Coronavirus: A Global Epidemic

The data presented in the following article is updated as of 9th March 2020.

The recent outbreak of the Coronavirus has everyone in a state of panic, and rightfully so. With a death toll of around 3000 and the number of cases around the world being 111,366, this rapidly spreading virus has been confirmed in several countries in different parts of the world. 

What is Coronavirus?

The Coronavirus is a family of viruses that can cause several illnesses in humans–ranging from a common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).

The current outbreak is of a novel coronavirus (nCoV), a strain of the virus that has been previously unidentified in human beings.

Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. However, since this is a newly identified strand, there is insufficient epidemiological information to determine how easily and sustainably the virus spreads among people. The current estimate states that the virus is transmitted through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believes that the symptoms may appear within 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus.


Where did it start?

The Coronavirus pandemic broke out in the city of Wuhan, China. With around 7000 cases in the first month alone, the city of Wuhan was shut down by the Chinese government to curb the epidemic. However, that did not manage to stop the outbreak from spreading.

The virus has spread all over the world in two months. It has spread to approximately 100 countries. India has confirmed 45 cases, where the first one was identified on 30 January 2020. Costa Rica confirmed nine cases of COVID-19 — the first suspected case was on 5 March 2020. Bangladesh reported their first three cases on 8 March 2020 — two of whom have a travel history to Italy while the third is relative of one. Meanwhile, the death toll in the US has risen to 22. The very first death by Coronavirus in the US was confirmed on 29th February- the patient, a man in his 50s, had not had close contact with an infected person or a relevant travel history that would have exposed him to the virus. Albania, Thailand, and the Philippines are other countries affected.

How can we stay safe?

There are various steps that a person can take to stay safe.

  1. Wash Your Hands Frequently: Washing your hands with soap kills viruses that may be on your hands.
  2. Maintain social distancing: Maintain at least 3 feet distance between yourself and anyone who is sneezing or coughing.
  3. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth: Your hands touch many surfaces and, hence, can pick up viruses. Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  4. Practice respiratory hygiene: This means covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then dispose of the tissue immediately.
  5.  If you have a fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, seek medical care: Stay home if you feel unwell and ask your local health care provider for directions. They are best placed to advise on what people should be doing.
  6. Stay informed and follow the advice given by your health care provider: Stay informed on the latest developments and follow the advice given by health care providers as they will have up-to-date information on whether the virus is spreading in your area. 

How are various countries handling this epidemic?

From its first outbreak in China late last year, the COVID-19 virus has now spread to several parts of the world. The total number of infections has crossed 1,00,000 and the death toll is on the rise.  Governments are doing everything in their power to prevent the spread of the virus — some downplaying the severity of the situation while others taking draconian measures. 

Empty stadiums, deserted shops and shuttered theatres has now become a common sight. The sale of facemasks and hand sanitizers has increased multifold. Restrictions on travel, ban on mass gatherings, shutdowns of schools and colleges, issue of health advisories, prohibiting religious pilgrims. What remains to be seen is how effective this is to hinder the escalation of the virus, which has been deemed nearly impossible by various health experts. 

China, being the epicentre, has borne the brunt of this impact. Initially slow to respond, they had recently taken a drastic course of action. Entire cities had been put under quarantine, schools and businesses were shut, transport systems suspended and public gatherings prohibited.

Italy followed in its footsteps, as the whole of Northern Italy has been put under lockdown due to the increasing number of deaths. All movement has been restricted, unless in case of emergencies. This affects nearly 16 million people – a quarter of its population. 

Instead of putting cities under lockdown, South Korea’s government has instead opted to randomly test people. This even includes testing people in their cars when they pull into parking lots or drive-through stations. South Korea and the US have also postponed their joint military training in the wake of soldiers getting affected by the Coronavirus. Weighing the safety of the soldiers against the importance of drill practice, the former eventually won. 

Restrictions on travel have been imposed in several countries. Anyone travelling from the Hubei and Zhejiang provinces in China has been banned from entering Japan. Neighbouring countries such as Pakistan, Turkey and Armenia have closed off their borders with Iran amid widespread fears. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has temporarily decided to forbid travellers from visiting the country, which is a shrine to Islam’s holiest places. 

If anything can be referred to as even remotely remarkable in such despairing circumstances, it is perhaps the use of artificial intelligence tools as weapons in this all-out war. This has been employed in countries such as South Korea and China in full measure. Thermal sensors, for instance, are used in train stations in China to detect the temperature of every travelling individual. There have been reports that the Chinese government is also using its extensive surveillance system to keep track of affected people. 

Mobile phones are being used to track down their movements and to prevent them from travelling. Some mobile apps have also been rolled out which let the users know whether they have come in contact with a confirmed Coronavirus patient. The detailed travel history of the people who have tested positive for the virus is publicized. This helps people to identify whether they have come in close contact with the infected person and thus take the necessary precautions. 

Although this comprises the citizens’ privacy to a major extent, this course of action has been considerably effective as seen by the plummeting number of infections in China.

Some countries have also faced severe backlash in their management of the virus growth. Apart from the government understating the emergency in Iran, controlling information and maintaining secrecy is reportedly underway. Japan poorly handled the coronavirus outbreak on a cruise ship, Diamond Princess. The ship was quarantined and medical guidelines were disregarded. Confusion and unskilled management led to the death of 8 people while more than 700 were infected. 

One thing all public health officials are stressing on is the importance of self-awareness of the people. The dire need is for us to follow the guidelines and undergo self-protection whenever and wherever possible. 

Written for MTTN by Tanya Jain, Kaavya Azad and Tulika Somani

Artwork Courtesy of NY Times

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