What Asia can do to deal with new Coronavirus outbreak

Coronavirus is behind three severe respiratory illnesses -- SARS, MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) and avian flu.

A traveller from Wuhan, China, was treated in Thailand after being reported that she had been infected with the new strain of coronavirus called novel coronavirus. This was the first case confirmed outside China following 41 pneumonia-like cases and one death in the mainland.

The 61-year-old Chinese woman suffered from mild pneumonia, according to Thai doctors' diagnosis, the Bangkok Post reported. The patient was being treated at a hospital in Nonthaburi province and was recovering.

Researchers in China have initially discovered the new virus believed to be behind a mysterious pneumonia-like disease that has infected 59 in Wuhan, evoking memories of the SARS (Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak in 2002-2003, which claimed more than 800 lives and spread to more than 30 countries.

Facts behind the unexplained Pneumonia virus in Wuhan

MERS case
A 75-year-old Omani man (bottom) who was Thailand's first MERS case leaves Bamrasnaradura Infectious Diseases Institute in Nonthaburi province, on the outskirts of Bangkok, Thailand, July 3, 2015. Chaiwat Subprasom/ Reuters

Coronavirus (or crown-shaped virus) is the culprit behind three severe respiratory illnesses; SARS, MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) and bird flu. Such an infection is commonly found in animals such as bats, cats, and camels.

The Wuhan Health Commission stated that most of the infected patients are merchants and buyers at seafood markets. Coronavirus infection can cause breathing difficulty, fever, cough, body aches and runny nose, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned. The market has been temporarily shut down for further investigation.

The new virus is different from SARS

The Wuhan coronavirus is not as deadly as SARS as Prof. Mark Woolhouse from the University of Edinburg told BBC. "When we see a new coronavirus, we want to know how severe are the symptoms - this is more than cold-like symptoms, and that is a concern, but it is not as severe as Sars,"


Woolhouse admitted that it is too early to tell whether there is human-to-human transmission in the Wuhan outbreak. "I'm cautious rather than sceptical, it is early too tell - most coronaviruses are actually transmissible and that would be my initial concern."

How Asian countries are more prepared to tackle the epidemic

Further research is still needed to answer several questions related to the Wuhan outbreak. How was the virus transmitted? Was the market the only source of the infection? How to tackle it?

"What happened at that market that led to infection of so many people at the same time? And is that source contained—with the closing and cleaning of the market?" Marion Koopmans, DVM, Ph.D., an expert on zoonoses (animal-related infections) at Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherland, told Forbes.

China's first 'sky train' starts it operation in Chengdu
Passengers crowd at a railway station on the first day of the Chinese Mid-Autumn festival holiday in Wuhan, Hubei province, China, Reuters

Several Asian countries have taken anticipatory measures by installing temperature detectors at international airports. In Singapore, travelers coming from Wuhan must have their temperature checked based on advice from the country's Health Ministry.

In Indonesia, the Soekarno-Hatta International airport is tightening supervision for travelers arriving from China. Asian countries are seen as more prepared in dealing with such an epidemic due to the SARS experience.

Related topics : Coronavirus