1. On China’s lead in containing coronavirus

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Science & Technology

In a remarkable turnaround, China had zero cases of novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) on March 18-20, including in Wuhan, the epicentre of the epidemic. This comes three months after the first case emerged in Wuhan. But on March 21, Guangdong province had one instance of local transmission from an imported case. As on March 22, China reported 314 imported cases.

Signing of epidemic under control

The initial signs of the epidemic beginning to wane were visible when the first makeshift hospital in Wuhan was closed in early March after all patients had recovered and there were no new admissions. Shutting down Wuhan and a few other cities on January 23 and many more in the following days placed nearly 60 million in China in lockdown. In retrospect, the drastic measure sharply reduced the chances of a rapid spread of the virus within China and onward to the rest of the world. It gave Europe and the U.S. the much needed time to take measures in preventing the virus from gaining a foothold.

Unfortunately, both Europe and the U.S. seem to have squandered that opportunity. What was once considered undoable outside China is now being played out in Italy — the entire country is locked down. Putting the rights of the community ahead of the individual, many countries have been adopting tough measures akin to China’s — restricting travel, banning mass gatherings, cancelling important events and shutting down educational institutions and entertainment in a bid to cut the transmission chain.

Even as China’s success in containing the epidemic is in the spotlight, its cover-up of the outbreak until mid-January, nearly a month after the first few cases showed up, will remain a stain hard to erase.

Source: The Hindu

2. Can vitamin C prevent or cure novel coronavirus infection?

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Science & Technology

Can vitamin C help you ward off the novel coronavirus infection? This has been one of many theories on social media since the outbreak spread globally, but the answer is no.

There is no evidence that vitamin C can prevent an infection.

Benefits of Vitamin C

Vitamin C is, however, still good for you, and can help the body’s immune system fight the virus if it does infect someone. But again, there is no evidence that it can cure a patient either.

When the body is fighting an infection, it experiences “oxidative stress”, a process that eventually leads to inflammation in cell tissue. Vitamin C not only helps cells fight oxidative stress but also helps clean up this cellular mess by producing specialised cells to mount an immune response.

Evidence against use of Vitamin C

Given that vitamin C has never been conclusively established as a cure against the common cold, which is also caused by a coronavirus, experts believe it is unlikely that vitamin C can cure or prevent a novel coronavirus infection.

Again, while vitamin C is good for the body’s immune system, too much of it can be harmful. Excessive vitamin C can be damaging to the stomach and kidneys.

Source: The Indian Express

3. How long can coronavirus ‘live’ in air, and on steel?

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Science & Technology

Scientists across the world are still learning about the novel coronavirus, and among the questions they are looking to answer is how long it can survive in different environments. A paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Tuesday has come out with new information on the longevity of the virus in the air — and on different surfaces. An understanding of how long the virus survives is crucial to understanding how contagious it could be.

Coronavirus pandemic: 3 hours in the air, but weaker

The scientists, affiliated to different laboratories in universities in the United States, found in their experiments that the SARS-CoV-2 virus could survive in air for about three hours, although its ability to infect was severely weakened during this time. Until now, the virus was believed not to be able to survive in the air. As such, there was little risk of people getting infected through the air. The fact that it does survive in the air, even for a short time, could force scientists and health officials to reassess the risk to people, especially to health workers who spend a lot of time near an infected person.

Strongest on plastic and steel

The new study also finds that plastic and stainless steel surfaces are the most conducive for the virus to survive. The virus was found to be “viable” for as long as three days on these surfaces. On cardboard surfaces, the virus could survive for up to 24 hours, while on copper, it could barely last for four hours.

The longevity on each of these surfaces has implications for the kinds of things that people can be advised to come in contact with, or avoid. For example, during times of extended isolation, or forced homestays, people are likely to interact more with cardboard boxes while getting food and other products shipped to their residence. The fact that the virus does not survive beyond 24 hours on these surfaces might reduce worries on this front.

But there is a lot more to learn

The scientists said the survivability of the SARS-CoV-2 virus on these surfaces was not drastically different from that of the SARS-CoV-1 virus, which had a similar but less deadly outbreak in mainly Asian countries in 2003. Therefore, they conclude that the reason for the much greater spread of SARS-CoV-2, as compared to the 2003 virus, “could arise from other factors (not any difference in their life spans), including high viral loads in the upper respiratory tract and the potential for persons infected with the SARS-CoV2 to shed and transmit the virus while (remaining) asymptomatic (without showing any symptoms of the disease)”.

Source: The Indian Express

4. Coronavirus: Stage by stage in a pandemic

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Science & Technology

Over the past few weeks, the country has been dreading the possibility that the novel coronavirus outbreak will move to the stage of community transmission. What is community transmission, and how does a pandemic progress to this stage?

Coronavirus: What are the stages of a pandemic?

In the first stage of a disease epidemic that eventually takes the form of a pandemic sweeping the globe, cases are imported into a country in which the infection did not originate. An infection whose spread is contained within the boundaries of one or a few countries is obviously not a pandemic. The first case of COVID-19 outside China was reported in Thailand.

The second stage is when the virus starts being transmitted locally. Local transmission means that the source of the infection is from within a particular area and the trajectory the virus has taken from one person to the next is clearly established.

The third stage is that of community transmission. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), community transmission “is evidenced by the inability to relate confirmed cases through chains of transmission for a large number of cases, or by increasing positive tests through sentinel samples (routine systematic testing of respiratory samples from established laboratories)”. In layman terms, it means that the virus is now circulating in the community, and can infect people with no history either of travel to affected areas or of contact with an infected person. If and when community transmission happens, there might arise the need for a full lockdown because in that situation it is theoretically possible for every person, regardless of where they are from and who they have been in contact with, to spread the disease.

Community transmission is usually localised; one state can record it. For example, the UK reported community transmission in Northern Ireland.

There is also a fourth stage in every pandemic. It is when the disease, COVID-19 in this case, becomes endemic in some countries. The Indian government’s containment plan takes this possibility into account. Among diseases that are currently endemic in India — meaning they occur round the year across the country — are malaria and dengue.

How does categorising an outbreak in this manner help?

The stages of a pandemic are uniform the world over. This is so because in today’s interconnected world, it is important to have a standardised phraseology that conveys the same thing to every person around the world, and helps countries prepare better.

The categorisation helps countries take specific actions that are necessary to target just that particular scenario.

For example, India imposed travel restrictions to China from very early on as the cases then were all imported from China. Later, as cases started being imported from other European countries, flight and visa restrictions were put in place for those countries. India has now shut itself to individuals coming from all countries — this is because the virus is now confirmed as circulating in at least 177 countries and territories.

However, there are also cases of local transmission — that is why large numbers of people are in government quarantine facilities, in home quarantine, or under community surveillance. The official position in India is that no community transmission has been detected, inferred from the testing of over 1,000 random samples taken since February from people who had symptoms like COVID-19, but no travel or contact history. None of them, according to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), has tested positive for novel coronavirus.

Are these stage categories watertight?

Scientific definitions are usually very precise, but classifications can also draw on informed judgment. For example, the transition from one pandemic stage to the next is something that can happen in a day, but a lone case would probably not be the basis of such a declaration.

That is also why, even though the Health Ministry had released a statement some days ago on the evidence of “community transmission” in Agra, scientists say it was not classic community transmission, but local transmission at the community level. There have to be more of these cases of infection from untraced sources for the outbreak to move on to the next stage.

However, as the number of cases increases, so also do the chances of transition to the community transmission stage. States would have different approaches to fighting the disease, and that would impact neighbouring states as well.

Worldwide, in which stage is the COVID-19 pandemic now?

The pandemic has spread to nearly every country on the planet. In most, though, it is in the stage of either imported cases or local transmission. Among the countries where community transmission seems to be operating are China, Italy, Iran, South Korea and Japan. China adopted a graded approach in dealing with the infection but the epicentre, Hubei, was in a state of complete lockdown at the peak of the infection — something that Italy has now effected in a bid to stop the virus from wreaking more havoc, given the country’s ageing population. South Korea has brought down infections with mass free testing and treatment. For imported cases, vigilance at the borders and airports suffices.

The escalation pattern in countries has differed as much as their response. Assuming that reports of the first case having occurred in November are true, China took almost a month to escalate to a stage where the outbreak became a global concern. Community transmission would like have started already.

Italy, on the other hand, took just a few days to reach that stage. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control says: “The speed with which COVID-19 can cause nationally incapacitating epidemics once transmission within the community is established, indicates that in a few weeks or even days, it is likely that similar situations to those seen in China and Italy may be seen in other EU/EEA countries or the UK.”

How long before India enters community transmission?

Nobody knows. Dr Balram Bhargava, secretary, Department of Health Research and D-G, ICMR, has said that community transmission is inevitable; other experts feel it may have already happened.

Dr Anurag Agarwal, Director, Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, said: “In India so far, we have found an explanation for every case, so there is no background community transmission yet. But we do not really know how this will pan out. There are some reports of one strain having less mortality. If indeed a milder strain has come to India, it could change the course of the epidemic. There is another theory that all the various viruses circulating in South Asia and the generally lower levels of hygiene may give us some immunity. This is an evolving phase; we have not done badly so far. But there is more to come.”

Source: The Indian Express

Take the Current Affairs Quiz based on the above News Articles by clicking on the link https://www.prepmate.in/daily-quiz/