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COVID-19 (Coronavirus): Facts, Fears and our Responsibility

 

Afzal Sayed Munna:

DO NOT PANIC

However, what makes me to say so? Well, I believe the more we panic the more we make mistake. Rather let’s look into some common facts that would help protect everyone. The UK has reported a total of 1400 coronavirus cases while 37,746 people have been tested and 35 people died. (BBC 15 March 2020). Total 169, 034 coronavirus cases have been reported with 6492 deaths and 76,585 recovered worldwide. It is alarming but is it really a situation where we all need to panic? Let’s know more about the virus and some common facts for our general knowledge.

Source: worldometers.info/coronavirus. 15 March 2020

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.  Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people.  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. 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 (WHO, 2020). 12 February 2020 World Health Organization’s Geneva headquarter made a press released which indicates the urgency of a global research requirement by setting priorities for COVID-19. During the meeting, more than 300 scientists and researchers participating both in person and virtually agreed on a set of global research priorities.

The meeting, hosted in collaboration with GloPID-R (the Global Research Collaboration for Infectious Disease Preparedness) brought together major research funders and over 300 scientists and researchers from a large variety of disciplines.

One thing is very uncommon here how it started and how it was spreading. The distance between china and Iran is about 4609 KM whereas the distance between china and Russia is 2853 KM. subsequently the distance between china and Italy is 7562 KM. So, by considering the fact that the virus should spread first to the closest countries than far but in this case its quite opposite. Iran and Italy are the most severe victim of this pandemic situation and Russia has not reported any major concerns yet. Is this a political propaganda?

Koontz’s thriller The Eyes of Darkness describes a killer virus named ‘Wuhan-400’ after the Chinese city it originated in — the same city where COVID-19 was first reported. Says one character in the novel: ‘They call the stuff ‘Wuhan-400′ because it was developed at their RDNA labs outside the city of Wuhan.’ Although coronavirus was first identified in Wuhan, there is not yet scientific consensus about how and where it jumped to humans. Initial theories suggested that it jumped to humans from exotic animals in a Wuhan ‘wet market.’ Others have suggested, so far without proof, that the pathogen may have escaped from the Wuhan Virology Lab, China’s only biosafety-level four facility. Other than the city of origin, however, there is little similarity between the fictional Wuhan-400 and the real coronavirus. In the Eyes of Darkness, Wuhan-400 is a bioweapon virus that has a fatality rate of 100 percent within 12 hours. The characters explain that the Chinese intended to use it ‘to wipe out a city or a country’ without the need for ‘expensive decontamination’. ‘Wuhan-400 is a perfect weapon. It afflicts only human beings. No other living creature can carry it. And like syphilis, Wuhan-400 can’t survive outside a living human body for longer than a minute, which means it can’t permanently contaminate objects or entire places the way anthrax and other virulent microorganisms can,’ one character says (Daily Mail, February 2020).

Is there something in grey or some hidden agenda that we are not aware about? How Singapore managed to control their spread? Are we going to learn from them? Or still will put our hands-on hands and keep panicking? 

Lesson from Singapore

Singapore was aggressive out of the gate and has continued to be. It was one of the first countries to impose restrictions on anyone with recent travel history to China and parts of South Korea. It has a strict hospital and home quarantine regimen for potentially infected patients and is extensively tracing anyone they may have been in contact with. The country started a text and mobile web-based software solution on February 10 through which people placed under home quarantine could report their location to the government, according to a statement Thursday from the Prime Minister’s Office. It’s now using a new serological test developed by Duke-NUS Medical School that can establish links between infected cases, which will allow authorities to map out the chain of transmission and therefore try to break it. Local researchers had earlier successfully cultured the novel virus within a week of Singapore confirming its first case (Fortune, February 2020). Officials have been preparing for an outbreak of this kind since 2003, when Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, killed 33 people in Singapore, took months to contain and battered the economy. The government upgraded medical equipment and infrastructure, built more isolation wards and created systems to map and trace the spread of infections.

After the first local transmission of the new coronavirus was reported in early February, the government quickly banned school gatherings and asked businesses to call off large events. Health authorities have tested for the virus only when there appeared to be a high probability of infection, instead promoting basic hygiene. A senior government official acknowledged this week that these steps might prove insufficient as the virus spreads worldwide, saying the government was considering “a fuller range of social distancing measures” including possible school closures and work-from-home directives. Still, a recent study by Harvard University public health researchers estimated that Singapore was detecting three times the number of COVID-19 cases as other countries, thanks to its epidemiological surveillance and contact tracing procedures. To locate anyone who might have been exposed to the virus, as many as 100 Singaporean police investigators help question patients and their close contacts. Anyone entering a major office building has his or her temperature taken by a thermal scanner or a guard with a digital thermometer, and is required to log their phone number and any recent travel to a virus-affected zone (Los Angeles Times, March 2020).

Experience from United Kingdom

Public Health England is updating their website on a daily basis and advising people to follow basic hygiene. Recommending people to self-isolate them for at least 14 days and if anyone develop symptom like cough or temperature self-isolation for 7 days. People started panicking as there is no clear action taken by the government and they started panic buying. More than 200 scientists have written to the government urging them to introduce tougher measures to tackle the spread of Covid-19. In the open letter the group of scientists argue that stronger “social distancing measures” would “dramatically” slow the rate of growth of the disease in the UK, and would spare “thousands of lives”. The group, specialising in a range of disciplines, ranging from mathematics to genetics, though no leading experts in the science of the spread of diseases, said the current measures are “insufficient” and “additional and more restrictive measures should be taken immediately”, as is happening in other countries.

On Friday, Sir Patrick suggested managing the spread of the disease so that the population gains some immunity to the disease was a part of the government strategy. This idea, known as “herd immunity”, means at-risk individuals are protected from infection because they are surrounded by people who are resistant to the disease. Rough estimates indicate that herd immunity to Covid-19 would be reached when approximately 60% of the population has had the disease. However, Professor Van Schaik from Microbiology and Infection at the University of Birmingham noted that the UK is the only country in Europe that is following what he described as its “laissez-faire attitude to the virus”. But a Department of Health and Social care spokesperson said that Sir Patrick’s comments had been misinterpreted. “Herd immunity is not part of our action plan, but is a natural by-product of an epidemic. Our aims are to save lives, protect the most vulnerable, and relieve pressure on our NHS,” he said. “We have now moved out of the contain phase and into delay, and we have experts working round the clock. Every measure that we have or will introduce will be based on the best scientific evidence. “Our awareness of the likely levels of immunity in the country over the coming months will ensure our planning and response is as accurate and effective as possible.”

So my humble request to everyone, every responsible citizen in the United Kingdom that there is no reason for extra panic while you easily can avoid this by following the Public Health England advise and guidance.

Source: NHS England, 2020

Afzal Sayed Munna (FHEA, QTLS)

Lecturer, Module Leader and CertHE Program Coordinator, University of Wales Trinity Saint David, London

afzalsayedmunna@googlemail.com