Personal hygiene, especially hand hygiene, is the best precaution against the new coronavirus and the public should avoid any unwarranted anxiety, a leading physician, who had played a multifaceted role during the 2003 Sars outbreak, told Gulf Times.
“To avoid any respiratory infection, whether it is the common cold or the novel coronavirus, practise common measures such as washing the hands often, keeping hands away from the eyes, nose and mouth, and staying away from people who are sick,” Dr Patrick Tang, division chief of Pathology Sciences at Sidra Medicine, said.
During the 2003 Sars outbreak, Dr Tang, then based in the University of Toronto, had performed many tasks including the first laboratory tests for an unknown virus, managing infected patients and to integrating large clinical datasets to better understand the virus.
“The novel coronavirus spreads primarily through respiratory droplets and secretions from infected individuals. Transmission happens from direct or close contact with people who are infectious or contact with objects and surfaces contaminated with the virus,” explained, Dr Tang.
He said that currently, people in Qatar have a very low to zero risk of acquiring this virus.
“Certainly, you should avoid travel to the affected areas in China, mainly Hubei province. You should wash your hands frequently, especially after touching surfaces such as door handles, elevator buttons and hand rails. You should avoid close contact with people who have respiratory symptoms such as coughing or sneezing,” he cautioned.
The physician described the global situation as ‘very dynamic’ and ‘continues to evolve in China and elsewhere’. He asked everyone to pay attention to the travel advisories from the Ministry of Public Health, World Health Organisation and the Communicable Disease Center.
“One unfortunate phenomenon is that the past global outbreaks like Sars or Mers has heightened an unwarranted anxiety in the public. This leads to more people unnecessarily seeking medical attention and diagnostic tests. This should be avoided as it can overwhelm the medical system and prevent or delay those who are truly ill,” he continued.
Dr Tang said that the novel coronavirus causes respiratory illness with a range of symptoms including fever, cough and shortness of breath.
“Some people may have little or no symptoms, while others may have severe illness and even fatal illness from the virus. Most of the people with severe symptoms have been over the age of 65 and it is similar to what was observed with Sars and Mers,” he noted.
According to Dr Tang, the novel coronavirus and many of its relatives, such as Sars and Mers, are found in bats. “There are hundreds of strains of viruses similar to Sars found in bats, of which a few may have mutations that allow them to cause infections in humans,” he pointed out.
Dr Tang also noted that fatality rate of the novel coronavirus is between 2 to 3% and Sars and Mers were more lethal.
“Using the old-fashioned technique of quarantine, we were able to eliminate the Sars virus in 2003 from the human population. Regarding the novel coronavirus, the questions are: how long will it take us to control it, and at what cost in terms of human life and economic loss? The epicentre of this outbreak is where we need to watch closely. If China is able to contain the outbreak, it will significantly reduce the impact to the rest of the world,” he added.
Not transmitted from mail packages
There is no evidence that new coronavirus is transmitted from mail packages from China, an official at Hamad Medical Corporation's Communicable Diseases Center has told local Arabic daily Arrayah.
People have to be careful about dealing with the information and rumours circulating about the new coronavirus, the source advised.
The public should take information only from official channel at the Ministry of Public Health that deals with the issue, as it provides details in complete transparency. If any case is spotted, the source pointed out, it will be immediately announced, but so far no case of infection in the country has been identified.
The source stressed that there are strict procedures and precautions in place to avoid the entry of the disease into the country through the checkup of the travellers from China by thermal cameras at Hamad International Airport.
Besides, there is a well-defined plan to deal with the persons suspected of being infected with the new coronavirus. The designated place to deal with such cases is HMC's Communicable Diseases Center, which is highly equipped and prepared to deal with any communicable disease, including coronavirus.