An outbreak of novel coronavirus (nCoV) in Wuhan, China, which has also spread to Thailand and Japan, has stoked fear across the world. 

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).
  • It has not been previously identified in humans. It is transmitted between animals and humans.
  • Coronavirus seems more contagious as each person with it appears to infect 2.2 other people, on average.
  • Coronavirus is most dangerous to people who are older than 65, or have chronic illnesses or a weak immune system. 
  • Symptoms: The first symptoms, fever and cough, are similar to that of the flu, so the diseases can be hard to tell apart without a test to identify the virus. Pneumonia is common among coronavirus patients, even among those whose cases are not severe.
  • Treatment: There is no approved antiviral drug for the coronavirus, though several are being tested. 

It has also been declared as Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) by WHO.


Procedure for declaring a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC)

  • The term Public Health Emergency of International Concern is defined in The International Health Regulations,2005 as “an extraordinary event which is determined 
    • To constitute a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease.
    • To potentially require a coordinated international response. 
  • The responsibility of determining whether an event is within this category lies with the WHO Director-General and requires the convening of a committee of experts the International Health Regulations (IHR) Emergency Committee.



Implications of declaring PHEIC

  • It gives the WHO’s Emergency Committee the authority to recommend travel advisories for cities, regions, and countries.It may lead to restrictions on travel and trade.
  • It encourages nations to cooperate as much as possible by coordinating personnel, funds and other resources, with the WHO at the helm.
  • The declaration serves notice to all United Nations member states that the world’s top health advisory body thinks the situation is serious.
  • While the recommendations aren’t enforceable, there’s considerable pressure for countries to abide by the WHO’s advisories.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also gave an official name to the disease ‘COVID-19’

  • The “CO” stands for coronavirus, “VI” for virus and “D” for disease. The coronavirus itself is called nCoV-2019.
  • It is the seventh coronavirus in the row known to affect humans.

Process of naming of the diseases by WHO

  • The WHO, in consultation with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), has identified best practices for naming new human diseases. 
  • These best practices apply to a new disease:
    • That is an infection, syndrome, or disease of humans;
    • That has never been recognised before in humans;
    • That has potential public health impact; and
    • Where no disease name is yet established in common usage
  • Names that are assigned by the WHO may or may not be approved by the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) at a later stage


International Classification of Diseases (ICD)

  • It is managed by the WHO.
  • It provides a final standard name for each human disease according to standard guidelines. 
  • Guidelines issued by ICD are aimed at reducing the negative impact from names while balancing science, communication and policy.


As inappropriate naming of the diseases causes unintended negative impacts by stigmatising certain communities and economic sectors. So reference to the following is avoided by WHO while naming a disease

  • Geographical location(eg Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, Spanish Flu, Japanese encephalitis)
  • People’s names (eg Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Chagas disease)
  • The species or class of animal or food (eg swine flu, monkeypox etc.),
  • Cultural or occupational references (eg miners, butchers, cooks, nurses etc.) 
  • Terms that incite undue fear such as death, fatal and epidemic.
  • Term “severe”if  diseases does not have a very high initial case fatality rate


About Integrated Disease Surveillance Program (IDSP),India

  • 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