Hubei, a landlocked province in central China, encompassed by mountains and lakes with a population of more than 60 million and its capital town is Wuhan where 11 million people live. Due to the outbreak of coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, in December last year, people from every section of the society have been suffering from a fear-psychosis.
The virus, as suspected, originated in a seafood market in Wuhan where wildlife was sold illegally including pangolins which all six species found across the globe red-listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The scales and flesh of pangolins are used as a traditional medicine in China. Immediately after the outbreak of the virus, it transmitted rapidly to other provinces and countries. In mainland China, people used masks and health workers started to clad protective suits to fight the monster.
The matter becomes so serious that a mother cannot hug her children if infected and exchange love and affection through phones. Even television anchors wear masks on-screen as preventive measures. Some currency notes were also destroyed. The Chinese government alerted the World Health Organization (WHO) about the epidemic on December 31 last year.
In the first week of February, the Chinese scientists pointed out that the fleshes of the infected animals may be the possible cause of the spread of the virus. Some researchers also said that snakes or bats may also be the source of COVID-19. Whatever may be the cause, the people around the globe worry about the rapid spread and all became sure that it was not infodemic as all the newspapers and television news channels, irrespective of language, around each corner on the earth started to cover stories on it every single day and all understood that it was purely a life-threatening epidemic. According to an official report as on Wednesday, more than 2004 people died and the number of infected people crossed 75,000.
The most worrying fact is that the COVID-19 spread up to 25 countries of various continents within a very short period of time. At least one death has been reported from Hong Kong, the Philippines, Taiwan, France and Japan.
Confirmed cases have also been found in India, Japan, Italy, Cambodia, Russia, Finland, Canada, Egypt, Nepal, Spain, Sri Lanka, Macau, Germany, France, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, the US, the UK, the UAE, Sweden, South Korea, Thailand, and Belgium.
Despite Chinese alert on December 31, the WHO took a month to declare the outbreak as a global threat emergency on January 30 while the infected number spiraled to 9,692 and the death toll increased up to 213.
In total, India tested 1,671 suspected persons and found 3 confirmed cases. All the three, hail from Kerala, recovered and kept in quarantine for 14 days after discharge. On the other hand, there were 132 passengers and 6 crewmen from India were in the Diamond Princess Cruise ship on February 17 and among them, 5 were tested positive and they are now in stable condition. The Diamond Princess Cruise ship was virus-stricken and it was put under quarantine at the Yokohama Bay in Japan. In that ship, there were 3,700 passengers and crew and among them, 355 were affected by the virus. At least 40 Americans were among the affected people.
According to a media report on February 14, Vietnam turned away two cruise ships – one of which was German ship AIDAvita – out of concerns about potentially spreading the virus and another ship headed towards Thailand.
Another cruise ship, MS Westerdam, which was harboured in Cambodia with 700 people and later among them an American woman, aged 83-years, was found positive for the virus in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
When information spread about the infectious disease the government of India immediately took several measures to reduce the risks. The Drug Controller General of India granted approval to the Indian Council of Medical Research to apply two certain medicines (lopinavir and ritonavir) in public health emergency. The Indian government evacuated 366 Indian citizens from Wuhan by a special flight on January 31 and till February 11, the Indian government evacuated 645 passengers and their health conditions have been monitored on daily basis. At 21 major international airports in India including Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Bengaluru thermal screening system has been installed to check coronavirus. Two quarantine centres were also set up in Haryana and Delhi. To curb the transmission, the government also changed the visa procedures for Chinese nationals.
Coronavirus or COVID-19 impacted heavily on Indo-China trade relationship. India is one of the bigger importers of raw materials for pharmaceutical industries, telecom instruments, electronic components, auto parts, organic chemicals and computer hardware.
Now it is a good sign that the epidemic spread is proportionately low and in this disease, the mortality rate is low than SARS.
According to some latest reports, the situation has partially improved – business establishments have been started to open from Tuesday. In China, Wang Zhonglin, the city’s communist party secretary said: “This must be taken seriously,” adding, “If a single new case is found, the district leaders will be held responsible.” His remarks were also published in Hubei provincial website. He said: “If the masses can’t mobilize, it’s impossible to fight a people’s war.”
According to China’s National Health Commission’s data, the overall spread of coronavirus has been slowing but the situation in Hubei is still severe. To stop spreading the infectious disease, the Chinese government took some stringent measures which also resulted in the outrages of some Chinese citizens. The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told in an interview in Pakistan that the outbreak of the virus “is not out of control, but it is very dangerous situation”. He also said “the risk is enormous and we need to be prepared worldwide for that”.
In press conference, the Chinese government told that the medical professionals are regularly supervising the patients and claimed that a lot of progress has been made. National Health Commission has also sent an 8-member medical team to the worst affected areas and 2500 co-medical workers are working.
To normalize the situation, the government has also taken several initiatives – simplifies the procedures for overseas farms and helps foreign businesses coping with the epidemic.
Robin Shattock, professor of London Imperial College in a television channel said a vaccine is under trial and found positive results in animals.
Now the situation is becoming normal – shops are opened, factories are slowly resuming works. Only in logistics problems are there and that too will be normalized within a few days.
(Monoj Gogoi is an environmental awareness campaigner in rural areas of Assam. He can be contacted at [email protected])