Following the outbreak of Coronavirus – a SARS-like virus, which has claimed 17 lives already, with about 557 cases reported in China, the Chinese government has placed on hold all festivities earlier scheduled to celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year.
Although report of the Emergency Committee convened by the World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General under the International Health Regulations (IHR) (2005) indicated that Coronavirus is not yet a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), but it also revealed that there are confirmed cases in the Republic of Korea, Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, France, Australia, Malaysia, Nepal, Canada and the United States.
While WHO’s experts are working in collaboration with the Chinese government to contain the spread of the novel virus disease suspected to emanate from an animal, report from the AFP has it that the Chinese government has quarantined cities and shut major tourist attractions from Disneyland to the Forbidden City and a section of the Great Wall as it struggles to stop the spread of the disease.
Obviously these drastic measures to contain the disease would have spelt disappointment for the 1.4 billion citizens of the People’s Republic of China, as they would have anticipated the usual pomp and pageantry that comes with the Lunar New Year holiday, which officially started Friday.
Some of the critical measures taken to stop the spread of the diseases are: the closure of the epicentre of the outbreak, which is the provincial capital Wuhan, the biggest city, where the government has halted all travel out of the Yangtze River metropolis of 11 million.
Also, similar quarantine measures are being taken in the other, smaller cities. These include strict controls on weddings and funerals, temperature screening of people as they arrive and the suspension of online taxi services, revealed by AFP.
In addition to this, Wuhan and Beijing have cancelled public events that usually attract hundreds of thousands of people to temples during the New Year holiday, while Gao Fu, head of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, has all citizens to forego New Year gatherings and confine themselves at home until all is clear.
Meanwhile, as the WHO Emergency Committee brainstormed on the best approach to nip the virus spread in the bud, it found critical elements that require urgency such as human-to-human transmission occurring and a preliminary R0 estimate of 1.4-2.5 was presented. It also noted that amplification occurred in one healthcare facility. Of confirmed cases, 25 percent were reported to be severe. The source is still unknown (most likely an animal reservoir) and the extent of human-to-human transmission is still not clear.
The Committee urged to support ongoing efforts through a WHO international multidisciplinary mission, including national experts. The mission would review and support efforts to investigate the animal source of the outbreak, the extent of human-to-human transmission, the screening efforts in other provinces of China, the enhancement of surveillance for severe acute respiratory infections in these regions, and to reinforce containment and mitigation measures. A mission would provide information to the international community to aid in understanding of the situation and its potential public health impact.
The Committee’s further recommendations read in part: “WHO should continue to provide all necessary technical and operational support to respond to this outbreak, including with its extensive networks of partners and collaborating institutions, to implement a comprehensive risk communication strategy, and to allow for the advancement of research and scientific developments in relation to this novel Coronavirus.
“In the face of an evolving epidemiological situation and the restrictive binary nature of declaring a PHEIC or not, WHO should consider a more nuanced system, which would allow an intermediate level of alert. Such a system would better reflect the severity of an outbreak, its impact, and the required measures, and would facilitate improved international coordination, including research efforts for developing medical counter measures”.
The Chinese government has also been urged to provide more information on cross-government risk management measures, including crisis management systems at national, provincial, and city levels, and other domestic measures.
The government is also required to enhance rational public health measures for containment and mitigation of the current outbreak; as well as enhance surveillance and active case finding across China, particularly during the Chinese New Year celebration.