In just a matter of days, Italy has reported an increasing number of cases linked to the novel coronavirus that is spreading rapidly across the globe. The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has emerged in China late in December 2019 and has so far reached 30 countries.
Italy has now reported 155 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, with three deaths. Meanwhile, other countries have issued travel warnings and stopped trains from Italy in fears of patients with the virus to enter their borders.
ITALY, BERGAMO- 22 February 2020: medical services at the airport Bergamo-Milano investigate aircraft passengers who have arrived in Italy to minimize the risk of the spread of the coronavirus epidemic. Image Credit: Grabowski Foto / Shutterstock
The Italian government announced that neither entry not exit to the Veneto and Lombardy regions is allowed without having special permission. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the government is working to control the situation and prevent a large-scale outbreak in the country.
Authorities have been ordered to strictly monitor the entrance and exit of residents, with fines imposed on violators. Further, the education sector of the country has said that classes and academic activities in the affected regions would be suspended between Feb. 24 and 29.
In abundance of precaution, Austria has stopped all trains from and to Italy after two passengers manifested coronavirus-like symptoms. At the border, officials denied entry to a train from Venice to Munich on Feb. 23 in fear that the two passengers may be infected with the deadly virus.
The country has placed about 50,000 people under quarantine in the affected regions.
Coronavirus is spreading
The World Health Organization (WHO) increases efforts to contain the virus and prevent its spread to other countries, fearing that if it infects people in a country with a poor healthcare system, it can cause devastating results.
As of writing, there are 79,152 confirmed cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), which has spiraled into a global threat. Most of the cases were reported in mainland China, particularly in the ground zero of the outbreak, Hubei Province. There are 2,470 deaths linked to the coronavirus, prompting countries to impose travel bans, quarantine millions of people, and isolating ill patients in an attempt to stem the spread of the deadly virus.
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On the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan, where more than 3,000 people where quarantined, the last passenger has left, but the risk of infection still lingers as the ship crew, and health officials are still onboard. Also, raised fears of the possibility of the virus still spreading exist as a woman who tested negative days prior has now developed coronavirus-like symptoms. She has tested positive after returning home to Tochigi prefecture north of Tokyo by train from the ship.
The health minister of Japan, Katsunobu Kato, has also apologized after 23 passengers were allowed to leave the ship without being adequately tested. He said they would trace the passengers and have them retested.
Meanwhile, four of the 32 passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship taken to Arrowe Park, Merseyside, UK, have tested positive for the coronavirus. The total number of passengers from Europe who tested positive is 13.
Hurtling into a pandemic
A pandemic, according to the WHO, a pandemic is the worldwide spread of a new disease.
Though the WHO has not declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, it had raised concern when a sudden spike in cases was reported in South Korea, Italy, and Iran.
“The window of opportunity is still there, but the window of opportunity is narrowing. We need to act quickly before it closes completely,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said.
During the first weeks of the outbreak, health officials meticulously traced all the possible contacts of every person who becomes infected with the coronavirus. Everyone with close contact with the patient will be advised to self-quarantine for 14 days and will be closely monitored for any symptoms.
However, with the number of current infections reaching 80,000, contact tracing can become impractical. If the coronavirus becomes a pandemic, a large proportion of the population across the globe will become infected. Though the term pandemic sparks fear, it pertains to how wide is the spread of the outbreak, not how fatal it is.
If stopping the spread of the virus from spreading is increasingly out of reach, public health officials and health agencies will have to move on to a new stage – to prepare for a pandemic, by strengthening the healthcare system of countries, fast-tracking treatments and vaccines for the infection, and providing care for those who are already infected.
World Health Organization (WHO). (2010). What is a pandemic?. https://www.who.int/csr/disease/swineflu/frequently_asked_questions/pandemic/en/
World Health Organization (WHO). (2020). Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Report – 34. https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200223-sitrep-34-covid-19.pdf?sfvrsn=44ff8fd3_2