Dhaka Courier

The threat is real

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As Covid-19, the disease associated with the 2019 novel coronavirus, spreads its tentacles, with the first cases in Bangladesh reported this week, some lessons emerged out of China, the country where it originated, in particular the province of Hubei.

The whole of Italy - a country of some 60 million people, about the same size of Hubei - has been placed under quarantine, as the government there steps up efforts to tackle a coronavirus outbreak that has affected more than 9,000 people and left 463 dead.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced late on Monday, March 9th,  that he was extending restrictions on travel from the north throughout the country. Only those who can prove a real need - whether for work, health or other limited reasons - will be allowed to travel outside the areas where they live.

"There won't be just a red zone,'' Conte told reporters referring to the restrictions already in place in northern Italy. "There will be Italy" as a protected area, he said.

Conte's announcement came as Italy announced 97 more deaths from the virus and the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) warned the threat of a global coronavirus pandemic was "very real".

More than 3,800 people had died from the coronavirus around the world and there were more than 110,000 cases confirmed, according to the WHO.

On the home front

Four people, including a woman and her two-year-old daughter, were sent to a hospital after they arrived at Dhaka airport on March 9, the day after Bangladesh confirmed its first 3 cases.

The girl was tested positive for coronavirus and had been taking treatment in Singapore, said Shahriar Sajjat, assistant health director at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.

Meanwhile, a British-Bangladeshi man, aged 60, died of coronavirus infection yesterday at a hospital in Manchester. He visited Italy over a week ago, BBC Bangla reports, quoting his son.

On Sunday, the government confirmed three cases of coronavirus. Two of them recently returned from Italy. The other person came in contact with one of them.

"We have no information on when they returned and by which airline. We are trying to find out because the other passengers, crew, and pilots of that flight need to be tested."

According to reports, a Bangladeshi citizen tested positive in the UAE. Health officials in Dhaka yesterday held several press conferences and asked people not to panic.

IEDCR Director Prof Meerjady Sabrina Flora said, "We have earlier collected blood samples of four people. They tested negative."

Since the announcement of confirmed coronavirus cases, IEDCR got 509 calls -- of which, 479 were about coronavirus.

"Eighteen people came to IEDCR in person. We collected blood samples of four," Prof Sabrina said.

Regarding the infected persons, she said two of them had fever four to seven days after coming to the country. World Health Organisation Representative in Bangladesh Dr Bardan Jung Rana said, "Having a case in Bangladesh is not a surprise... but how early the country can detect and contain them is the main concern."

All the ministries, public and private organisations as well as the general public need to act, he said.

"Public education is absolutely important at this moment," he said.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also urged people not to panic and to avoid crowded places. The PM made the call at the weekly cabinet meeting in her office, reported our sister newsagency UNB.

"Since it's a contagious virus, her directive is to avoid mass gatherings as much as possible," Ashadul Islam, secretary of Health Services Division, told a press briefing.

Health and Family Welfare Minister Zahid Maleque said the government has no plan to close schools and colleges.

The minister asked the educational institutions to increase the use of masks and sanitisers and encourage handwashing. He added that the government will take necessary steps to rein in the price of masks, handwashing soaps and sanitisers.

The minister said the government has kept 400 beds in Dhaka for treatment of coronavirus infected people while every district has 100 beds.

He also requested Bangladeshi expatriates living in different countries not to return now. Prof Meerjady Sabrina Flora, urged those, who have recently returned from abroad or are going to return, to stay at home for 14 days and stay away from other members of their families or outsiders as much as possible.

"Do not leave home for 14 days, if possible," she said, adding that if they must go out, they must wear masks regardless of the presence of symptoms of coronavirus.

In the meantime, if anybody shows any symptom, they must call the IEDCR hotlines, Prof Flora said.

Soon after Bangladesh found its first Coronavirus cases, availability of emergency items such as hand sanitizers and liquid hand washes started decreasing in the market, igniting a sudden crisis of these products driven by irrational buying.

Several pharmacies and general stores from several corners around the city and even outlets of supershops such as Shwapno, Unimart, Meena Bazar, to name a few, where the supply of these essentials found adequately stocked till Saturday – suddenly started to see a rush of buyers after the news of COVID-19 confirmation started floating around everywhere in the city on Sunday.

“We had 3 bottles of 50 ml Sepnil (Square Toiletries) sanitizers in our shop stocked from last month, and all 3 of those were immediately sold within minutes of the confirmation news went on television,” Swapan, a salesperson of a departmental store in Mohammadpur, told UNB.

At the Dhanmondi outlet of Unimart, printed notices are seen on Monday containing the request to the customers not to buy more than one bottle of hand sanitizers and three packets/bottles of liquid hand washes, which many of the customers welcomed.

“If there was no such boundary to the buyers, everyone would try to buy all the products alone. It would not be wise considering the virus could be prevented if everyone can have these essentials, so this instruction should be welcomed”, Nazma, a customer at Unimart spoke on the instruction to UNB.

Salespersons at Unimart Dhanmondi told UNB that in order to support as many customers as possible, the shop has applied a limit of 1 piece of hand sanitizer and 3 pieces of hand washing liquids to per customer.

From Sunday afternoon, people around all the corners of the city started sharing posts on social media platforms regarding the unavailability of these products. One of them, Mim, told UNB that she even searched at the Mitford market on Monday morning but did not find hand sanitizers in any shop.

As Dhaka Courier went to press this week, a total of eight people are currently being kept in isolation as they showed symptoms, whereas the number of quarantined people is four. They are being kept under centre-based quarantine, the director said.

World Health Organization (WHO) instructed to wash hands with soap and water or to use alcohol-based hand rubs/sanitizers, as hands touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses. Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to eyes, nose or mouth, from where the virus can enter into the body and can make one affected with the virus.

Turning the tide

President Xi Jinping visited China’s virus epicenter Tuesday for the first time since cases of a then-unidentified respiratory illness emerged in the city of Wuhan in December, reported the Associated Press.

The visit came as people gradually began to return to work in other parts of China while the virus spreads to most of the world, seriously impacting travel, markets and the global economy. Following China’s example, the Italian government tightened a quarantine and imposed travel restrictions around much of the country.

The disease’s spread in China cast scrutiny on Xi’s leadership, as he was conspicuously absent from the public eye during the early days of the crisis. Initial failures to react quickly were pegged on municipal and provincial-level officials who have since been replaced.

State media reported Xi arrived in the morning in Wuhan, which has been under lockdown along with several nearby cities since late January in a disease-containment measure. The city has the bulk of the country’s more than 80,000 confirmed cases, and authorities sent thousands of medical workers and built several prefabricated isolation wards to deal with its mass of COVID-19 patients.

Xi will inspect the epidemic prevention and control work and visit medical workers, community volunteers, patients and others on the front lines, state media said. Amid questions about Xi’s involvement, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang had visited Wuhan in late January.

While China still has the majority of the world’s cases, its proportion is shrinking as the epidemic expands, especially in Europe and the Middle East. The battle to halt the coronavirus has brought sweeping new restrictions, with Italy expanding a travel ban to the entire country, Israel ordering all visitors quarantined just weeks before Passover and Easter, and Spain closing all schools in and around its capital.

“Now that the virus has a foothold in so many countries, the threat of a pandemic has become very real,” said World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “The great advantage we have is the decisions we all make as governments, businesses, communities, families and individuals can influence the trajectory of this epidemic.”

As of March 10, more than 113,000 people have been infected with the virus, and more than 4,000 have died of the COVID-19 illness it causes. More than 63,000 people have already recovered. But Italy’s intensifying struggle to halt the virus’ spread emerged as a cautionary tale.

Travelers at Milan’s main train station had to show they were traveling for “proven work needs,” situations of necessity, health reasons or to return home. Ski lifts were closed after students whose classes were canceled planned trips there.

Italy’s 9,172 cases and 463 deaths are the second-most in the world. Iran has reported 237 deaths among 7,161 cases, but many experts fear the scope of the illness there is far wider than reported. South Korea reported 35 more cases Tuesday, bringing its total to 7,513 with 53 deaths.

For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, but it can progress to serious illness including pneumonia, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems. WHO says mild cases last about two weeks while patients with serious illness recover in about three to six weeks.

The number of new COVID-19 cases reported daily in mainland China has dwindled after consistently reaching the thousands just one month earlier. On Tuesday, the country recorded just 19 new cases over the previous 24 hours, its lowest total since it began reporting national figures on Jan. 20. China has registered 80,754 cases in total and 3,136 deaths.

Xi’s visit may indicate that the ruling Communist Party is feeling confident about the results of its anti-virus campaign, which shut down much of the world’s second-largest economy starting in late January.

Ying Yong, the party secretary of Hubei province where Wuhan is located, told local officials that preparations should be made for resuming business production and the safe and orderly movement of individuals, according to a Monday notice published on Hubei’s government website.

There are signs the lockdown is loosening. Jingzhou, a city in Hubei, has ordered roads and village entrances low-risk areas to be reopened to restore agricultural production.

The apparent subsiding of China’s outbreak came only after authorities there imposed massive quarantines, which are still largely in place.

Other virus-hit countries are embracing less strict, but still aggressive measures.

Israel will quarantine anyone arriving from overseas for 14 days, a decision coming barely a month before Easter and Passover.

All St. Patrick’s Day parades were canceled in Ireland, including one in Dublin that typically draws half a million to its streets.

All schools in and around Madrid will close for two weeks. The rising number of cases around Spain’s capital “imply a change for the worse,” the country’s Health Minister Salvador Illa said.

Trying to send a message of confidence in the economy, French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife walked on Paris’ Champs-Elysees avenue. “I’m shaking hands using my heart,” he said as he waved to people while keeping a 1-meter distance from passersby.

In the United States, where more than 600 infections and 26 deaths have been reported, the Grand Princess cruise ship docked in Oakland, California, for its passengers to head for a 14-day quarantine in the U.S. or their home countries. At least 21 people aboard are infected.

The economic fallout could include recessions in the U.S., euro-area and Japan, the slowest growth on record in China, and a total of $2.7 trillion in lost output—equivalent to the entire GDP of the U.K, according to a calculation by Bloomberg. After weeks of wild stock market swings, trading was stopped within ten minutes of the open on Monday after the S&P500 index that measures the stock performance of 500 large companies listed on stock exchanges in the United States, dropped 7%, triggering a built-in “circuit breaker.”

The circuit breaker mechanism kicks in when stocks fall 7% (and 13%, and again at 20%) to keep them from free-falling, and to give traders a chance to re-assess. It’s a rare occurrence that brought to mind the depths of the 2008 financial crisis. Stocks resumed trading 15 minutes after the stall, but by the end of the trading day the Dow had lost 7.8% and the S&P 500 lost 7.6%. Both are down some 19% from their record highs in February.

The anxiety in the market has been growing since at least February when fears around the coronavirus began to peak. Just weeks ago, it seemed like the impact of the virus would be limited to companies with exposure to China where business activity in factories and retail shops had shut down. Starbucks, for instance, closed all its stores in the region for a period, according to Forbes.

Now though, the virus has spread to 97 countries. And seemingly no corner of the world is safe.

  • The threat is real
  • Covid-19
  • Coronavirus
  • Vol 36
  • Issue 36
  • DhakaCourier

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