Several metropolitan cities across the world have been locked down; Multinational Companies — including Amazon and Facebook — have asked employees to work from home; the international routes are tightly monitored. The novel coronavirus, now known as COVID-19, that is believed to have started from Huanan seafood market of Wuhan city of China’s Hubei province has spread to at least ninety countries and an international conveyance — scaring billions of citizens. 

The people at regional epicenters describe what they see as “post-apocalyptic” or “a science-fiction movie”. The virus has infected at least 95,000 people around the world with over 3,300 deaths so far. A vast majority of them are confined to mainland China.

What is it?

Coronaviruses (COVID-19) is a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). COVID-19 was first reported in December 2019.

Detailed investigations revealed that the zoonotic virus, meaning that they are transmitted between animals and people, SARS-CoV was transmitted from civet cats to humans and MERS-CoV from dromedary camels to humans. Several known coronaviruses happen to be circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans. But for the strain that has affected humans, thousands have fallen prey to the virus.

Many of the cases in India bear some link to a group of travelers from Italy, the hardest-hit country in Europe in this time of the outbreak. In a precautionary step, the government has taken to screening all passengers arriving in the country for coronavirus.

National Health Commission, China, has confirmed its human-to-human transmission.  

In a latest development, scientists in China have detected two main coronavirus strains affecting humans. The preliminary study has found that a more aggressive strain of the new coronavirus associated with the outbreak in Wuhan accounted for about 70 percent of analysed cases, while 30 percent were linked to a less aggressive type.

However, other researchers cautioned that their study looked only at a limited range of data, and said follow-up studies of larger data sets were needed to better understand the virus’s evolution.

Where has it reached in Kashmir?

India isn’t spared either; at least thirty-one cases have been tested positive for the virus. Hundreds are under screening, including seven in Jammu and Kashmir (J-K), for showing COVID-19 like symptoms. The patients exhibiting the symptoms have been quarantined at Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) in Srinagar on Wednesday. 

In-charge Medical Superintendent of SKIMS, Ghulam Hassan Yatoo said that four quarantined male patients who reported to the hospital in Srinagar, had traveled from Thailand, Iran, and China. Out of the four patients, two have been tested negative and the blood samples of the two others have been sent to National Institute of Virology in Pune.

However, contrary to the local administration’s claims of taking precautionary measures, over seventy tourists with travel history to China, Japan, and South Korea, have arrived in the Valley without any screening in the past two months. The Hindu has anonymously quoted a senior official claiming that 50 per cent of the foreign tourists who visited Kashmir from January to March (around 30) were of Chinese origin. 

The number excludes students and traders who traveled to these countries and returned in the past two months.  

Although no positive cases of coronavirus have been reported in Kashmir, hospitals have been advised to ensure that their staff is adequately trained and prepared to deal with the epidemic. J-K has stepped up preparations in order to identify the symptoms and deal promptly with the emerging infection of coronavirus.

The government has been issuing advisories to inform people of the precautionary measures and symptoms associated with the viral outbreak. Additional trained staff has been deployed for screening at the Srinagar Airport and an isolation center has been set-up at Sanat Nagar so that suspected cases are directly taken to the facility instead of a tertiary care center.

There are more worrying aspects of a pandemic outbreak in India — its huge population of 1.4 billion people. 

Indian Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, said that the government is preparing a “containment plan” for the city of Agra where a cluster of cases has been identified. 

He also added that efforts are on to bring back Indians stranded in Iran, he informed the Parliament today.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday announced that he will not attend next week’s Holi celebrations to avoid promotion of mass gatherings. In the wake of the epidemic, festivities at the presidential palace have also been canceled.

The government of J-K gave front-page advertisements asking people to avoid large gatherings; meanwhile, Gulmarg is hosting Khelo India Winter Games, with about 900 participants. Many have been asking for its cancellation but the government paid no heed.

What are the precautions to take? 

Although no vaccine has been formulated for the virus, till one is founded, believe in: precaution is better than cure.

•  Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Maintain at least three feet distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.

•  Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

•  Stay home when you are sick.

•  Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then dispose of the tissue safely.

•  Clean and disinfect frequently-touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.

•  Wearing a mask is not necessary unless you are taking care of an infected person. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) does recommend that only infected people wear masks to prevent the spread of the virus.

•  Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least twenty seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.

•  If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser with at least 60 percent alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water when your hands are visibly dirty.

•  If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention immediately.

•  Keep in mind the travel advisory set out by the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

Kavya Dubey is a Reporting Fellow at The Kashmir Walla.

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