Coronavirus update 10 Feb: Death toll reaches 910, WHO experts to land in China soon and more
The Wuhan coronavirus crossed a grim milestone over the weekend. It is now responsible for more global deaths than the deadly SARS virus of 2002-2003.
The Wuhan coronavirus crossed a grim milestone over the weekend. It is now responsible for more global deaths than the deadly SARS virus of 2002-2003. Around 910 people have lost their lives and over 40,540 have been infected. SARS had claimed 774 lives before it tapered off. On Sunday, 97 deaths were reported in China, the highest tally so far.
In the midst of all this though, data released by Chinese health officials suggest that cases of infections outside Hubei (the province in which Wuhan lies) may be slowly falling. About 509 new cases of infections were reported on February 8, Saturday which is 42.9% lower than cases reported on February 3, Monday.
While these numbers may be moderately encouraging, the WHO said that Wuhan and surrounding provinces are in the middle of an 'intense outbreak’. Further, experts are claiming that the overall number of cases is very likely underreported given the strain health facilities are under. For now, steps are being taken to hasten diagnostic testing, bolster health facilities with equipment and manpower and maintain a lockdown on Chinese cities.
WHO to send a team of experts as China goes back to work after extended Lunar New Year Holidays
After some back and forth and apparent reluctance, the Chinese ambassador to the US, Cui Tiankai said experts from the WHO would be in China ‘very soon’. Dr Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the WHO, corroborated this by tweeting on Sunday night that he had seen off some experts on their way to China.
Chinese cities have been reduced to skeletons of their former selves since authorities enforced lockdowns. On Monday, the extended Lunar holidays ended and offices opened up again. Reporting from Beijing said that there was a 50% drop in train traffic and that those not wearing masks will not be permitted to enter train premises.
While travel restrictions in cities outside Hubei have been lifted a little, traffic on the streets picked up some but remained sparse. Shopkeepers and retailers are reportedly screening customer’s temperatures before letting them enter.
In Hubei, the lockdown will continue for now. Schools, movie theatres, museums and other public spaces in most cities will remain closed at least until the end of the month. People have been staying indoors and working from home if possible. Food supplies have been strained and a new report has suggested an incredible 20% rise in food prices. Some citizens have been hoarding food in their houses to avoid the outdoors which has contributed to this rise.
WHO: Foreign cases suggest ‘tip of the iceberg’ in terms of more infections
Over 350 cases of infection have been reported outside mainland China along with 2 deaths. However, those with no travel history to China have also been infected in the recent past. Dr Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the WHO, said that this was a concerning development and a spike in cases such as these could increase the number of infections to a great degree.
Currently, in China, health officials send swabs with patients’ sputum to labs to get them tested. Usually, this takes days to carry out and delays the diagnosis and treatment. The WHO had previously said that it would send 250,000 test kits around the world to help the process.
While these kits are dispatched, the Chinese government has also recommended conducting CT scans to test for lung damage, which is a symptom of the disease. While CT scans aren’t fully reliable as they won’t catch mild cases, this new step may help with the diagnosis to some extent.
Tianjin University said that it had developed a testing kit that could diagnose the infection within 15 minutes. However, the kit first needs to get approval from health authorities and pass clinical trials. The University of Cinncinati has also developed a compact lab that can be plugged into your smartphone to check for the virus in a much quicker way. The biggest challenge remains to make treatment accessible to those who need it.
For more information, read our article on Coronavirus Infection: Symptoms, Types, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention.
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