Updated: Mar 4
The coronavirus outbreak, centered in China, keeps evolving at a dizzying speed. With the case toll rising steeply (reaching over 82,000 on February 27), face masks flying off store shelves, and businesses, cruise ships, and entire cities upended by the virus, it’s no wonder questions and fears are swirling about Covid-19, as the disease is known.
What is Coronavirus and its symptoms?
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that typically attack the respiratory system. The name comes from the Latin word corona, for crown, and the ancient Greek korōnè, meaning garland or wreath, because of the spiky fringe encircling these viruses. Most coronaviruses infect animals, such as bats, cats, and birds. Only seven, including Covid-19, SARS, and MERS, are known to infect humans.
Two of the seven coronaviruses that infect humans, SARS and MERS, can cause severe pneumonia and even death in 10 and more than 30 percent of cases, respectively. But the others lead to milder symptoms, like a common cold. At the moment, we know Covid-19 can cause pneumonia and that it too can kill — but while it seems to be less deadly than SARS and MERS, it’s not yet clear by precisely how much.
(a) Countries to avoid traveling to at the moment :
The Indian Health Ministry has issued its highest-level travel alerts for South Korea and China, advising Indians to avoid traveling there for the moment. The two countries currently have the most coronavirus cases: more than 78,000 in mainland China, and 1,100 in South Korea.
The IHM is also warning travellers to travel to Italy, Iran, Japan and countries as far and wide as Bahrain, Kuwait, Austria, Spain, Brazil, and Afghanistan are now reporting cases too, to “practice enhanced precautions,” since these are the countries next on the list with the highest burden of illness.
(b) How to protect yourself while traveling?
Just about every health expert has said that there’s little evidence to support the use of face masks for preventing disease in the general population. Masks are only useful if you have a respiratory infection already and want to minimise the risk of spread to others, or if you’re caring for someone who is sick or working in a hospital in direct contact with people who have respiratory illnesses. (Plus, there are reports of runs on masks and other supplies health workers need to stay safe). The best thing you can do to prevent all sorts of illnesses, Messonnier said, is “wash your hands, cover your cough, take care of yourself, and keep alert to the information that we’re providing.”
You’ll also want to protect yourself from financial losses related to travel. If you’re thinking about a trip in the coming weeks or months, make sure you’re comfortable with the cancellation policy on your tickets and consider paying extra for a flexible fare. Standard travel insurance doesn’t typically have exclusions for epidemics like Covid-19 (though you may be able to purchase an upgrade, like “cancel for any reason” insurance). Even if you’re feeling good about your individual risk right now, you might feel differently by the time your departure date rolls around.
Health officials and the public are dependent on infection control, such as washing hands, reducing contact with afflicted individuals and quarantines. Public health authorities suggest that these public health measures could make a difference in turning the tide against this coronavirus as they did with SARS.
“That’s the hope here, that it can be controlled by standard public health measures—because that’s what we’ve got,” says public health experts. “With flu we have vaccines, a couple antivirals. We don’t have those for this coronavirus.”