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Opinion and Editorial

KT edit: Virus spread is a global emergency

Filed on January 26, 2020 | Last updated on January 26, 2020 at 06.58 pm

Where did the snakes contract the virus from? Bats perhaps, say researchers who are racing against time to save lives.

Concerns are rising about the coronavirus strain from China and the challenge for researchers and microbiologists is to put a finger on the source to begin work on a vaccine. Vaccines themselves take years to develop. Then there are human trials that ensure their safety. But with this virus mutating, the task is Herculean. Mass production and rollout is the next step, again no easy measure. Finally, the effort is to make such a vaccine affordable and accessible to all either through government programmes or through NGOs or corporate initiatives, beginning with the most vulnerable. One study claimed snakes might have passed the Wuhan coronavirus to humans, but more research needs to go into this theory.

Where did the snakes contract the virus from? Bats perhaps, say researchers who are racing against time to save lives. Fruit bats were also thought to be the original source of the Nipah virus in India in 2018. There appears to be a common link here, something medical experts should probe further to get to the bottom of the killer disease.

Meanwhile, authorities in China have shut down cities close to the epicentre of the epidemic in Wuhan. The massive lockdown has affected life in the areas that are now deserted, resembling ghost towns as people seek treatment and line up outside hospitals. The government's response may seem reactive and delayed in some quarters but it was necessary to stop the spread of the virus. Such a quarantine of 35 million has never been done before and the authorities have moved swiftly. Whether the Chinese government moved early enough when the first suspicious case was reported in December last year can be debated once lives are saved and the virus is brought under control.

This is a global medical emergency and the World Health Organization has done well to act with caution thus far by not pressing the panic button. It has a duty now to activate its international response teams as the virus has reached the United States and other parts of Southeast Asia. This is indeed a grave situation as Chinese President Xi Jinping has said. A mutating virus on the move as people fly farther from the point of origin makes it deadlier than the ones seen in recent times. Worse, if it has spread from snakes as early research claims, it is scary what form this virus will finally take, the snake being a cold-blooded reptile.

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