Corona virus

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The novel coronavirus (2019-ncov) outbreak has caused distress globally, with China being at the center of the catastrophe. The country has taken immense public health measures to contain the spread of the infection, which is also being supported by global efforts. With three positive cases of 2019-ncov, the Indian government has been driven to take precautionary public safety measures. Institutes around the globe have also commenced working on developing therapies and vaccines for protection against 2019-ncov.

 The recent outbreak of the novel coronavirus has caused more than 45,000 cases of infections and over 1000 deaths globally, with China harbouring the most significant load. The Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) has expressed concerns over the outbreak, stating that neither the source nor the natural host of the virus is known. While progress has been made in sequencing the DNA of the virus and knowing how it is transmitted, there is still a fissure in producing a vaccine or treatment.

The WHO has declared the current 2019-ncov outbreak to be a global emergency, as the infection has spread outside China. The first human-to-human transmission has mainly occurred in Wuhan city, which is the epicentre of the outbreak. Chinese scientists have opined that the incubation period of the virus is between 1 and 14 days, and that the infected individuals can be contagious before the onset of symptoms. According to the United Nations (UN), the number of cases being detected daily is increasing as more diagnostic mechanisms are being discovered and implemented.

 Measures at ground zero

The Chinese authorities have placed the city of Wuhan under lockdown in order to curb the spreading of the infection. Public transport and vehicles plying on the road have been limited. A 1000 bed hospital complex has been built in the city to tackle the increasing load of the infection. Another hospital of 1600 beds has also commenced operations in the same city.

 Global response

The British government has announced a multi-million pounds grant to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to develop vaccines against the 2019-ncov. A British multinational pharmaceutical has also collaborated with CEPI and has announced that it will make it’s pandemic vaccine adjuvant technology available for vaccine production. The WHO has announced that it is working around the clock to prevent the spread of misinformation relating to 2019-ncov to prevent any detrimental effect on public health measures.

The US National Institute of Health (NIH), National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and other biotechnology companies are collaboratively working towards the development of vaccines against 2019-ncov. A real-time Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction (Rrt-PCR) has been developed by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to diagnose 2019-ncov. It has received the U.S Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) emergency use authorization (EUA), which has allowed CDC-qualified labs to use it. The CDC has also been uploading the genomes of the viruses which have been reported in the cases in the United States to GenBank. It has also grown the 2019-ncov in cell cultures for further studies.

 Indian scenario

Three cases of coronavirus infection have been reported in three different districts in the state of Kerala. All infected individuals are students in China. State health officials have kept over 2000 people under surveillance for possible exposure and have kept over 70 people in isolation wards across the state. The state government has also urged people returning from China to report to the health department at the earliest. Earlier, the Kerala government had deemed the 2019-ncov spread to be a “state calamity”. It has now lifted this alert as no positive cases have been detected recently.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has issued a travel advisory stating that anyone with a history of travel to China from 15th January 2019 could be quarantined. 406 people who were evacuated from Wuhan to New Delhi have been kept in quarantine, but have tested negative for the virus. The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has informed that over 5000 people are under home surveillance. The Delhi government has issued a public health advisory on 2019-ncov. A 24×7 control room has also been set-up at the Directorate General of Health Services’ (DGHS) headquarters to tend to any queries related to the virus.

 Treatment and vaccine development efforts

Researchers at Shanghai University have obtained a detailed, high-resolution crystal structure of the viral main proteinase (Mpro) of 2019-ncov. Mpro regulates the replication complex of the virus and is thus considered a beneficial drug target. The research team has also shortlisted 30 therapeutic candidates which may possess potential against 2019-ncov. These include HIV medicines such as Lopinavir, Ritonavir, Saquinavir and Carfilzomib, two respiratory syncytial virus drugs, a schizophrenia medication and an immunosuppressant. Certain Chinese medicines which may provide efficacy against the virus are also being considered. Doctors in Thailand have reported successful treatment of a 71-year-old patient using Oseltamivir, an anti-flu drug along with Lopinavir and Ritonavir. Galidesivir, which has shown efficacy against viruses like Ebola, Zika, Yellow Fever, and Marburg is also being considered as a potential for 2019-ncov treatment.

The NIH has commenced working on a vaccine, but it may take months for it to move to clinical trials. The Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-Intervac), Canada, has also requested to work on the virus to potentially develop a vaccine. A US-based biotechnology company has announced that it will be collaborating with NIH, NIAID and Vaccine Research Center (VRC) to develop a vaccine.

CEPI has announced funding to three companies to develop a new vaccine against the Wuhan strain to three American pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. Another US-based biotechnology company has partnered with a Wuhan based biotechnology company to produce a vaccine for 2019-ncov. The American company will use its Modified Vaccine Ankara-Virus Like Particles (MVA-VLP) platform to design the vaccine using sequences of genetic material from the 2019-ncov while its Chinese counterpart will assist with further development, testing and manufacturing of the vaccine, and directing Chinese authorities on its use.

 Effects of the outbreak

Researchers from the University of Hong Kong estimated that over 75,000 persons may have become infected with the virus. The nationwide mortality in China is 2.1%, as per the latest government reports. Although the infection is spreading at an alarming rate, the 2019-ncov has an overall mortality rate of 2%, which is lower than the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which had mortality rates of 10% and 34% respectively. While the treatment and vaccine developments are promising, international efforts are being aimed at creating awareness and curbing the spread of the virus. 


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Do you think the current measures being taken are sufficient to control the 2019-ncov outbreak?

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