After the outbreak of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2002/2003(China) and the MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) (Saudi Arabia) in 2012, another coronavirus (Covid-19) was identified in China in December 2019 (in the city of Wuhan in the province of Hubei) to be the cause of an epidemic which has led to the death of some 1,700 people and infected over 70,000. (Number of Deaths – SARS: 858 MERS:774)
No vaccine has been developed so far to treat the coronaviruses which are believed to have their origin from bats (SARS) and camels (MERS) and then transmitted to human beings but no advanced scientific research has established or confirmed it. Coronaviruses are of zoonotic origin that is a disease transmitted from animals to human beings. True it is that Wuhan with its 11 million population had a large seafood and live animals wholesale market place where mammals/ birds and specially pangolins are traded and has now been destructed. However coronaviruses existed well before 2003 and despite the deaths caused, a vaccine has not been produced as against AIDS/ HIV. In the meantime, scientific research by laboratories is ongoing and will take more than a year to come to a final vaccine after much tests , trials and validation.
Despite common characteristics of the corona driven disease starting from cold, fever to dry coughs, running nose, sore throats, shortness of breaths, infection of the respiratory tubes, severe pneumonia and bronchitis leading to death, research has failed to produce the necessary vaccine though antibiotic treatment is current for the treatment of these normal diseases. Once the novel virus is latched to the respiratory system to the lungs, it becomes mortal. Supportive medical care, provision of oxygen and intake of fluids are preliminary treatment given.
The incubation period of the virus being 14 days, patients are kept in quarantine for observations and treatment. The magnitude of the infected population in China keep rising everyday and the death toll is indeed alarming with the cremation of hundreds of dead bodies every day. Quarantine, isolation, confinement in hospital wards with line of beds, treatment and death is becoming a human tragedy. The psychological pressure of an epidemic on people is hard to endure with death at your doorstep.
Bats being a reservoir of the disease, it is not farfetched to carry out a scientific research and examine the local bat population too, which each year devastate fruits (litchis, mangoes, badamiers ect.) and proceed with laboratory blood tests to detect any harmful coronavirus inherent in their organisms to avoid any occurrence of the disease. Farm animals from poultry, porcine and bovine production have to be monitored too. Coronavirus is becoming global with intercontinental air travel, tourism and migration and no country is immune from any viral disease though it does not survive in the open air and is transmitted from human to human through coughing, sneezing and by the hands. Face masks and washing of hands prevent the infected droplets to spread. The response to any outbreak is to take preventive measures following scientific research and monitoring to protect the population from any health hazards.
The Health authorities in Mauritius have quickly proceeded with the screening of passengers at the airport and port for any symptom of the virus, the upgrading of two buildings near the seaside in the north and south for quarantine purposes, and the provision of an isolation ward in a hospital to channel potential patients for observation and treatment and a stock of face masks and protective clothing for staff and patients.
China has deployed immense material, financial and human resources to contain the disease becoming pandemic by building a dedicated new hospital and other infrastructures, provision of medical facilities and supplies, medical staff, equipment for treatment as the virus infects the vulnerable groups of patients and in particular the old age persons. The city of Wuhan (11 million) is totally in quarantine and the movement of the population is restricted since the past months. Economic activities have come to a standstill and living behind closed doors and wearing face masks to go out for regular shopping of foodstuffs is becoming unbearable in this crisis situation. Having close links with China, all flights from Mauritius have been suspended and all movements to and from the continent are being monitored.
For how long the situation would continue until the disease is brought under control is yet to be awaited for. In the meantime the World Health Organization has issued recommendations to monitor the evolution of the disease worldwide.
Refs- World Health Organization New York Times BBC –Corona Virus- A Visual Guide to the outbreak /17 February 2020