News Flash – 24 January 2020

National News



25 Indians Trapped in Wuhan; Virus Reaches Singapore, Vietnam

Indian students at College of Medicine, Wuhan University.



New Delhi: Around 25 Indian students 20 from Kerala are trapped in Wuhan after the Chinese city of 11 million was locked down to contain the spread of a new strain of a coronavirus, while 14 students interning at a hospital in Yichang, about 300km from Wuhan, planned to fly to Kolkata from Kunming airport on Thursday night or Friday morning. Two of five travellers who have returned to Mumbai from Wuhan and other parts of China have, meanwhile, been admitted to Kasturba Hospital in Chinchpokli, the city’s main isolation facility, as a precautionary measure as the virus, first reported in China, spread to Singapore and Vietnam and led to the lockdown of a second Chinese city Huanggang. It has killed 17 people and affected over 600 in different parts of the world. Officials in Mumbai said that barring a mild cold and cough, the two people admitted to hospital didn’t have any sign of the infection. A nurse from Kerala working in Saudi Arabia who the Indian government said on Thursday had contracted the new strain of a coronavirus turned out not to have been infected. Junior foreign minister V Muraleedharan retweeted a tweet from the Indian consulate general in Jeddah to correct his earlier post and said the nurse, who works at Al-Hayat Hospital in Khamis Mushait, was “suffering from MERS-CoV & not 2019-NCoV(Wuhan). We request everyone to refrain from sharing incorrect info”. MERS-CoV stands for Middle East respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus. The information about the nurse’s health came from Dr Tarik Al Azraqi, chairman, Scientific Regional Infection Control Committee, Aseer Region, Saudi Arabia.



Singapore confirmed that a 68-year-old man, who had come from Wuhan, had contracted the infection and had been isolated for treatment. His travelling companion, too, had been admitted to a hospital for treatment. In Wuhan, with airports and rail and road traffic shut down, the students have enough food to last a few days but are worried about how long their enforced isolation will last. “We are sitting in the hostel room, unsure of our future. We are scared and helpless. We need immediate help from our country,” Faisal Nazer, from Karunagapally in Kollam, a final year medical student at Wuhan University’s College of Medicine, told TOI over phone on Thursday evening. These students were advised by Chinese authorities on January 22 night to vacate the campus by 10 am (7.30 am IST) on January 23. However, they couldn’t leave as all of them had booked flight tickets from Wuhan airport and had no time to make alternative arrangements. “It is not fear of hunger that worries us at the moment. We are scared that with no air, train or bus tickets from Wuhan to other destinations in China, we are trapped with no help or support. We can’t go out as the Chinese authorities have warned us against moving out of the premises. There is constant inspection by the authorities,” Nazer said. Students generally dependent on Wuhan airport, which is closed, are trying to reach India through other nearby airports.



Ready to Deal with Chinese Virus: Hospitals


New Delhi: The new deadly coronavirus infecting people in China has no cure at present. No vaccine exists either to prevent the disease. India, therefore, is on alert to prevent the spread of the infection here from China, where it originated. In case it does spread, top doctors say, the hospitals are well-equipped to handle the situation. The virus causes flu-like symptoms, for example cold, chills and respiratory distress. Dr Randeep Guleria, the director of AIIMS, told TOI that evidence so far suggests mortality rates of the virus aren’t very high. “The government has already put in thermal scanners at airports to detect possible cases. So far, there have been none. But even if such cases are found, we have enough infrastructure and expertise to contain the spread of the disease,” he said. AIIMS, Dr Guleria said, has a cubicle where six to seven patients can be isolated for treatment. “Depending on the requirement, we can increase the capacity of isolation wards 100% or more,” he said. Ram Manohar Lohia (RML) and Safdarjung hospitals, too, have infrastructure in place to create isolation wards at short notice. Infected people may be required to be separated from other patients and the general population. Like seasonal influenza, which is quite common these days, coronavirus infection also spreads from an infected person to others through the air, by coughing and sneezing or through close personal contact. Dr Amit Suri, consultant in medicine department at RML hospital, said maintaining hand hygiene and following respiratory etiquette is important to prevent the spread of the disease.



According to Dr Rommel Tickoo, senior consultant for internal medicine at Max Saket, not many people are aware of the new infection at present. “If a case is diagnosed in India, then people may panic. We need to have plan in place to educate the public about preventive measures if such a situation arises,” he said. Last year, scientists from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) — the most important health research bodies in the country had identified 10 emerging viral infections that could pose a threat to public health in India. The list included MERS-CoV, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronaviruses, which was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and has since spread to 26 countries. The Wuhan illness, as the new infection is being described because its epicenter is in the Chinese city called Wuhan, is of the same family that caused MERS-CoV. “National Institute of Virology, Pune is developing protocols to test the infection. In the next few days, more laboratories may be equipped to test people suspected to be infected,” Dr Chand Wattal, chairman of the microbiology department at Sir Ganga Ram hospital, said. Union health secretary Preeti Sudan on Thursday said she has asked states and union territories to review hospital preparedness in terms of isolation and ventilator management of critically ill patients, identify gaps and strengthen core capacities like surveillance and laboratory support. Thermal screening is being done at the international airports of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Cochin.



Close Shave for 16


Kerala: Sixteen people, including 13 tourists (three toddlers among them), from Kannur had a narrow escape after a houseboat caught fire in Vembanad Lake in Kerala’s Alappuzha district on Thursday. The incident took place around 1:15pm. The double-decker boat named Oceana began its journey from Kumarakom around 12:30pm. When it reached near an isle in the lake, a fire broke out in the kitchen and spread to the rest of the boat. ‘Fortunately, there were sand bars near the boat and water was only five-feet deep. So, the tourists and the boat crew jumped into the waters and escaped,’ a police officer said. Cops said they suspect either a short circuit or an LPG cylinder leak in the kitchen as cause of the accident.



International News



18 Million on Virus Lockdown in China

Tourists in protective masks at Tiananmen Gate in Beijing. Beijing’s Palace Museum, also known as the Forbidden City, will be closed to tourists from Saturday, the official People’s Daily reported on Thursday. The reopening of the tourist attraction is pending further notice, the newspaper reported.



Beijing: Chinese authorities Thursday moved to lock down three cities with a combined population of more than 18 million people in an unprecedented effort to contain the deadly new virus that has sickened hundreds and spread to other parts of the world during the busy Lunar New Year travel period. The train station and airport in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, were shut down, and ferry, subway and bus service was halted. Normally bustling streets, shopping malls, restaurants and other public spaces in the city of 11 million were eerily quiet. Police checked all incoming vehicles but did not close off the roads. Authorities announced similar measures would take effect on Friday in the nearby cities of Huanggang and Ezhou. In Huanggang, theatres, internet cafes and other entertainment centres were also ordered closed. In the capital, Beijing, officials cancelled “major events” indefinitely, including traditional temple fairs that are a staple of holiday celebrations, in order to “execute epidemic prevention and control”.



Seventeen people have died in the outbreak, all of them in and around Wuhan. More than 630 have been infected, the vast majority of them in Wuhan, and many countries have begun screening travellers from China for symptoms of the virus, which can cause fever, coughing, trouble breathing and pneumonia. The open-ended lockdowns are unprecedented in size, embracing more people than New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago combined. Chinese officials have not said how long the shutdowns will last. In China, the illnesses from the newly identified coronavirus first appeared last month in Wuhan, an industrial and transportation hub in central China’s Hubei province. Other cases have been reported in the US, Japan, South Korea and Thailand. Most of the illnesses outside China involve people who were from Wuhan or had recently travelled there. Images from Wuhan showed long lines and empty shelves at supermarkets, as residents stocked up for what could be weeks of isolation. Local authorities in Wuhan demanded all residents wear masks in public places. Police, SWAT teams and paramilitary troops guarded Wuhan’s train station.

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