Amidst fear, apprehensions and gloom caused by coronavirus outbreak in China, National Institute of Virology’s (NIV) finding that all 20 samples have tested negative has come as a breather. NIV conducted tests on patients being treated at New Delhi’s Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital’s isolation ward.
Alarm bells rang in the corridors of power after a number of persons reporting flu-like symptoms after returning from China increased. Tough screening at airports also led to an increase in the number of people being kept under observation. The findings of Pune-based NIV has come as a relief for officials who have been facing the uphill task of organising preventive and precautionary measures across India.
Though the samples have tested negative, the concerned persons from whom samples were taken would be monitored for another three weeks. Samples were sent to NIV from various places including New Delhi, Jaipur, Mumbai, Pune and Kolkata from patients suffering from flu symptoms like cough, fever, breathing problems soon after returning from China.
NIV is part of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the Pune lab is acknowledged by World Health Organization (WHO) that collaborates with the lab for arboviruses reference and hemorrhagic fever research. All the samples collected from suspected patients of coronavirus are sent to this lab for testing.
Though all samples tested so far have been negative, the government is keeping the screening and preventive activities fully geared since the virus has spread and there is no sure-shot method of treating infected patients. Moreover, the risk of contagion is high in thickly populated areas and it will be an uphill challenge for China, which has been unable to tame the virus despite its huge infrastructure and tough government controls.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is also promoting simple preventive measures like frequent washing of hands with soap for the benefit of the public. While sneezing at public places, the nose and mouth should be covered with a tissue that should be immediately thrown away in garbage, is another simple advice that is being promoted now.
To allay fears, a 24X7 helpline has also been set up and preventive measures are being promoted on social media too. In the case of meat and eggs, a subject of intense discussion in the context of the novel coronavirus, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has called for thorough cooking. It has also been suggested that contact with wild animals and farm animals should be avoided since it is suspected that the virus spread from this source.
Regular monitoring of preventive measures and continuous review will continue even though samples have tested negative, senior officials of the ministry said. With Prime Minister Narendra Modi, health minister Harsh Vardhan and top government officials looking into updates on preventive measures, reviews are being done at the level of the health ministry with central government departments while cabinet secretary Rajiv Gauba is looking after coordination with border security agencies like Border Security Force (BSF), Sahastra Seema Bal (SSB), besides state governments. At a parallel level, the health ministry is also in touch with state health departments to ensure that all preventive measures are in place.
While the death toll has already crossed 100, the number of infections in China is said to be in several thousands. Except Tibet, all provinces of China have reported infections and the situation continues to be alarming.