 deaths, has infected 63,851 people and spread across 28 countries. In the middle of rumors and reports, here is what you need to know about the virus.
Coronavirus, which emerged from Wuhan city in China’s Hubei province in December last year, quickly spread across the world. The World Health Organisation (WHO) took time to declare it a health emergency (it did so weeks later), and later named it Covid-19.(REUTERS)
Coronavirus, which emerged from Wuhan city in China’s Hubei province in December last year, quickly spread across the world. The World Health Organisation (WHO) took time to declare it a health emergency (it did so weeks later), and later named it Covid-19.(REUTERS)
Updated on Feb 14, 2020 08:19 PM IST
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HT Correspondent, New Delhi | ByCurated by Sanya Budhiraja

Coronavirus, which emerged from Wuhan city in China’s Hubei province in December last year, quickly spread across the world. The World Health Organisation (WHO) took time to declare it a health emergency (it did so weeks later), and later named it Covid-19. The virus has caused 1,380 deaths, has infected 63,851 people and spread across 28 countries. In the middle of rumors and reports, here is all you need to know about the virus.

What is Covid-19?

It is a new strain from the coronavirus family (hence the initial name novel coronavirus or n-CoV) which affects the respiratory system in humans. Other examples of the virus are Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome or MERS. It has only recently been renamed,Covid-19, inspired from words “corona”, “virus”, and “disease”, with 2019 representing the year that it emerged.

This virus that causes flu-like symptoms , such as dry-cough, fever, and breathing problems. It probably seems mild in some cases, like that of an Australian student who contracted the virus on Diamond Princess, the ship quarantined off the coast of Japan. Such cases may have a fairly quick recovery rate like one patient, out of the three who were initially tested positive for Covid-19 in Kerala, whose diagnosis later turned negative. In more severe cases, patients may have underlying health conditions and then go on to develop viral-phenomena.

This strand of coronavirus, much like others, came from animals. Illegal trading of pangolin is suspected to be the cause for the entrance of Covid-19 into human species.

How did Covid-19 spread?

The virus was first identified in China, at Wuhan on December 31st. Covid-19 is airborne and transmitted by people sneezing or coughing. Someone can either swallow the virus or touch a surface where the virus is with their hands, and then touch their mouth & nose with the same.

The advancements in international transportation systems and excessive globalization have made it easy for Covid-19 to hop into a host’s body to travel far and beyond. Evidence of this phenomenon is the Diamond Princess, a cruise ship initially carrying 3,711 passengers, now has about 174 identified cases of the disease. Outside Mainland China, the ship is the largest cluster of Covid-19. There are two Indian citizens among those tested positive on the ship quarantined at a dock in Yokohama, Tokyo since February 3rd. The ship is said to be under Japanese jurisdiction until February 19th, 2020 and it is unclear if and what Indian authorities are going to do after that.

What is the economic threat?

Global pandemics are very costly for human society and have only gotten pricier with the increasing interconnectedness of the international economy. For example, SARS caused losses in productivity estimated over $40 billion.

Though, right now, there are no estimates about how much Covid-19 is going to cost the global economy in total, businesses, big and small, are suffering its effects. Handset manufacturer Vivo and chipset maker Intel, along with some other prominent brands, have pulled out of the Mobile World Congress 2020 due to the Covid-19 outbreak. This is an important event that creates over 14,000 part-time jobs in Barcelona. Giants like Airbnb and Apple have also been impacted. Airbnb has suspended check-ins to all Beijing listings until March and Apple’s prime manufacturer Foxconn is producing under 50% until the end of February. Lack of tourism and fall in demand of general commodities because of quarantine efforts has also adversely affected small business in China.

There have been mounting concerns about the impact that continuing spread of the disease would have on China’s economy. One reason why, President Xi was reported to have cautioned officials to not go overboard with imposing restrictions. President Xi, according to a Reuters report, felt they had already gone too far. Any impact of the virus on the Chinese economy would have a ripple effect that would be felt far away including on, oil prices, as China is the world’s largest importer.

The politics around Covid-19

Given the virus’s ‘global’ footprint, it may be impossible to contain it without support from different international parties. The World Health Organization has been heavily involved with the Chinese government to prevent further spread of the disease and to hunt for a potential cure.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has conveyed solidarity with the Chinese President Xi in the form of a letter. In the same, he expressed appreciation for the measures taken by the Chinese government to restrict the spread of the virus.

United States President Donald Trump has also congratulated President Xi on his efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19. Trump claimed “...(that) during the month of April, the heat, generally speaking, kills this type of virus.” This remark has been condemned by Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The US State Department moved out almost 300 U.S. citizens, from Wuhan, on February 6st. However, Tedros Adhanom, head of WHO, has advised against the evacuation of foreigners.

Response by India and its neighbours

600 Indians were flown back to the country from Wuhan by the government on January 31th and February 1st. They were housed in two quarantine centres, one in Delhi and one in Manesar. According to Vikram Misri, Indian Ambassador to China, the whole evacuation process was a ‘strategic nightmare’. Passengers coming from China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, and Nepal into India are being screened at all major sea and land ports. There are now two positive novel coronavirus cases in India in the state of Kerala currently undergoing treatment. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has criticized the Centre for not giving the Covid-19 outbreak graver attention.

Bangladesh has decided not to fly back its 171 citizens due to internal issues.

Pakistan, a country that’d initially decided not to evacuate the 800 Pakistani students living in Wuhan, is now reconsidering its course of action after coming under pressure by quarantined students on social media. “The matter is being considered at the high level and best possible decision would be taken after considering all possible aspects. Rest assured that we care about you,” said Zafar Mirza, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Health, on Sunday.

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