This week Kerala reported its third case of coronavirus, a student of a university in Wuhan, the Chinese city at the centre of the viral outbreak that has spread globally in less than a month. The student who hails from Kasargode is out of danger, and so are the other two Kerala residents who had contracted the infection in Wuhan. The state government, however, continues to be vigilant. It has placed more than 2,000 people under observation, most of whom are under home quarantine. Another 654 people, seven of them Maldivian nationals, have been placed under quarantine at Manesar in Haryana by the Union government. On Tuesday, the foreign ministry temporarily suspended the e-visa facility for Chinese travellers to the country. It also canceled visas for Chinese and foreigners who have visited the country in the last two weeks, eliciting criticism from the Chinese ambassador to India.
The WHO has recommended against any travel or trade restriction. However, at least eight countries, including Russia, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, have imposed visa restrictions on people travelling to and from China. The US has announced a 14-day travel ban on all visitors from China, irrespective of their nationality. Public health experts, however, caution that such bans can prove counterproductive in containing viral outbreaks in the long run. They point out that in times when viruses increasingly cross national borders, travel bans could hinder sharing information, make it harder to trace the source of an affliction and fuel drug shortages — a warning that should be salutary for India, which imports more than 60 per cent of its bulk drugs from China.
According to the WHO, coronavirus belongs to a family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold and flu to SARS. The virus responsible for the current outbreak is not as lethal as the one that caused the SARS outbreak of 2002-2003 — it has a fatality rate of less than 2 per cent as compared to the SARS’s mortality rate of nearly 10 per cent. But there is a growing consensus among scientists that it’s more infectious than the pathogen that caused the 2002-2003 pandemic. A more accurate understanding of the virus will only emerge when its capacity to mutate is ascertained and knowledge about its potency across a variety of environmental conditions is shared. Sharing knowledge about the coronavirus’s different genetic strains will be critical to the global efforts to develop a vaccine against the pathogen. In a globalised world, the urgency of such preventive steps cannot be overstated. Quarantines and travel bans can, at best, be short-term responses.
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