EDITORIAL: Virus panic

KARACHI (Dawn/ANN) - Pakistan too has begun screening passengers arriving from China at the Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad airports.

Once again, a new strain of coronavirus is making headlines and spreading panic around the world. While not much is known about the infection at this stage, it is thought to have spread from an animal to people — with increasing fears of human-to-human transmission — and has similarities to the SARS outbreak of the early 2000s. It is being called by some as its “cousin virus”. 

For now, it is simply referred to as the 2019-nCoV. Like SARS, the contagious virus attacks the respiratory system and includes symptoms of the common cold in its early stages, which can then develop into bronchitis and pneumonia, or even lead to kidney failure. The elderly, children and those with weak immune systems are particularly vulnerable to its effects. 

So far, there is no known antibiotic to contain its transmission, and it is indeed spreading far and wide. The first case was recorded in December 2019 in the city of Wuhan in China. Now, within a span of a few weeks, a total of at least 17 deaths have been recorded. In China, over 570 cases have been detected, while symptoms of the virus have been found in a host of neighbouring places — Taiwan, Japan, Thailand and South Korea — and as far off as the United States, which recorded its first case on Jan 21. 

As a result, strict travel restrictions have been imposed on Wuhan and some other Chinese cities. And while the World Health Organisation has postponed its decision to declare a global health emergency, necessary precautions must be taken to curtail its spread. Airports, in particular, must remain vigilant, even if it results in some inconvenience and increased air traffic in arrivals and departures, with millions of people expected to travel for the Lunar New Year holidays over the weekend.

Like other countries around the world, Pakistan too has begun screening passengers arriving from China at the Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad airports, while hospitals have been notified and instructed to pay close attention to symptoms of cold, cough, fever or pneumonia in patients who have recently returned from China. 

Pakistan already has a host of viruses to battle against, ranging from the polio to the Congo virus. With its strained healthcare system; it cannot afford new infections. Many Chinese citizens live in Pakistan, and while one cannot endorse unnecessary fear and panic that quickly turns into xenophobia for some, the state must remain vigilant.

Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2020

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