China’s mysterious coronavirus spreading fast! Here’s why nations are taking precautions

FE Online

Health concerns soar over China’s coronaviruses! An atmosphere of fear was created after coronavirus killed two people in China and affected another 41 people in the country. Now, with the news that the virus has entered Japan and Thailand, most nations are taking severe precautions. The fact that little to none is known about this disease makes it even worse.

The first case of coronavirus infection outside China was reported from Thailand last Monday. A 61-year-old woman was visiting Thailand from Wuhan, the epicentre for the disease outbreak. She came down with a fever on January 5, but she did not visit the Huanan seafood market, where most of the cases were traced to. She had, however, gone to a smaller market which was selling live animals. While she is reportedly better now, authorities have been waiting for lab tests to confirm whether she is free of the virus before discharging her.

The second case came to the fore on Thursday, when Japan's Health Ministry revealed that a man in his 30s was returning from China and was tested positive for Coronavirus. He had fallen sick on January 3, while still in China, and returned on January 6. He was admitted to a hospital on Friday and then discharged five days later after his recovery. The latest case of coronavirus outside China was reported from Thailand on Friday. A 74-year-old Chinese woman who had entered the country through Bangkok in a flight from Wuhan. While she is now stable, not much else is known due to language barriers.

What makes Coronaviruses so deadly?

Coronaviruses are the family of viruses that attack the respiratory tract. Some of the illnesses caused by these viruses are common cold, pneumonia, and severe infections like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). These viruses are called coronavirus because latin word 'corona' means 'crown' and these viruses seem to be shaped like a crown. The specific coronavirus discovered in China recently was named 'novel coronavirus 2019' (nCoV-2019). It belongs to the SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV families, both of which are deadly. They can be transmitted in animals as well as humans.

The SARS originated in China around 2002-03, and it had killed as many as 800 people in a global outbreak, then. The emergence of a new SARS coronavirus is, for this reason, a cause of concern among health experts and researchers, and containing it becomes imperative.

How does coronavirus concern Indians?

According to an HT report, as many as 500 Indians work in and around Wuhan. With Chinese New Year around the corner, these Indians are likely to return home for the holidays. With this, comes the added risk of the virus being transmitted into India.

What has India done to prevent attack from coronavirus?

So far, fortunately, no cases of coronavirus have surfaced in India. However, as a precautionary measure, Union Health Ministry has issued a travel advisory, asking all travellers to China to maintain good hygiene, regularly wash hands and follow respiratory etiquette, like covering mouth while coughing or sneezing and wearing face masks if necessary.

The advisory also suggests that people should avoid contact with anyone who seems unwell and to not eat raw or uncooked meat. The travellers have also been advised to not visit farms.

Moreover, it also asked passengers to monitor personal health closely and if, while returning from China, a passenger feels unwell, they have been advised to immediately report to health authorities at the airports. Centre has also directed authorities at Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai airports to scan passengers coming from China using thermal scanners. The situation in China is being constantly monitored by Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan.

What has the World Health Organization said about coronavirus?

According to the WHO, so far there is no proper information on what is causing the disease. Any information on whether it can be transmitted by human contact is also uncertain. So far, the WHO had been assuming that the coronavirus was being caused at the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan, as most cases stemmed from there. However, according to the new information from two cases from Thailand and Japan, the virus is not limited to the Huanan market.

The market had been closed on January 1 for disinfecting it after the air was found to contain viruses. But, since neither the 61-year-old woman nor did the man in his 30s go to the market, they contracted the viruses from elsewhere, which can pose a problem.

From the 61-year-old woman's case, it can be possible that she contracted the viruses from the smaller market she went to, in which case, the viruses are present in more variety and number of animals than the health researchers had initially thought. In the man's case, he did not go to any seafood market, meaning he could have contracted the disease from human contact. This could make humans far more susceptible to coronavirus than initially estimated.