The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the threat of a full-blown novel coronavirus pandemic is ‘very real’ – lending further credence to fears that a coronavirus pandemic could manifest as the foretold ‘Disease X.’ In light of the continued coronavirus outbreak in India, the Union Government is urging a number of ministries to engage in efforts to control the disease.
The WHO’s warnings come on the heels of the global death toll due to novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, crossing the 4,000 mark. Fatalities stand at 4,085 at the time of writing, whilst the number of confirmed infections stands at 115,761. Fortunately, 64,277 people have recovered from the virus – accounting for the overwhelming majority of so-called ‘closed cases’ (94 percent). The death toll accounts for the remaining six percent.
Of the 47,399 active cases, 41,610 (88 percent) are accounted for by patients in mild condition. The remaining twelve percent of cases are of patients in serious or critical conditions, translating to 5,789 patients.
In India, the coronavirus outbreak first made landfall in the state of Kerala in January. Three students tested positive for the disease after returning from Wuhan, capital city of China’s Hubei province where the global outbreak originated. All three patients subsequently recovered from the disease and no fresh cases were reported in India until in recent weeks. The number of confirmed infections has risen sharply: inclusive of the three closed cases in Kerala, the confirmed cases stand at 56 in total at the time of writing. This follows the reporting of six cases in Delhi and three in Karnataka today, as well as two in the Maharashtra city of Pune yesterday.
Evacuation of 58 Indians has been conducted from Iran, one of the countries hardest-hit by the coronavirus outbreak, by the Indian Air Force. The evacuees are to be quarantined at the Hindon Air Force Station in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh. The Indian Air Force has evacuated a total of 890 people from abroad since the beginning of the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan has appealed for co-operation between Union ministries and the Armed Forces to fight coronavirus. “Well-coordinated actions between concerned Departments, States and central ministries, [corporations] and agencies etc., for contact tracing, community surveillance, hospital management, developing and managing isolation wards, awareness [campaigns] are the key focus areas which need attention at this hour,” he said. “We have to work together to fight the threat…posed by COVID-19.”
The Union Government has appealed to twenty ministries and government departments as well as the Armed Forces and paramilitary forces to identify and prepare quarantine facilities for the containment of COVID-19. According to a government-issued press release
“[Vardhan] also urged that States/UTs [union territories] need to adhere to core capacities for disease preparedness and response like Surveillance, Laboratory Diagnosis, Hospital Preparedness, Logistic Management, Capacity Building and Risk Communication. He urged that the hospitals need to make proper arrangements for the segregation of the symptomatic patients and regular patients while visiting the health facility. He stated that apart from ensuring safety of patients visiting the hospitals, hospitals should also ensure the safety of their health workers and doctors.”
At the global level, continued vigilance is being urged by health authorities – especially given the now ‘very real’ possibility of a veritable coronavirus pandemic. In a statement by WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, he said “it’s certainly troubling that so many people and countries have been affected [by COVID-19], so quickly. Now that the virus has a foothold in so many countries, the threat of a pandemic has become very real.”
Yet Tedros also said that coronavirus “would be the first pandemic in history that could be controlled. The bottom line is: we are not at the mercy of this virus. The great advantage we have is that the decisions we all make – as governments, businesses, communities, families and individuals – can influence the trajectory of this epidemic. We need to remember that with decisive, early action, we can slow down the virus and prevent infections. Among those who are infected, most will recover.”
He went on to note that “the fundamental elements of the response are the same for all countries: emergency response mechanisms; risk communications and public engagement; case finding and contact tracing; public health measures such as hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette and social distancing; laboratory testing; treating patients and hospital readiness; infection prevention and control; and an all-of-society, all-of-government approach. There are many examples of countries demonstrating that these measures work.”
Whilst acknowledging the outbreak to be “uneven” given just four countries account for 93 percent of all cases, Tedros emphasised that “all countries must take a comprehensive blended strategy for controlling their epidemics and pushing this deadly virus back.” In the face of the coronavirus outbreak, and a potential coronavirus pandemic, it is key that the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the Union Government, as well states and union territories, continue to gear up efforts, stay vigilant, and involve stakeholders from the private and public sectors to the population itself.