ON 29 January 2020, the Government of China has officially reported that it is facing a chaotic epidemic of a viral infection named Corona Virus which has already infected over 7000 people and the number is rising. Over 300 deaths have already been reported and number is sure to rise. The WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom has made multiple emergency meetings and held press conferences urging the world to come together to avoid a global catastrophe. The spread of the virus from Wuhan city of China to the rest of the globe and its potential for disaster marks an imminent threat to humanity as a whole and sheds light on the direction the world governments are headed with their policies in the field of health and medicine. The coming days will test the efficiency and resilience of not just China to contain this disease but how the whole of humanity can join hands to fight against suffering and death.
The term Corona Virus comes from the latin word Corona, meaning crown. This Virus gets this name from the crown like appearance it shows when viewed under an electron microscope. Without going into the biological origins and complex details of viruses and what is distinguishable about coronavirus, it can be summarized in a way that Corona Virus belongs to a group of viruses that mainly infects animals but due to close contact with humans, it can mutate its genetic structure to infect human beings. Viruses are different from bacteria and are considered to be on the borderline of living and non-living organisms. Viruses can destroy living cells of animals and plants alike, including humans. The chemical name of the current Corona Virus is Ncov-2019, as the earliest case appeared in Wuhan city and Jubie Province of Mainland China. Since, December 2019, 7000 plus persons have been positively diagnosed and are fighting to recover from its adverse effects.
The origins of Corona Virus have been identified though absolute verifications are awaited from WHO and other expert technical organizations in the field of medical research, the first patient from Wuhan China, who was diagnosed as the first victim of CoronaVirus was a shop owner of a fish market. On further study of the patient, it has come to light the Wuhan Fish Market is known for its delicacy of handling snake meat. The present Coronavirus in its original forms is designed to infect and kill bats, as many snakes feed on bats, the virus must have infected the snake meat which after being handled and consumed by humans, made the genetic mutation to infect them.
After infection, the virus causes flu like symptoms and high grade fever after four to ten days of exposure. Following the incubation time period, the virus causes a severe sore throat and cough that leads to pneumonia of the lungs leading to critical medical condition which can lead to death of the patient. The worst part of this epidemic is that upon the coughing or sneezing of the patient, the virus can infect other persons nearby and the virus stays in the air for over 48 hours. Children under the age of 12 and elderly persons above the age of 50 are more likely to face fatal symptoms. Also, areas and countries that do not have highly developed medical facilities and sanitation will be unable to avoid massive infections levels that can create havoc in millions of people. It is important to point out that Wuhan city consists of a population of 11 Million and the virus has already reached other cities. According to WHO, every infected patient will infect three more. In order to prevent an outbreak, the patient is to be quarantined under WHO set standards of hospitalization. Now, the bigger question is whether this virus epidemic can be contained before it becomes a global threat or should we be prepared for the worst?
As the virus spread in Wuhan and neighboring areas, the Government of China resorted to a complete lock down of Wuhan. All flights, buses, transportation and roads were blocked. But it so happened, that this measure was taken only when over 2000 persons were already infected and many had left Wuhan city to other parts of the world and China. The people living in Wuhan describe their daily lives as horrific with streets abandoned and medical teams roaming the city with Hazmat Suits collecting evidence and looking for new victims of the virus. Blood samples and autopsy reports of the dead are being sent to medical research centers all over the world, so that a vaccine or prevention method can be devised. Life in Wuhan has come to a stand-still. In due time, it has been discovered that CoronaVirus is not confined to China anymore as cases have started emerging in other parts of the world. Following the outbreak, the United States was the first country to send special flights to China to pull out its citizens. Next in line is European Governments and Canada that are rescuing their citizens from Wuhan and Mainland China. It remains to be seen whether these measures will be able to prevent a global epidemic.
Apart from the 7000 plus people infected in China, 14 cases have emerged in Thailand, 11 in Japan, 10 in Taiwan, 12 in Hong Kong, 7 in Australia, 5 in Canada, 4 in Germany and one case in Sri lanka, confirmed of having a strain of CoronaVirus. The WHO is still trying to assess the gravity of the situation and it is possible that this virus outbreak will be declared a global health emergency prompting all governments to screen their incoming and outgoing populations from China and checking major cities for signs of flu like symptoms that resemble coronavirus. Containing the patients and preventing the spread of the infection is the only solution that is available at the time for anyone anywhere in the world.
Another facet of this crisis is that this is the third time a viral epidemic has been sourced in China. Before this, there were SARS and MERS virus which were also animal based infections that mutated to infect human beings. This is the third and the most deadly spread of such a virus, though the fatality rate of Coronavirus is less compared to SARS and MERS. This epidemic has also come at a social cost as people around the world have started fearing Chinese citizens as carrying the virus. Flights coming from China are being blocked and screened, and businesses owned by foreign companies are shutting down. Chinese nationals are being separated and targeted. Challenges like these point out that even when we, as human beings, are separated by cultures, borders and governments, yet we live in a shared world and nature does not recognize our petty differences, and that the common enemy of all men and women in the world is suffering, death and poverty. Perhaps, we are all one and times like these point out our common causes instead of our divisions. If mankind is to overcome such adverse diseases and the ensuing chaos, it can only be done by coming together and not by isolation, hopefully, time will bring glad tidings with fruits of unity and mutual humanity.
—The writer is, Chairman Jinnah Rafi Foundation, based in Lahore.