Coronavirus now affects 125 nations across the globe, and even the best prepared countries aren't ready enough

As active coronavirus cases around the world crossed over 50,000 and more than a 100,000 have been infected so far, the one lesson the world learnt the hard way was that even the countries deemed best prepared to handle a disease outbreak were still not ready enough to handle a pandemic

FP Staff March 12, 2020 18:46:50 IST
Coronavirus now affects 125 nations across the globe, and even the best prepared countries aren't ready enough
  • As active coronavirus cases around the world crossed over 50,000 and more than a 100,000 have been infected so far, the one lesson the world learnt the hard way was that even the countries deemed best prepared to handle a disease outbreak were still not ready enough to handle a pandemic

  • However, as the pandemic grips Europe and the US, it continues to ebb in China, where the first cases of COVID-19 emerged in December

  • More than 126,000 people in more than 110 countries have been infected but WHO emphasized the vast majority are in just four countries

When the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on Wednesday, the global health body also expressed concern about the "alarming levels of spread and severity" and "the alarming levels of inaction by the world."

As active coronavirus cases around the world crossed the 50,000 mark and more than 100,000 have been infected so far, the one lesson the world learnt the hard way was that even the countries deemed best prepared to handle a disease outbreak were still not ready enough to handle the pandemic made worse by rumours and fear mongering.

Researchers from the Nuclear Threat Initiative, the John Hopkins Center for Health Security, and The Economist Intelligence Unit created a Global Health Security Index to assess the health security of 195 countries and found that no country in the world was prepared to handle a pandemic.

Coronavirus now affects 125 nations across the globe and even the best prepared countries arent ready enough

Representational image. AP

"The average overall GHS Index score among all 195 countries assessed is 40.2 of a possible score of 100. Among the 60 high-income countries, the average GHS Index score is 51.9. In addition, 116 high- and middle-income countries do not score above 50," the report said.

Based on the overall Global Health Security scores, Algeria, which has an overall score of 23.6, and Iraq, which has an overall score of 25.8, are two of the "least prepared" countries for a pandemic.

And the findings are reflected in the global situation today when countries like US and Germany also failed to contain the spread of the novel virus strain despite a fair warning in advance.

In New York City, 8 million people live in close proximity with one another, and the city has one of the greatest health departments in the world. Even though the city administration's preparedness is evident, inevitable points of strain are also beginning to show.

If the epidemic were to turn dire, experts say other resources could become scarce, such as hospital beds, mechanical ventilators and even medical staff.

Across the US hospitals are generally running at or near full capacity. The county in Washington where all but one of the state’s 10 deaths have occurred is working to buy a motel to house and isolate patients. Los Angeles County on Wednesday declared a health emergency to help cope with the virus.

Moving on to Europe, the current outbreak suggests global groupings also equally failed to put up a combined defence mechanism to curtail the outbreak. Italy and the Czech Republic were among the first countries to stop flights to China, yet Italy has been hit by the worst outbreak in Europe. Italy has been asking EU for help but so far EU countries refused its plea for help with medical supplies and face masks. Now, Rome's hopes are pinned on the EU's triggering of an emergency joint procurement process that allows the EU to purchase urgent medical supplies and to distribute those resources where most-needed across the continent, even if capitals are reluctant to help each other, Politico reported.

But apart from governments' response — or the lack thereof — this was also a stress test for public behaviour. Global coverage of Italy's outbreak almost always mentions the laid back attitude of people and the fact that Italians are waking up to the seriousness of the pandemic only now.

Time reported an Italian-Chinese woman's perception of the crisis in Italy: "China didn’t allow anyone (to go to work). Everyone had to stay home. You had to ground yourself at home to reduce the risk of passing on the virus." She marveled that Milanese were still going skiing on the weekends — until the government abruptly closed all lifts — saying she has friends in Wuhan who still can’t leave their compound. "Everybody wonders how they (Italians) can be so relaxed. In our minds we think they are crazy," she said..”

South Koreans managed to design and create a test, set up a network of labs across the country and get it all to work in 17 days. But the country's preparedness came after a bitter experience as South Korea became the second hotbed of the disease after China. The so-called 'super spreader' (Patient 31) in South Korea gave the infection to close to 40 people, and triggered the country's first community spread.

The 61-year-old woman developed a fever on 10 February and attended four church services before being diagnosed with COVID-19. Despite running a fever, the woman twice refused to be tested for the coronavirus, as she had not recently traveled abroad, according to The Guardian.

Indian health officials have time and again appealed to people to self-report themselves at testing centres if they have a travel history to countries which have reported cases of COVID-19, or have come in contact with someone who has been abroad. There was a case in Jammu and Kashmir when two suspected patients even tried to break out of the quarantine facility, while another group of Italian tourists — 15 of whom tested positive — had been travelling across Rajasthan, Agra and parts of Delhi, before being put under isolation.

So far, all of India's 73 cases have been contracted directly or indirectly from foreign nations.

Even for a crisis that has brought no shortage of headlines, an official designation of "pandemic" from the WHO came only after infections spread among Hollywood stars, sports luminaries and political leaders and three months after the virus was first detected in China.

US president Donald Trump, who had downplayed the virus for days, suddenly struck a different tone, delivering a sombre Oval Office address announcing strict rules on travel from much of Europe to begin this weekend.

The State Department later issued an extraordinary warning to Americans to "reconsider travel abroad" too. Local leaders warned things would only get worse. "This will be a very difficult time," said Dr Jeff Duchin, a top public health official for the Seattle area, which has one of the biggest US outbreaks.

Across the United States, where cases now number more than 1,300, a sense of urgency was pervasive.

Nursing homes turned away visitors, schools emptied of students and workplace cubicles went vacant. A rite of spring, college basketball's March Madness, was set to proceed in empty arenas, while professional basketball won't play at all.

However, as the pandemic grips Europe and the US, it continues to ebb in China, where the first cases of COVID-19 emerged in December. It reported a record low of just 15 new cases Thursday and was cautiously monitoring new arrivals who were returning with the virus from elsewhere.

More than three-fourths of China's patients have recovered. Most people have only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, though symptoms can be severe, including pneumonia, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems.

Recovery for mild cases takes about two weeks, while more severe illness may take three to six weeks, WHO says.

More than 126,000 people in more than 110 countries have been infected. But WHO emphasised that the vast majority are in just four countries: China and South Korea — where new cases are declining — and Iran and Italy, where they are not.

"We have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action," said WHO's leader, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. "We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear."

High-profile announcements of infections made the alarms even louder. Double Oscar winner Tom Hanks said he and his wife Rita Wilson tested positive. Australian officials say the couple are in a Queensland hospital and their close contacts would have to self-quarantine.

In Italy, soccer club Juventus said defender Daniele Rugani tested positive. In Iran, the senior vice president and two other Cabinet ministers were reported to have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Italy, already under unprecedented restrictions, tightened rules even more. Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte announcing the closure of pubs, restaurants, hair salons, cafeterias and other businesses that can't ensure a meter (yard) of space between workers and customers.

"In this moment, all the world is looking at us," Conte said, as the rules brought an eerie hush to places around Italy.

Asian shares plunged Thursday, following a drop of 1,464 points of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, putting the index 20 percent below its record set last month and into fearsome territory Wall Street calls a "bear market". In India, investor wealth worth over Rs 11 lakh crore was wiped off as stocks crashed over 2900 points to the levels of 2017. Meanwhile, the rupee slid by 56 paise to a fresh 17-month low of 74.24 (provisional) against the US currency.

With inputs from agencies

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