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The outbreak of coronavirus started in Wuhan, China and ever since it has been increasing rapidly. This respiratory infection is closely linked to SARS and MERS and has been spreading outside of China as well. Worldwide the number of cases has been 28,000 and at least 565 people have died so far due to the infection. This has forced the Chinese government to lock down almost 20 cities along with Wuhan and this has, in turn, quarantined more than 56 million people.
This infection has become more widespread in terms of numbers than the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak, which too originated in China. In India, the first case was reported in Kerala where a student of the state was found to be infected with the virus. Just three days after the first case, a second patient who had a travel history from China got quarantined in a hospital.
What is Coronavirus?
WHO (World Health Organization) says that coronaviruses form a large family of viruses that can give rise to sickness including common cold to much more dangerous diseases like SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome).
These are zoonotic viruses, that is, they are transmitted in animals and humans. For instance, SARS-CoV got transmitted from civet cats to humans and MERS-CoV between dromedary camels and people. Many known coronaviruses are circulating among the animals but they have not affected humans yet.
The term coronavirus originates from the Latin word corona which means crown or halo. The name is so because, under an electron microscope, the virus looks like a solar corona. On January 7th, a new strain of Coronavirus had been discovered by the Chinese authorities. This strain was not found in humans earlier and was given the name 2019-nCoV. Not much is known about it but it is confirmed to be contagious.
Common Symptoms of Coronavirus
The signs and symptoms of the infection are as follows (as stated by WHO):
- Severe cough
- Shortness of breath
- Breathing difficulties
In severe conditions, the disease can lead to pneumonia, SARS, kidney failure or even death. It is not yet known about the incubation period of coronavirus but sources suggest that it could be in the range of 10 to 14 days.
How is Coronavirus Transmitted?
The virus spreads by the following means:
- When two people are in close proximity, just like other respiratory illnesses like common cold or flu.
- Through coughing and sneezing which spread droplets of body fluids like mucus or saliva in the air.
- These droplets can travel several feet’s distance and stay suspended for about 10 minutes.
- Droplets containing coronavirus could be transmitted among passengers via plane seats or armrests.
How to Protect yourself from Coronavirus?
As of now, there is no vaccine against coronavirus though scientists are trying their best. It has been suggested that the same precautionsshould be taken by people to protect themselves from coronavirus as they do in case of the common cold; these have been enumerated as follows:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and lukewarm water or an alcohol-based sanitizer.
- While coughing or sneezing, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or flexed elbow and throw the tissue immediately and wash your hands.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with your hand and fingers.
- Maintain a safe distance from people infected with fever and cough.
- In case you develop a fever, cough or breathing difficulties, seek medical advice immediately and do share your travel history with your doctor.
- Don’t consume raw or undercooked animal food items. Raw meat, milk and other animal products need to be handled properly to avoid cross-contamination with food that is uncooked.
- If you work in wet markets of China and Southeast Asia, then you must wear protective gloves, gowns and have facial protection when handling animals and their products.
These recommendations have been provided by WHO and mainly include hand and respiratory hygiene along with food safety practices.
What Measures have been taken to Contain Coronavirus?
As of now, there is no vaccine available for the new virus. However, a vaccine sample might be ready for testing by April.
The following steps have been taken to stop its spread:
- Chinese authorities have sealed off Wuhan, where most of the cases had originated, state media has confirmed. This move is meant to restrict the momentum of the epidemic spreading.
- Over a dozen other Chinese cities have also adopted transport restrictions.
- Many airlines, including United Airlines and British Airways, have canceled all flights to China.
- Similarly, airports all over the world have brought into play screening measures and some countries are also working towards evacuating their citizens from the Wuhan.
Measures taken in India:
- Citizens need to go through health tests before boarding flights. They also need to undergo a 14-day quarantine in special camps after landing in India.
- On early Saturday, 324 Indians were evacuated and on Sunday yet another 323 Indians and 7 Maldivian citizens were flown back from Wuhan.
- As the second batch of 323 stranded Indians and 7 Maldivian citizens was airlifted from Wuhan, the total number of people evacuated now stands at 654.
Is this a Global Emergency?
The WHO has declared that this outbreak constitutes a global health emergency. The decision was made after the confirmed cases were found due to transmission between people outside China. There has also been an international health alert call for countries all over the world to undertake the utmost safety measures as a response to the emergency as per the guidelines provided by the UN health agency.
Impact on the Global Economy
Amongst the countries that are directly affected, Australia might be one of the countries worst affected by the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak. This is because factories in China continue to remain shuttered and millions of people are confined to their houses and banned from traveling. China accounts for around 15-16% of visitors to Australia and is the biggest contributors to Australian spending when they are here, outspending American tourists by a ratio of three to one.
The Chinese city of Macau has asked its 41 casinos to close for half a month as they rush to contain and prevent the coronavirus outbreak afflicting China and the region. The move will result in shutting down the world’s gambling capital, which could hit giant American casino operators like Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands as well as the local companies that sustain a major part of the territory’s economy.
In Thailand, the Thai baht has slipped from Asia’s strongest currency in 2019 to one of the region’s worst-performing ones in this year, due to the outbreak.
The Thai currency has lost around 4% against the USD so far, reversing almost half of its 7.8% gains against the greenback in 2019.