COVID-19 - A Global Nightmare

Col Shammi Firoz, psc, G+ (Retd)

The whole world is at a state of anxiety and stress with the outbreak of the respiratory disease caused by a novel (new) coronavirus that was first reported in it’s epicenter Wuhan City of China on 31 December 2019 and that has been already detected in more than 50 countries globally. The outbreak was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020 by World Health Organization (WHO). 

The virus was named as “SARS-CoV-2” and the disease from it was named as “coronavirus disease 2019” or “COVID-19”. WHO also increased their assessment of risk of spread and the risk of impact of COVID-19 to be very high at the global level due to absence of any vaccine or medicine against it. Scientists around the globe are desperately trying to develop a vaccine but have warned that anything such vaccine is unlikely to be available for mass distribution before 2021. Director General of WHO made more specific announcement about unavailability of possible vaccine in next eighteen months.

A powerful national committee incorporating all concerned agencies

is yet to be formulated who would assess the level of threat, coordinate 

the national resources, prepare plan  and implementation strategy for an 

effective response against the possible COVID-19 epidemic

So far more than 85,000 people have been confirmed infected worldwide while approximately 3,000 people have died from COVID-19. China has already reported more than 79,000 cases of COVID-19 and 2,838 deaths to World Health Organization as of 29 February. South Korea is grappling with the largest outbreak of the virus after China having more than 3,000 confirmed cases with 17 deaths beside regular hospitalization. 

Outside China, there are more than 6,000 cases in 53 countries with 86 deaths till to date. Many countries have discouraged any non-essential travel by their citizens to the virus affected areas. A big number of airlines stopped their flights to the affected cities for unspecified time. International organizations are postponing many scheduled seminars, meetings, conferences and visits amid serious concerns about the spread of corona virus.

Corona viruses (CoV) are defined to be 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). The name coronavirus comes from the Latin word corona, meaning crown or halo because the image of the virus looks like a solar corona under an electron microscope.

A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. For example SARS-CoV was transmitted from civet cats to humans and MERS-CoV from dromedary camels to humans. Although several other known coronaviruses are circulating in animals but those have not yet infected humans.

Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death. Standard recommendations to prevent infection spread till date is a non-pharmaceutical approach that include regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs and avoiding close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.

In Bangladesh, Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) and National Influenza Centre (NIC) were arranging regular media briefing on the outbreak of COVID-19 from the beginning with a view to raise general awareness among the people in line with the guidelines provided by the WHO. Although general information related to coronavirus and precautions are provided in Bangla along with corona control room phone numbers or hotline numbers but they do not update their websites on a regular basis on the issue. 

A more comprehensive coronavirus related information and updates are needed to be provided in the websites of all important offices and establishments like Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh etc. All existing public and private hospitals and clinics should be prepared to deal with COVID-19 patients. Training and rehearsals of the healthcare personnel need to be arranged according to the guidelines given by WHO as they will have to work in close contact of the affected patients.

Government should seriously assess the airlines operations to the affected countries and further strengthen the control of the international arrivals at the land, sea and airports. Authority must cater for additional resources and facilities that might be required to identify affected people in the country and ensure quarantine in order to arrest further spread. All healthcare and disaster management related organizations must make necessary coordination with other concerned agencies for an effective response. A powerful national committee incorporating all concerned agencies is yet to be formulated who would assess the level of threat, coordinate the national resources, prepare plan and implementation strategy for an effective response against the possible COVID-19 epidemic.

COVID-19 is not SARS and it is not influenza. It is a new virus with its own characteristics. The recently published report of WHO- China Joint Mission on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) warned the whole world saying COVID-19 virus is a new pathogen that is highly contagious, can spread quickly and must be considered capable of causing enormous health, economic and societal impact in any settings. In absence of vaccination a rigorous use of non-pharmaceutical measures adapted by China to contain transmission of the COVID-19 virus in multiple settings provide vital lessons for the globe response. Their unique and unprecedented public health response reversed the escalating cases where there has been wide spread transmission of this deadly virus. 

Our neighboring countries have already identified cases of COVID-19 and reported death that would likely to increase over the period of time. Considering proximity and travel of thousands of people everyday to and from those countries it is anticipated that the virus is knocking at our door. A constant monitoring on the worldwide response, national level containment strategy to manage the COVID-19 patients, thorough pre-epidemic preparation and training and a massive campaign on the non-pharmaceutical measures are essential in order to ensure an effective sustainable response in case of any possible outbreak in Bangladesh.