GP Insights

GP Insights # 253, 16 February 2020

Coronavirus: Seven Weeks After
Harini Madhusudan

What happened?

The number of confirmed cases and casualties due to the virus has surpassed the 2003 SARS epidemic, which had claimed 774 lives in eight months. The virus has spread to 25 countries; after China, Japan has the highest number of infected cases with 203. Additionally, 218 passengers of a cruise ship are known to have signs of infection, after the ship carrying 3,700 people was quarantined outside of Japan. 

As on 15 February 2020, there have been 67,101 confirmed cases globally and 1,526 deaths due to the novel virus. The diagnosis spectrum was expanded on 12 February 2020, to include medical assessments where a doctor identifies a person as requiring treatment for Covid-19 without, or before, receiving positive test results for the virus. The World Health Organisation has issued a warning against countries closing borders, as it would accelerate the sense of panic. It also reported that there were no new countries in the list of affected regions. 

What is the background?

The seven weeks of the coronavirus has seen both hysteria and effective-quick responses. Outside China, two deaths have been reported. Countries have asked their citizens to avoid all 'non-essential travel' to China. Screening measures are being undertaken for passengers arriving from China. Many countries have evacuated their citizens from Hubei and quarantined them to avoid contagion. Some countries have not, as they lack the medical infrastructure to address the concerns - the statement of Pakistan, for example. 

Italy, the US, and the UK have announced the virus outbreak as a public health emergency or as a 'serious imminent threat,' to public health. Airlines and businesses undertook effective measures to contain the spread. The public holiday in China was extended. Since 10 February, schools and businesses resumed work with a limited staff. 

However, there has not been any collective initiative to help fight the virus, except that Russia and China are developing a vaccine together. Few governments have offered financial help to China. The blame still points to China, not realizing that both the concern and ineffectiveness are global. 

Within China, there are more than 48,000 cases have been in Hubei province alone; it has now spread outside the province in China as now. Till 23 January, the number of infected cases was limited to the south-eastern zone of China, but by 13 February, there are at least 100 cases within every province in China. 

What does it mean? 

Pandemics are non-security threats of concern to every country. However, the cooperative or collaborative response has been less visible in the case of the virus outbreak. It reflects how politics and borders have seeped into sectors of humanitarian concerns. Mistrust and hysteria can be reflected even in the actions of countries setting up evacuation missions, knowing there is no effective solution available to treat.

The economic impact of the virus outbreak would be reflected in the economies that depend on China for trade. For example, Southeast Asia is likely to be affected the most. Shutting down airports to Chinese tourists will have an impact on the small-term incomes of many businesses. The interconnectedness of the global economies will leave an impact on the already slowing down the economy. 

Global healthcare systems have not been in pace with the increased interdependence of countries. This should remain as a reminder for countries to ensure cooperation exists within non-security domains. 

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