Insights into Editorial: Unprecedented step: On Wuhan lockdown
In a bid to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus that emerged in the city of Wuhan in Hubei Province in early December last year, China took a drastic and unprecedented step to shut down the city, thus preventing its 11 million inhabitants from leaving.
All modes of transport have been suspended to prevent residents from exiting the city.
These moves come in the wake of an increasing number of people getting infected and even dying.
- Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people.
- A coronavirus is a kind of common virus that causes an infection in your nose, sinuses, or upper throat. Most coronaviruses are not dangerous.
- Detailed investigations found that SARS-CoV was transmitted from civet cats to humans and MERS-CoV from dromedary camels to humans.
- Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans.
- Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
- In April 2014, the first American was hospitalized for MERS in Indiana and another case was reported in Florida. Both had just returned from Saudi Arabia.
- In May 2015, there was an outbreak of MERS in Korea, which was the largest outbreak outside of the Arabian Peninsula. In 2003, 774 people died from a severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak.
- As of 2015, there were no further reports of cases of SARS. MERS and SARS are types of coronaviruses.
- But in early January 2020, the World Health Organization identified a new type: 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in China.
- About 858 people have died from Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), which first appeared in 2012 in Saudi Arabia and then in other countries in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Europe.
Global concern grows as outbreak spreads:
The number of infected people in China stood at 571 and deaths at 17.
Wuhan, the hotspot of the disease outbreak, has reported nearly 80% of all cases and all the 17 deaths.
Further, the virus has spread to 24 provinces within the country and outside as well — cases have been reported in Thailand and Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, U.S., Hong Kong, Macau, Vietnam, and Singapore.
That the virus has already acquired the ability to spread from one person to another has been confirmed by the World Health Organization. Apart from people in close contact with affected individuals, 16 health-care workers have been infected.
The WHO now sees possible evidence of sustained transmission — the ability of the virus to spread beyond just clusters of patients.
WHO declared public health emergency of international concern:
- The decision to enforce shutdowns came on a day when WHO’s Emergency Committee was deliberating on whether the coronavirus outbreak should be declared a “public health emergency of international concern”.
- With a split verdict and not enough information available to make a decision, the emergency committee reconvened.
- The WHO Director-General took note of China’s decision and said that the travel ban is a reflection of the significant measures taken by China to minimise the spread of the virus.
- These observations run counter to the stand the WHO has always taken even when it announces public health emergency.
- While declaring the Ebola virus disease outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a public health emergency last year, the WHO had stated unequivocally that it is “essential to avoid the punitive economic consequences of travel and trade restrictions on affected communities”.
- Shutting down entire cities go beyond the normal practice of quarantining infected people and might backfire.
Why is this any worse than normal influenza?
We don’t yet know how dangerous the new coronavirus is – and we won’t know until more data comes in.
Twenty-six deaths out of 800 reported cases would mean a 3% mortality rate.
However, this is likely to be a overestimate since there may be a far larger pool of people who have been infected by the virus but who have not suffered severe enough symptoms to attend hospital and so have not been counted in the data.
For comparison, seasonal flu typically has a mortality rate below 1% and is thought to cause about 400,000 deaths each year globally. Another key unknown, of which scientists should get a clearer idea in the coming weeks, is how contagious the coronavirus is.
A crucial difference is that unlike flu, there is no vaccine for the new coronavirus, which means it is more difficult for vulnerable members of the population – elderly people or those with existing respiratory or immune problems – to protect themselves.
One sensible step to get the flu vaccine, which will reduce the burden on health services if the outbreak turns into a wider epidemic.
How this spread can be avoided:
Standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs.
Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.
Can coronavirus infections be prevented?
Right now, there aren’t any vaccines to prevent human coronavirus infections. But you may able to reduce your risk of getting or spreading an infection by
- Washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Avoiding touching your face, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoiding close contact with people who are sick.
- Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that you frequently touch.
- Covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue. Then throw away the tissue and wash your hands.
- Staying home when sick.
India has issued a travel advisory asking citizens to follow certain precautionary measures while visiting China.
“WHO advises against the application of any travel or trade restrictions on China based on the information currently available”. It does not recommend that travellers take any specific measures either.
China shared the whole genome sequence data with WHO and submitted them to the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID) platform to allow researchers across the world to access the data.
Sharing the data with GISAID will help other countries to quickly identify the virus, provide care, and also develop specific diagnostic kits, drugs and even vaccines.