With the coronavirus spreading rapidly across the world, there is now an urgent need for international cooperation to formulate effective screening protocols and put in place quarantine facilities to control the deadly epidemic. The virus, which attacks the respiratory system, has spread to 24 countries, including India, claiming over 360 lives and infecting over 15,000 people, mostly in China. There are lessons to be learnt from the Chinese experience as countries beef up surveillance, treatment and prevention mechanisms. Over the years, new strains of deadly contagion have been emerging in China. The coronavirus is evolving at a dizzying speed now. So is the global response. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the outbreak as a global public health emergency. In the last few days, Russia and Singapore have sealed their borders to China while the United States has issued the highest-level travel advisory, temporarily banning foreign nationals who had recently been to China from coming in. A third confirmed case has been reported from Kerala. According to a new research conducted by the University of Hong Kong, over 75,000 people—ten times the official tally of confirmed cases—have been infected with the virus in Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak. A time lag between infection and symptom onset, delays in infected persons getting medical treatment, and the time needed to confirm cases with lab tests could affect the overall recording and reporting. The pneumonia-like symptoms of coronavirus bring back the bitter memories of the deadly outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus in China in 2002-03, claiming over 800 lives.
Though the mortality rate of the new pathogen is believed to be low compared with SARS, it is not clear whether the virus is mutating and turning more lethal as it finds new hosts. WHO has warned that the virus could spread to countries with weaker health systems that are ill-prepared to deal with it. The epidemic could expose the vulnerability of India’s overstretched healthcare setup. Given the poor state of the public healthcare system, it is essential to rope in private hospitals and registered medical practitioners to provide the necessary care. It is important for India and China, the world’s two most populous countries, to work in tandem to jointly strengthen epidemic prevention and control. With China being a major global economic player, India and other countries must find ways to minimise the impact of disruption of supply chains. According to a conservative forecast from Oxford Economics, China’s economic growth is expected to slip to 5.6% this year, from 6.1% last year, due to the impact of the virus. This would, in turn, reduce global economic growth for the year by 0.2 percentage points to an annual rate of 2.3%.