A new strain of coronavirus, not previously identified in humans, has swept the world. More than 81,000 people have been infected with the virus that causes the respiratory disease Covid-19. Nearly 3,000 people have died. Of these, China, where the dangerous viral outbreak began, has accounted for 96.5 percent of the cases with 2,800 deaths.
The number of coronavirus infections outside China has outpaced those inside the country. There is a surge in Europe, the Middle East, the US and Asia. Many of these new cases, in 51 countries, have no clear epidemiological link, such as travel history to China or contact with a confirmed case. Brazil has confirmed its first case in Latin America. Iran, one of the three hotspots outside China, has reported 26 deaths and 245 cases. Iran’s Vice-president Masoumeh Ebtekar and Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi have been infected and are under quarantine. Across Italy, around 400 people have reportedly contracted the disease, of which 12 have died. This is the worst contagion recorded so far in Europe.
India has remained free from the virus with the last of the three Indian students with Covid-19 being declared disease-free recently. However, some crew members of a cruise vessel earlier quarantined in Japan, who were affected during the voyage; have now been brought back home and are under medical watch. India has also airlifted 15 tonnes of medical supplies to Wuhan. New Delhi has evacuated Indians and foreign nationals from the Chinese city. India has as a precautionary measure, cancelled all flights to and from, China, Hong Kong and Iran.
The virus is believed to have spread to humans from wild animals, sold illegally at a market in Wuhan city in late 2019. Health experts believe it may have originated in bats and then passed to humans, possibly via some other animal species. The WHO was alerted to several cases of pneumonia in Wuhan at the end of December. A week later, Chinese authorities confirmed that they had identified a new virus.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses whose effects range from causing common cold to triggering much more serious diseases, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Common signs of the coronavirus infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, and shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death. The coronavirus is so called because of the many crown-like protrusions on its surface.
Due to coronavirus fears, countries have stepped up efforts to contain its’ spread. In Japan, all schools are shutting down. Saudi Arabia has halted pilgrimage visa for Mecca.
Fears of a pandemic are growing. Global stock markets have tumbled. The full economic impact of the outbreak is yet to be known. China is a major economic player. Last year alone, Beijing’s share in the global GDP was one-third. It is estimated that world economy could suffer a hit of US$ 1.1 trillion, due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The spread of the deadly epidemic has heightened fears of disruptions in global supply chains. China is an intermediate producer and supplier of parts used in the final production, feeding supply chains.
China manufactures key ingredients used worldwide in pharmaceuticals for antibiotics, diabetes, painkillers and anti-retrovirals. All these are experiencing supply disruptions. As one of the largest generic drug suppliers to the world, India relies heavily on China for Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API)-the active ingredient contained in medicines.
Even though India is coronavirus-free, the threat of an outbreak remains high with worldwide surge in cases that have with no clear link to China. With China confirming asymptomatic transmission of the infection; infection-control protocols have become complicated.
India which has the second largest global population, has tightened measures by installing thermal scanners and trained medical personnel at all ports of entry, to stop infected persons. Strict surveillance and containment procedures have also been put in place. Continuous awareness drives are being undertaken regarding hygiene, which can to a large extent stop the spread of the virus.
Script: K V Venkatasubramanian, Senior Journalist