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2019-nCoV outbreak: How vulnerable is India?

Map of the World with marked Wuhan as source of viral infection coronavirus 2019 2020 NCoV. 2019-nCoV outbreak concept.The 2019-nCoV outbreak that originated in China has spread worldwide, including to India which researchers in Germany have named the country seventeenth most at-risk of importing 2019-nCoV cases.

At the time of writing, 40,651 confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV have been reported. 36,191 people are currently infected, with 3,550 having recovered and/or been discharged. 910 deaths due to the 2019-nCoV outbreak have been reported. The death toll has exceeded that of previous outbreaks of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). 

The disease is spreading largely through international travel, researchers from Humboldt University and the Robert Koch Institute have said. They analysed air traffic patterns of 4,000 airports worldwide, sharing more than 25,000 direct connections. It identified a relative import risk for 2019-nCoV of 0.219 percent for India, the ‘relative import risk’ referring to the percentage of people travelling to another country from the affected area. 

Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi was identified as the country’s most at-risk airport, with a relative import risk of 0.066 percent. Indira Gandhi International Airport was followed by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport in Mumbai (0.034 percent); Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport in Kolkata (0.02 percent); Kempegowda International Airport in Bengaluru (0.018 percent); Chennai International Airport in Chennai (0.015 percent); Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in Hyderabad (0.01 percent); and Kochi International Airport (0.007 percent). 

“The spread of the virus on an international scale is dominated by air travel,” the researchers cautioned. “The busier a flight route, the more probable it is that an infected passenger travels this route. “Using these probabilistic concepts, we calculate the relative import risk to other airports. When calculating the import risk, we also take into account connecting flights and travel routes that involve multiple destinations.” 

Wuhan, capital city of China’s Hubei province, served as the epicentre of the 2019-nCoV outbreak. “Wuhan…was the relevant major domestic air transportation hub with many connecting international flights before the city was effectively quarantined on January 23, 2020, and the Wuhan airport was closed,” the researchers said. “By then the virus had already spread to other Chinese provinces as well as other countries.” 

Screening efforts are underway at Indian airports as a means of combating the 2019-nCoV outbreak. Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan has confirmed that more than 1.97 lakh passengers from across 1,818 flights have been screened for 2019-nCoV. At the end of January, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare reported that screening for 2019-nCoV was underway at airports in Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Bagdogra, Bengaluru, Bhubaneswar, Chennai, Coimbatore, Delhi, Gaya, Goa, Guwahati, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Kolkata, Lucknow, Mumbai, Trichy, Trivandrum, Varanasi, and Vizag. 

Three cases of 2019-nCoV have been confirmed in India. All cases were reported in the state of Kerala and all of them students who had been repatriated to India after studying in Wuhan. No other confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV have been reported in India at the time of writing and the three confirmed 2019-n-CoV patients are “have been isolated and [are] reported to be clinically stable”, Vardhan said in a series of tweets concerning the 2019-nCoV outbreak. 

“Regular monitoring of all cases coming from China in the country and people who have contact with such people and who have fever and cough, has been started,” he said. “At this time 9,452 passengers are being monitored in the country.”

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