GP Insights

GP Insights # 230, 25 January 2020

Wuhan Coronavirus: spreads beyond Asia, affecting the Chinese new year travel plans
Harini Madhusudan

What happened?

The death toll due to the virus has reached 41 as on 25 January 2020, and over a thousand cases have been confirmed. The virus has been confirmed in various parts of the world with patients exhibiting pneumonia-like symptoms. The virus was first reported to the WHO on 31 December 2019 where the Chinese scientists linked the disease to a family of viruses that include the deadly SARS and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). The World Health Organisation held an emergency meeting after the virus was seen fast-spreading during the Lunar New Year season, and revealed that it is still early to declare the virus a public health emergency of International Concern, one- because the international cases are not many and two- China is seen taking appropriate measures to deal with it. 

Major festivities have been cancelled in Beijing and Hong Kong to try and prevent large gatherings. Over 34 cases have known to be cured and released from hospitals. 

What is the background?

2019-nCoV or the coronavirus is thought to have originated at a food-market in the Hubei province of Central China Metropolis. Reports suggest that it may have been from snake-meat. The age range of the cases have been between 50 and 90 largely, the youngest reported death has been about a 39-year-old male. This is the second major outbreak in China after the SARS in 2003. It had seen more than 8000 cases and killed over 800 people in 26 countries. 

Outside China, there have been a series of outbreaks during recent decades. In 2008 and 2009, there was a deadly Cholera outbreak which claimed over 4500 lives in Zimbabwe. This was followed by the 2009 flu pandemic, where the influenza virus claimed over 200,000 lives worldwide. In 2016-2017, a cholera outbreak in Yemen caused over 1700 deaths. There was a Japanese Encephalitis outbreak in 2017 in India, that claimed 64 lives and the Nipah Virus outbreak in India that claimed 17 lives in 2018. There have been deadly meases and ebola outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2019 and 2020, and have seen over 7000 deaths in two years. 

The Chinese response to the virus outbreak has been quick. Alert levels have risen in several provinces in China. The State Council have asked their citizens to report cases on their Online Inspection platform. It has put a check on the transportation and movement of people and has increased the number of active staff working to contain the spread. 

What does it mean?

First, despite the virus outbreak still in small numbers outside China, coronavirus is no longer only Beijing’s problem. 

Second, one can observe that all the major outbreaks in the past two decades have been in the global south, which means there is a clear requirement to increase the quality of healthcare in the world. It is essential for China to seek help and the other nations to offer their expertise in the issue. 

Third, the global movement of people across the world is bound to cause problems. Though Wuhan is the base, the fact that Singapore, Bangkok and Washington have reported victims within weeks would underline the new reality. Epidemics are likely to spread faster across the continents than ever before. Containment would need better preparation and global coordination. 

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