• An outbreak of novel coronavirus (nCoV) in Wuhan, China, which has also spread to Thailand and Japan, has stoked fear across the world. So far, 41 casualties including two deaths have been confirmed in China’s Wuhan City.


About the virus: 

  • Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses causing illnesses from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.
  • Common symptoms include fever, cough, and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
  • Mode of Transmission: Coronaviruses are transmitted between animals and humans. SARS-CoV was transmitted from civet cats to humans. 
    • The WHO said that some of the new cases appear not to be linked to the Wuhan seafood market believed earlier to be the centre of the outbreak.

Some experts are of the view that new virus may not be as deadly as SARS, there is still little known about it including its origin and how easily it can be transmitted between humans.

Cause of Worry for India?

  • India is not well-equipped to identify disease-carrying people at our ports of entry.
  • Symptoms are common as the ordinary cold, cough or respiratory diseases, so diagnosis is difficult.
  • Prevalence of malnourishment in masses, weak immunity to disease in India.
  • The close proximity of people due to overpopulation increases the risk of spread.
  • Poor health infrastructure in India.


Steps undertaken by India:

As per WHO update in all, 41 cases of Novel Coronavirus have been reported so far from China, including one death. As per WHO risk assessment, the risk for global spread, as of now, remains low. Various measures have been initiated by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, as a matter of abundant precaution.

  • Screening of travellers: From China at airports in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata via thermal scanners. Also, sensitisation of airports is instructed.
  • The Health Ministry has issued necessary directions to all concerned on laboratory diagnosis, surveillance, infection prevention and control (IPC) and risk communication.
  • Integrated Disease Surveillance Program (IDSP) is geared up for community surveillance and contact tracing.
  • The hospital preparedness with regard to management and infection prevention control facilities has been also reviewed during high-level meetings and advisories.

Monitoring and Review

  • Review by secretary level officers of the Health ministry pertaining to the evolving scenario, developments, and preparedness and response measures.
  • Inter-ministerial coordination
  • Inter-ministerial coordination with Civil Aviation, External Affairs, Home Ministry regarding thermal screening and sensitization of Port and Airport Health Organizations at major International Airports along with monitoring details of travellers from Wuhan City who have sought a visa to travel to India.
  • Ministry of External Affairs has also been requested to disseminate travel advisory (in local languages) to Indian Embassies in China and adjoining countries for wider circulation and passenger information.

Coordination with States/UTs

  • States/UTs have been taken onboard to review their preparedness, identify gaps and strengthen core capacities in the area of surveillance, laboratory support infection prevention & control, etc. Also, Rapid response teams of the States/UTs have been trained in management of MERS-CoV outbreak (a similarly placed virus, reported from Middle East) in the year 2014. 

Laboratory infrastructure

  • Laboratory infrastructure is fully geared up is fully geared up to test samples of nCoV, e.g. National Institute of Virology, Pune. Also, adequate stock of Personal Protection Equipment is being maintained by Medical Stores Organization.

Round-the-clock National Centre for Disease Control Call Centre (+91-11-23978046) to attend public queries. The call center will monitor the list of contacts provided by MEA.

  • Union Health Minister urged passengers who have a travel history to China since January 1, 2020 to self-report in case of experiencing  any symptoms such as fever, cough, respiratory distress, etc. 
  • Support has been assured  for screening at the border with Nepal, where a confirmed nCoV case had been reported.

The National Health Portal of India has listed a 10-step procedure to investigate an outbreak, among which some of the steps are

  •  Preparation for fieldwork 
  • Establishing the existence of an outbreak 
  • Verification of  diagnosis
  • Definition and Identification of cases
  • Communicating the findings.

Dependent Factors for investigation: 

  • Severity of the illness 
  • Number of cases reported -
  • The source
  • Mode or ease of transmission, 
  • Availability of prevention and control measures.

Integrated Disease Surveillance Program (IDSP)

The Integrated Disease Surveillance Program (IDSP) was initiated in assistance with the World bank, in the year 2004. The scheme aimed to strengthen disease surveillance for infectious diseases to detect and respond to outbreaks immediately. 


Programme Components:

  • Integration and decentralization of surveillance activities through the establishment of surveillance units at Centre, State and District level.
  • Human Resource Development – Training of State Surveillance Officers, District Surveillance Officers, Rapid Response Team and other Medical and Paramedical staff on principles of disease surveillance.
  • Use of Information Communication Technology for collection, collation, compilation, analysis and dissemination of data.
  • Strengthening of public health laboratories
  •  Inter sectoral Coordination for zoonotic disease


Way Forward :

Short Term:

  • Awareness drives to communicate with the masses about the epidemic.
  • Increased surveillance and screening at the airports.
  • Compliance with the WHO guidelines.
  • Monitoring and review of the ongoing measures.

Long Term

  • One Health approach for Integration between human and animal health.
  • Increased spending on health infrastructure in line with the National Health Policy.
  • Addressing poverty and hunger to tackle malnourishment.


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