Politics

UK and international response to coronavirus progression

International Community: Nearly 100 countries have recorded cases of the virus so far. Source: Nicolas Raymond (via Flickr)

Disclaimer: All information correct as of March 5

by Marcus Powis

Coronavirus (officially called COVID-19) spread to the United Kingdom in late January and at the time of the March 4, there have been 85 confirmed cases out of 16,659 people tested. The first case in Wales was confirmed on February 28 and a second was later confirmed on Thursday, March 5. For quite some time the public has been waiting for more information on the Government’s stance and proposed actions to prevent the spread of this new disease.

In a press conference last Tuesday, Boris Johnson, standing alongside England’s Chief Medical Officer, said it was “highly likely that we will see a growing number of UK cases.” Though the virus primarily affects older people and people with pre-existing health conditions, it is a worrying situation for many, whether that is due to their own health, or the health of loved ones. 

Based on the epidemic in China, the government stated that among the infected, some will experience no symptoms and the vast majority of those affected will exhibit a mild-to-moderate illness, similar to the seasonal flu. However, those who are severely affected may contract complications such as pneumonia and the disease can lead to death. The currently estimated mortality rate is around 3%.

The government also released its Coronavirus Action Plan last Tuesday, March 3, setting out the work being done by the government to combat the disease. The four phases of the plan are; contain, delay, research and mitigate. In Wales, as part of the contain phase, local authorities can apply to magistrates for an order to isolate, detain, or insist upon individuals to undergo a medical examination. If the risk of spreading the virus increases, Welsh Ministers would be able to grant healthcare professionals the power to detain and quarantine people at risk or suspected of having the virus, which is the current legislation in England. In a worst-case scenario, the military could be mobilised to support emergency services. 

It has been heavily stressed that people must take the time to properly wash their hands as this will aid in preventing the spread of the virus. This means to use soap and water, and wash for the length of time it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice, according to Johnson.

Speaking in the House of Commons, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that “if necessary we will use some of the actions set out in today’s plan to reduce the number of absentees and lessen the impact on our economy and supply chains. We prepare for the worst, and work for the best.” It has been stated in the action plan that it’s possible up to one in five employees may need to take time off from work, so there is a potential for a drastic impact on the economy in a worst-case scenario.

Wales’ Chief Medical Officer, Dr Frank Atherton, estimated that cases of the virus may peak in May or June. So far, 450 people have been tested for the virus and the only confirmed case was noted in Swansea (by an adult who had returned from Northern Italy) but is being treated at the Royal Free Hospital, London.

As of March 5, the government has moved towards the second phase of the coronavirus response plan, to delay the spread of the virus. This could constitute banning large events, closing schools and limiting the use of public transport. Treatment is currently to manage symptoms, support patients, and hope that their immune system can fight the virus itself. Until there’s some breakthrough, the government has stressed that proper and effective handwashing is key to prevent the spread of the virus.


How has the international community responded to the increase in cases?

by Hallum Cowell

As coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, spreads across the globe, governments have been quick to enact new policies to limit the spread of the virus. With over 900,000 cases and over 3,000 deaths worldwide and over 77 countries impacted, the virus has continued to spread past its point of origin in Wuhan, China. The World Health Organisation has declared the virus a global health emergency. So how have some of the most impacted countries tried to deal with the outbreak?

China

The COVID-19 outbreak began in China earlier this year. Back in early February new cases were reported at a rate of around 3,000 a day however those have now dropped to around 200 a day. The Chinese Government has also asked its overseas citizens to reconsider or minimise their travel plans. Mass surveillance, thermal sensors and artificial intelligence have also been used to great effect to identify and isolate those with the virus. 

Italy 

Italy is facing the worst outbreak in Europe with over 2,500 cases and 75 deaths. The virus has spread to 19 out of the 20 Italian regions. The Italian Government is also planning on banning public events and closing schools and universities until mid-March. This follows the closure of educational institutions in some of the most affected regions. The government is also urging its citizens to refrain from hugging and shaking hands. 

France

France is currently the second most infected country in Europe. The French Government has reacted quickly to the outbreak in France. It has started by regulating the price of hand sanitisers after public outcry on steep price increases. The Paris Half Marathon was also cancelled in early March and some schools in the north of France have been closed to attempt to curtail the spread. Experts point to Italy’s large elderly population, second only to Japan.  

Israel

Israel has banned groups of over 5000 from gathering across the country as well as confining anyone coming home from Germany, France, Spain, Switzerland and Austria. The ban comes after an infected student attended a football match in Tel Aviv and an infected student at a high school resulted in 2000 students becoming quarantined. Israel’s Chief Rabbi has also issued a statement saying that people should not touch or kiss Mezuzahs, a scroll inscribed with biblical verses which is hung outside homes, as people entering the house traditionally kiss the scroll. 

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia confirmed its first case of the virus on the last day of February. The Saudi Government has decided to ban foreigners from taking the pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, with the Umrah Pilgrimage also being temporarily suspended. The government department in charge of disease control in the country has also advised people not to travel to France or Germany. 

India

India was the first country outside of China to begin screening people for coronavirus as early as January 17. Indian Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said “India is thoroughly prepared to handle any situation that could emerge.” The country has already screened over 600,000 people and over 27,000 people have been placed under surveillance. India has also restricted the export of ingredients for medicine.

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