Why in news?
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared it a global emergency, as the outbreak continues to spread outside China.
More about coronavirus
- Coronaviruses is a large family of viruses that are often the source of respiratory infections, including the common cold.
- Most of the viruses are common among animals and only a small number infect humans. Sometimes, an animal-based coronavirus mutates and successfully finds a human host.
- Rapid urbanisation that forces animals and humans into closer proximity (as in the “wet market” in Wuhan) creates a perfect petri dish from where such zoonotic outbreaks can originate
More significant is the new understanding that the virus is contagious even during incubation, that is even before a patient exhibits any symptoms. This characteristic amplifies transmissibility.
An earlier outbreak
Comparisons are being drawn the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak in 2002-03 which infected around 8,000 patients and claimed nearly 800 lives. SARS is also a zoonotic case, part of the coronavirus family with clues pointing to horseshoe bats in China as the likely source
Lessons from Kerala
- All this provides an interesting contrast with how the Kerala government dealt with the Nipah virus outbreak in May 2018. Nipah is also zoonotic and made the jump from fruit bats to humans.
- Though there were 17 deaths in India, effective quarantine measures by local authorities prevented the spread. It helped that health is a state subject.
- Had the district and State authorities not taken the initiative and only reported matters to Delhi and awaited instructions while Delhi sent teams to prepare plans, the outbreak would have taken a higher toll.
Lessons for India
There is an acute shortage of epidemiologists, microbiologists and entomologists which translates into wasteful delays in diagnostics. Given the growth potential of India’s biotech sector, it is time to put in place a robust public-private partnership model that can transform the health services sector in the country, covering disease surveillance, diagnostic kit availability and accelerated vaccine development.