The world is in the grips of a growing epidemic of respiratory illness. COVID-19, as it is now known, is a variant of the common coronavirus, that belongs to the family of pathogens that cause the common cold. This virus gained in prominence at Wuhan City in China, where most of the cases have now been quarantined. However, the incubation time, when a disease carrier showed no symptoms, was large enough that many people had not gotten into quarantine before the disease spread out.
Now many people have come home to Odisha over the past month from China, Korea or Japan who were possibly infected. There have been many suspected cases now in hospitals around the state. Confirmed cases are rare though, with only one confirmed COVID-19 infection in the whole state to date. So let us discuss this disease and the effect it will have on our state in the coming days.
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 or nCov (novel coronavirus) is a member of the Coronavirus family of virus that are considered one of the causes of the common cold. It is infact a variant of the original SARS virus that emerged earlier this decade. Its origin has been pinpointed to the open meat markets of the city of Wuhan where you can find any kind of raw meat you desire.
There is a BSL-4 (biosafety level) lab of the Wuhan Institute of Virology close to the market, so it has fueled a conspiracy theory that the virus was engineered. However, there is no evidence to support it. Moreover, all evidence points to a animal borne virus that jumped to human hosts with close contact.
The disease is very infectious, with an incubation time of about a month before symptoms show up. The patients are infectious even during the incubation period. This means that people who do not show symptoms may still be carrying the virus and infecting everyone around them.
How Did It Spread So Far?
Initially, local authorities suppressed the news of a new disease emerging in Wuhan. Once a doctor managed to break the news nationally, the central government acted swiftly and quarantined the city of Wuhan. However, Wuhan is the center of manufacturing in China and an international travel hub. The disease had gotten out before it could be contained completely.
There have been cases found in Korea, Japan, Iran, Italy and the United States, mostly from tourists visiting the countries and people returning home from a visit abroad. As quarantine procedures were strictly followed, the spread of the disease has been slow but South Korea is in trouble. A local religious cult in South Korea had meetings close to Wuhan just before the quarantine came up and they have spread the virus unwittingly when they came home. Japanese response to the virus is lackluster and the disease is spreading there too.
Italy seems to have got the virus due to Chinese tourists and lax quarantine procedures.
Indonesia seems free of the virus but it’s only an illusion. There are no test kits at all over there so we do not know how much the disease has spread. This is important as Indonesia sits on the most important trade route of the world. This is also the way the disease got to Iran. And to add insult to injury, one of the vice-presidents of Iran has gotten infected with COVID-19.
With so many vectors from where disease can come into India, it’s a miracle that we are relatively untouched.
Coronavirus in Odisha
Fortunately, Odisha has been spared from the disease. Currently we have no confirmed case of COVID-19 in the state. However, 109 people have been quarantined at home for suspected infection. Seven people have been tested for the virus and all results have come negative.
It is not known how long this state of affairs will continue. As more and more people come home from abroad, the more the chances of the infection sneaking in. Airport and port employees seem specially vulnerable as they have contact from all sorts of travellers and transport crew.
Just on 21st February, one person was hospitalized with suspected Coronavirus infection in Sundargarh district. He had come back from South Korea.
The infection emerged during the Chinese New Year which includes a week long holiday. This has meant that the economic impact of this pandemic has been slow to show up. However with a lot of workforce tied up in quarantine, China’s manufacturing output has slowed down to a crawl.
This has meant that anything depending on Chinese exports is in now in trouble. This includes everything from clothing to toys to even medical supplies. Face masks are now in short supply and so are many medicines.
In today’s global market where companies have outsourced manufacturing to China, there is a real danger of supplies falling far short of demand. That means inflation and thus another recession, when we have hardly climbed out of another one. Even if the virus were to be contained, the economic effects of the disease will be far reaching.
Now is the time to focus on local manufacture and export substitution. It may be costly in the short term but it will ensure that we keep supply reliable. However, this is not a step that can be taken at the state level. There needs to be a national level effort to combat the economic effects of this pandemic so that we do not sink with the rest of the world.
Novel coronavirus (COVID-19 or 2019-nCov) is a disease that sprung up overnight and infected the biggest economic center of China. Even with efforts of the Chinese government, it still managed to escape containment and threatens the whole world. Odisha may not seem to be at risk right now but it is still vulnerable. Therefore it is imperative that the state take steps to mitigate the pandemic, if it manages to arrive here unseen. We have seen the warning signs and we should not ignore them.