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New Coronavirus Jolts The World; Death Toll Nears 1000

• NCDC Cautions Nigerians going to China                       • About 56 million people quarantined

Since the deadly new coronavirus surfaced in China the death toll has continued to swell. As at press time available data showed that more than 900 people have lost their lives as a result of the infection while the number of cases within and outside of China is now above 40,000, which is many times more than the situation during the SARS epidemic of 2002-03. PharmaTimes Editor, MORGAN NWANGUMA in this cover story does an in-depth examination of this new viral epidemic while looking at the risks and urgent precautionary measures Nigerians must observe.

AdvertisementAs China continues to battle an outbreak of pneumonia-like illness first detected in the city of Wuhan last December, the Coronavirus disease has now infected over 40,000 people and claimed more than 900 lives as at press time. World leaders and the World Health Organisation (WHO) are reacting to the impact of the dreaded disease that had sent jitters down the spines of world populations. WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is urging countries outside China to share more data on infections, saying detailed information has been provided in only 38% of cases. “Without better data, it’s very hard for us to assess how the outbreak is evolving or what impact it could have and to ensure we’re providing the most appropriate recommendations,” the Associated Press (AP) quoted him as saying.

The European Union commissioner for crisis management says the new virus that emerged in China creates a “worrisome” situation that will be discussed during a special meeting of health ministers from the 27-member bloc. Speaking recently in Brussels, Janez Lenarcic said the virus is spreading with great speed and poses a “serious danger for public health.” He added that the meeting of health ministers will take place on 13th February and will help coordinate the actions of member states. In a related development, Britain has declared the new virus from China a “serious and imminent threat to public health″ and announced new measures to combat the spread of the disease.

The Department of Health and Social Care on February 10 said it would forcibly detain infected people if necessary. It also named two British hospitals as isolation facilities for those affected by the disease. And in Nigeria, the Federal Government has taken proactive measures to contain the possibility of the disease outbreak in the country. The issuance of health advisory to the public by authorities in health is followed by the setting up of a multi-sectorial preparedness group to carry out regular epidemic intelligence gathering, enhanced surveillance at the ports of entry, intensive risk communication, strengthening laboratory capacity for testing among other assignments. Meanwhile reports have it that about 31,000 of the disease cases so far are to be found within mainland China alone. Japan and the

United States had earlier commenced the evacuation of hundreds of residents from Wuhan, the city from which the outbreak emanated. Most of all the early deaths recorded took place in Hubei, which is in a province just to the north. Wuhan is the capital of Hubei. Coronavirus is one of a group of RNA viruses that infect animals and humans, primarily the upper respiratory and gastrointestinal tract Following these, the movements of more than 56 million people in almost 20 Chinese cities, including Wuhan, have since been restricted. This is in a bid to reduce the spread of the virus especially during the recently marked Lunar New Year or spring festival (traditionally China’s busiest travel season) which was extended by a week – to lessen crowding of people. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has of course recognised the respiratory illness to be an emergency in China and has subsequently declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern while describing the global risk from the virus as extraordinary.

The big issue is the fact that experts in China have since confirmed that the new coronavirus can be spread between humans, which means it has a big possibility of transforming into a deadly epidemic. An investigative team set up by China’s National Health Commission and lead by Zhong Nanshan, to investigate the pneumonia-like virus, earlier established that the disease had been spreading from person to person while medical staffers have also been infected. Authorities had until then said that the new strain of coronavirus, which was traced by health officials to a seafood market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, was predominantly transmitted from animals to humans.

But again in spite of this, in recent days a couple of people who live hundreds of miles from Wuhan have become infected. “The current cases show there is definitely human-to-human transmission,” Zhong told Chinese state-run CCTV, adding that two people in China’s Guangdong province were infected by a family member who had recently returned from Wuhan. Zhong, who helped discover the severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus (SARS) in 2003, said the infectiousness of this virus was not as strong as SARS, but that the disease was “climbing” and suggested that the “death rate at the moment is not so representative.” Recall that more than 8,000 people were infected with SARS while 774 people were killed as a result in a pandemic that tore across Asia in 2002 and 2003. And then, a few days later, Chinese authorities came out to report that the number of cases had shot up by three times. And then the outbreak spread to Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzen, which are situated hundreds of miles from Wuhan, where the virus first showed up in December. As it is now, the virus has already cut across borders to as many as 28 countries including faraway places such as USA, Canada, Finland, UK and Australia, etc.

Because of the recently marked Lunar New Year holiday towards the end of January in China the fear was that the period would be very busy with people travelling across borders – heightening the dread of a major eruption of an epidemic. With the holidays hundreds of millions of Chinese people naturally moved about all through the country and to foreign lands. Last year the Chinese who travelled overseas by the time of the Lunar Year holiday season were approximately 7 million people. Earlier the World Health Organisation (WHO) stated that there was indication of “limited human-to-human transmission” of the new virus which increases the uncertainties concerning a wider regional outbreak of the disease. “I believe Chinese tourists will bring the virus to many other countries in Asia in the coming days, due to their overseas travels during the Lunar New Year holiday,” Professor David Hui Shu-cheong, a respiratory expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, had earlier told CNN. From the look of things however, it will be a risky business to underestimate the infections. The pneumonia broke out in last December in Wuhan, the largest city in central China and a major transportation hub and the viral infections have been said to be connected with a Wuhan seafood and wildlife market by Officials in China. This led to shutting the market on the 1st of January so as to curtail a blow-out of the disease.

By the 8th of January Chinese scientists identified the pathogen as a new strain of coronavirus which belongs to the same family with the deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). While the new virus may not show death rates like SARS, Imperial College, London in a fresh research it carried out lately strongly believes that the number of infections could very well be more than has been reported. “The detection of three cases outside China is worrying. We calculate based on flight and population data, that there is only a 1 in 574 chance that a person infected in Wuhan would travel overseas before they sought medical care. This implies there might have been over 1,700 cases in Wuhan so far,” Imperial College London’s Neil Ferguson, a disease outbreak scientist, stated while speaking with CNN some time ago.

And then, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention commenced the screening of passengers arriving from Wuhan to check for signs of the new virus at three US airports – in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. These steps were taken after related measures were applied by majority of Asian countries.

Chinese urged to boost vegetable output.                                                                                                                                                                                                                As part of the measures to check the devastating effects of the disease, the Chinese authorities have called for the production of more vegetables as the virus continues to ravage communities and even spread to other lands. China’s agriculture ministry recently advised that there be an immediate boost in vegetable production as an assurance that there would be abundant supplies as well as unwavering pricing of the products as the government and people battle the coronavirus epidemic. Farmers have therefore been encouraged by the ministry to intensify production of fast-growing vegetables, while also tasking local authorities to bring down the cost of transportation so as to guarantee market supply.

The risk for Nigeria
Experts note that Nigerians who visit Chinese cities are susceptible to contracting the deadly disease thereby standing the risk of possibly spreading it to others on returning to the country if serious procedures are not put in place at the airports and other border points.
Available data shows that approximately 120,000 Chinese visitors come into Nigeria on a yearly basis largely for the purpose of discovering business and other economic prospects in agriculture, solid mineral exploration as well as mining. For the time being, President of the China Chambers of Commerce in Nigeria, Ye Shuijin recently stated that 160 Chinese companies doing business in the country had employed over 200,000 Nigerians, with several of them now and then going to China for training and seminars.

Furthermore, it is said that about 30,000 Nigerians happen to visit different Chinese cities for business or tourism purposes each year.
It is also pertinent to note experts say that, approximately 60,000 Chinese people are living in various parts of Nigeria with a good number of them as well travelling to their home country on a regular basis at certain periods of the year like the Spring Festival holidays that just took place. As the initial cases of the coronavirus ensued China began confining the movements of her nationals just after the government and business owners scurried to close down tourists’ destinations and public transportation systems as part of control measures to halt the blow-out of the deadly disease. In China the authorities installed infrared thermometers at the airport, train stations, coach terminals and passenger piers to measure the temperature of passengers leaving the city from January 14. Experts say this measure coming bit late – 5 weeks after the outbreak of the disease when numerous numbers of passengers had left the city without screening, exposes many people to the danger of further outbreaks.

NCDC Issues public health advisory
As a way of trying to checkmate the possible spread of the virus to the country, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) recently issued a public health advisory to the Nigerian people, either travelling to China or resident at home. It informs through its website that Coronaviruses are zoonotic, implying that they are usually passed on between animals and people. It states that a novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain of the virus that has not been previously identified in humans. Some coronaviruses can be passed on from person to person, generally subsequent on coming into close contact with someone with the virus, such as in a living apartment or hospital. Several known coronaviruses are said to be in circulation only amongst animals – having not infected any humans yet.

Symptoms of the new coronavirus
A statement by the NCDC says that 2019nCoV appears to cause mild to severe respiratory symptoms like cough, cough and breathing difficulties. Existing evidence however, shows that it will not commonly end in death, especially concerning patients who have underlying ailment.

The federal government agency warns that there is no specific treatment yet available for disease triggered by the novel coronavirus adding that, nevertheless, many of the symptoms are treatable. As a result, treatment is based on the patient’s clinical condition. Furthermore, it says supportive care for infected persons have proven to be very effective.

How you can protect yourself
To reduce the risk of spread of coronavirus members of the public are advised to adhere to the following measures:

• Wash your hands regularly with soap under running water.
• Cover your mouth and nose properly with handkerchief or tissue paper when sneezing and/ or coughing. You may also cough into your elbow if a handkerchief is  not available.
• Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.
• Avoid self-medication, report to the nearest health facility when you experience any of the above-mentioned symptoms.
• Healthcare workers are always advised to observe standard infection prevention and control measures when attending to patients and take a travel history.
The NCDC concludes by saying that, “As the situation is evolving, this advisory will be updated as more information becomes available.”

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