The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared Coronavirus to be a pandemic on March 11, 2020 affecting people worldwide. The disease that had an outbreak in Wuhan, a city in Central China, has resulted in the death of over 4200 people worldwide and infected more than 118,000 people across the globe.
Here is a lowdown on Coronavirus, the novel disease that stares mankind today.
What is Coronavirus
According to WHO, “Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV).”
The word coronavirus is derived from the Latin word corona that meaning a crown or halo. The virus, when observed through an electron microscope, looks similar to a solar corona.
The virus has been named SARS-CoV-2, and this novel cononavirus has not been identified previously. The disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 has been named by WHO as “coronavirus disease 2019” (COVID-19) on February 11, 2020 to avoid confusions. So, when we talk of the pandemic coronavirus, we are referring to COVID-19.
Origin and spread
The origin of SARS-CoV-2 is being attributed to an infected animal that spread to humans. The SARS-CoV-2 virus as well as SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV have their origins in bats. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), the early patients of COVID-19 at Wuhan (Hubei Province in China), epicenter of the outbreak, had links to a wholesale seafood and live animal market, which indicates animal-to-person contamination. Cases reported thereafter had no links to the animal market, suggesting person-to-person spread. Subsequently, all reported cases outside Hubei and China were spread person-to-person.
Currently, people infected with COVID-19 are being exposed to the virus through person-to-person spread. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has attributed the spread of SARS-CoV-2 via “respiratory droplets” of an infected person when he/she coughs or sneezes.
Many cases of COVID-19 have been attributed to community spread, which means the infected persons do not know the source of their exposure.
The virus can also spread through contaminated surface. If a person touches a surface contaminated by COVID-19 and subsequently touches his/her mouth, nose or eyes, then the chances of contacting the disease is high.
Common symptoms of COVID-19 include cough, fever and shortness of breath. In severe cases the infection can cause pneumonia, SARS, kidney failure and may even be fatal, leading to death. WHO has specified that the symptoms of COVID-19 does not include a runny nose.
The incubation period of SARS-CoV-2 is two to 14 days. A person exposed to the virus will usually show symptoms of the COVID-19 disease in five to six days.
However, some infected persons may not display the symptoms of the disease in spite of having SARS-CoV-2 in their body.
People who are at risk
Risk assessment done by the National Institute of Health (NIH) after the outbreak of COVID-19:
- Most people in the US have low probability of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 that can cause COVID-19 as most communities do not have extensive circulation.
- People living in communities that have reported cases of COVID-19 are at high risk of exposure.
- People working in hospitals, like doctors and healthcare workers who treat and take care of COVID-19 patients have high risk of exposure.
- Persons in close contact to COVID-19 patients have high risk of getting infected.
- Travelers who return from a country that has been widely infected by COVID-19 and there is community spread, are also at a high risk of exposure.
How can you protect yourself?
While scientists are developing a vaccine for COVID-19, health experts suggest that we can follow certain healthy habits to reduce the risk of exposure to the disease.
Here are some precautions you can take:
- Maintain a safe distance from people who are ill.
- Refrain from touching your nose, mouth and eyes.
- Stay at home if you are sick.
- Cover your mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the used tissue in the trash can.
- Use a cleaning spray or wipe to disinfect objects and surfaces that are touched frequently.
- Use soap and water for washing your hands every time you use the bathroom, before you eat and after you blow your nose, cough or sneeze. Time taken for washing your hands should be at least 20 seconds.
The medical community across the world are working towards developing a vaccine for COVID-19. However, scientists have informed that the vaccine will be available for mass distribution only by 2021.
China, which is the epicenter of the outbreak, has sealed off Wuhan and also placed prohibition on traveling to and from other cities. This restriction is affecting around 60 million people.
Flights to China have been cancelled by most international airlines. Many countries have put a travel restriction for Chinese nationals to their territories; and evacuated their citizens from Wuhan.
US government has taken the following measures to counter the public health threat imposed by COVID-19:
The CDC has developed a test kit to diagnose COVID-19. This kit has been provided to US State and local public health laboratories, Department of Defense (DOD) laboratories and select international laboratories for quick diagnosis, quarantine and treatment.
The government has imposed unprecedented regulation related to traveling:
- Foreign nationals, who were in China or Iran in the past 14 days, are not allowed to enter the US.
- US citizens, residents, and their immediate family members can enter the US. But they will have to go through health monitoring and quarantine (if needed) for up to 14 days, in case they were in China or Iran in the past 14 days.
- CDC also suggested that people who are at high risk of severe COVID-19 should avoid going on a cruise or taking an air travel.
EU institutions and member states pledged to mobilize and spend almost €25 billion from funds available with EU to cope with the economic outcome of COVID-19.
Saudi Arabia has taken precautionary measures like temporary ban on entry of travelers from countries affected with coronavirus. This includes pilgrimage to the Prophet’s mosque and for Umrah.
Singapore government enforced temperature screenings at airports as early as January, within days of the first few cases in Wuhan, China. And by mid-January a task force comprising of multiple ministries was launched to counter the virus.
Singapore government also issued advisory on COVID-19 to travelers from China, Iran, Northern Italy and Republic of Korea:
- Visitors who had stayed in Mainland China, Iran, Northern Italy and Republic of Korea in the past 14 days cannot enter Singapore or make a transit via Singapore.
- People with PRC passport will not be issued forms for new visas. Also, the visa-free transit facility for people with PRC passport and Iranian passport remain suspended till further notice.
- The short-term and multiple-visit visas for PRC passports and Iranian passports, issued earlier, has been suspended. People with these visas will not be allowed to enter Singapore’s territory.
The South Korean government has been proactive in containing the disease spread by enforcing a system of screening tests for a large number of patients and by providing transparent reporting of the COVID-19 cases.
Indian government has taken following measures due to COVID-19 outbreak:
- Visas of all foreign nationals has been suspended from 13 March to 15 April 2020.
- Resident Indians have been advised to avoid crowded places and mass gatherings in order to contain the spread of the disease.
- Government hospitals have set up test labs to screen, test and treat COVID-19 cases.