Coronavirus in India: The quarantine facility in Manesar set up by the army for 248 people evacuated from China last month. (Express Photo: Gajendra Yadav)
Since Monday, new cases of confirmed coronavirus infection in Delhi, Hyderabad and Jaipur have led to a series of precautionary measures by government and school authorities, and panic particularly among residents of the National Capital Region. Much of the panic has been spread by alarmist messages via WhatsApp.
What actions are safe or unsafe, and what measures are necessary or unnecessary? Here is all you need to know:
What test is done for coronavirus? Are private laboratories equipped?
The first test that samples of all suspected patients are sent for is the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. If that is positive, the sample is sent to the National Institute of Virology in Pune, which is the only government laboratory currently doing genome sequencing, for final confirmation. This final confirmatory test specific for the novel coronavirus was developed virtually overnight after the emergence of the disease.
There are many viral research and diagnostic laboratories such as the ones in AIIMS, Delhi, King George's Medical University in Lucknow, Sawai Man Singh Hospital in Jaipur, National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases in Kolkata, and Indira Gandhi Government Medical College in Nagpur, where the PCR test can be done. Many private laboratories are equipped to do the tests but, because of the risk of spreading the infection and the possibility of treatment/isolation delays, it is considered better to go to designated government centres.
Can masks contain the coronavirus infection?
Masks are effective in containing the spread of infection. Any person with a history of travel to affected areas or of contact with infected persons, and showing symptoms of the disease, should use a mask. It is also important for medical staff to use masks.
For the general population, it is not essential to use masks at the current moment. In fact, masks come with their own hazards. For a person with an existing medical condition, wearing a mask may inadvertently complicate the situation. Many experts have noted that people may wear a mask incorrectly, and they can increase the risk of infection by touching their face more often.
Is it all right to send children for birthday parties and other such gatherings? Is it okay to use public transport?
Only if someone among the party’s guests or hosts has a history of exposure to an infected person, or a history of travel to a country where cases have been reported, is it advisable to avoid throwing or attending a party. The same holds for passengers on public transport. If there is no such history, there is no bar on gatherings or public transport at the current moment. At the same time, it is of paramount importance to maintain basic coughing and sneezing etiquette, and to repeatedly wash or sanitise hands.
Coronavirus in India: Workers walk with garbage bags after cleaning an isolation ward at a hospital for observing people suspected to have the coronavirus infection in Kochi, Kerala. (AP Photo)
Coronavirus in India: Are hand sanitisers effective?
They are, provided they are alcohol-based and the alcohol content is more than 60%. The US Centers for Disease Control “recommends washing hands with soap and water whenever possible because handwashing reduces the amounts of all types of germs and chemicals on hands. But if soap and water are not available, using a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol can help you avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others.” Hand-washing, though, remains the first and best step, preferably with warm water.
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Coronavirus outbreak: Is it safe to shake hands?
The virus can transmit itself via hand contact, especially if the infected person has coughed or sneezed into his own hands. As the number of people exposed to the virus goes up, and given the 14-day incubation period during which a person can stay asymptomatic but spread the disease, it may be better to use a hands-off greeting, such as a namaskar.
Is sexual contact safe?
It is, but again, it may be better not to kiss. Also, whatever the act, hand-washing remains the cardinal safety measure at all times.
Coronavirus outbreak in India: Passengers being screened at an airport. (File Photo)
How prepared is the government to tackle coronavirus?
So far, the government has not been challenged by the detection of any case of local transmission. However, if and when that happens, and the contact tracing process gets more and more complicated as the net widens, the health systems will be tested hugely. The government has already introduced travel restrictions and suspended visas from affected countries. A detailed containment plan has been shared with states.
States have been asked to identify possible isolation areas in hospitals that can accommodate larger numbers. They have been asked to augment existing isolation wards and include facilities of the Labour Department, armed forces, paramilitary forces, medical colleges and PSUs within their jurisdiction.
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How did the Delhi cases slip airport screening?
Screening of passengers from Italy started from February 26. The cases now detected had entered the day before. With large numbers coming in from across the world, airports are always a hotspot, given the fact that in the last 24 hours the virus’s footprint has expanded from 66 to 75 countries.
Coronavirus outbreak: Should you stop eating out?
Not yet. If you had to start avoiding public places, then it would have extended to schools and workplaces too. That situation has not arisen yet. Also, avoiding public places, or advising others to do so, may create unnecessary panic. In fact, even for the Noida school where the children of the Delhi patient study, officials of the National Centre for Disease Control say it is all right for children to return to school once fumigation is done and the school reopens next week.
There is a need to keep privacy concerns of patients in mind, without compromising on necessary, verified information — for example, the Noida schools have not given out the identity of the students but they have shared the fact that one parent has tested positive. It is important to refrain from spreading random social media messages, especially from perpetuating doomsday messaging.