As the death toll from the Novel Coronavirus in China passes 600 and total number of infections exceeds 30,000 according to China’s National Health Commission, the country mourns the loss of the Novel Coronavirus whistleblower, Dr. Li Wenliang , who fell victim to the disease that he tried to warn the medical community about, in the early days of the outbreak in Wuhan. 

The World Health Organization has urged all countries to prepare to handle the spread of the outbreak,  as news of human to human transmission fuels fear of the virus spreading internationally easily. 

The New York Times reports that confirmed cases of the disease have been detected in at least 24 other countries . So far they include India (3), the US (12), and Singapore (28),  while 41 people have tested positive on a quarantined cruise ship in Japan.

What is the 2019-nCoV  

According to the WHO, the Novel Corona virus (2019-nCoV) first struck in a cluster of pneumonia cases in December 2019 in the Wuhan region of China. It was first detected among a group of people associated with the seafood and live animal markets and spread rapidly to other people in a mass outbreak.

The origin of the virus and the exact dynamics of how it is transmitted is still being  determined. It probably originally emerged from an animal source but is now spreading from person-to-person contact. 

Scientists are still not clear about how lethal the virus is and whether it can be contained.  Like the SARS virus it appears to be moderately contagious.


Medical experts generally agree that most respiratory viruses spread from droplets  when infected people cough or sneeze, or through surfaces contaminated by the virus. Those most at risk are usually family members or healthcare workers – people caring for those infected.


From what is known so far, symptoms can range from mild to severe: fever or respiratory symptoms such as cough or shortness of breath to more severe cases such as pneumonia or kidney failure.

In January, the US Government Dept. of Health &  Human Services declared a public health emergency to help US health professionals respond to the 2019-nCoV.

Soon after, ther FDA approved the emergency use of a coronavirus diagnostic test called PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) which can identify likely infections from nasal or oral swabs. 

To date, there is no specific medication to treat the virus or no vaccine to prevent it. Infected individuals will have to manage their symptoms with supportive care from their healthcare providers and ensure that the people who care for them take necessary precautions to protect themselves.

How to Prevent 2019-nCoV from Spreading

Medical professionals recommend standard hygiene practices to protect against infection at home, and abroad if travelling.

–      Cover the mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing with a tissue or medical mask

–      Avoid close contact with those who are unwell – stay at least 1 meter (3 feet) away

–      Wash hands frequently with soap and water or alcohol based gel

–      Avoid touching the eyes, nose and mouth

–       Avoid unnecessary contact with live animals and wash hands after contact with animals (for example, stray cats and dogs, rodents, birds or bats)

–      Avoid contact with sick animals or spoiled animal products

–      Avoid raw or undercooked animal products

–      Cook meat products thoroughly before they are consumed

–      Seek medical care early if you feel unwell and share your travel history with your medical care provider.

Take similar precautions while travelling to stay healthy and safe.

Meera Kymal is the Managing Editor at India Currents and Founder/Producer at She produces multi-platform content on the South Asian diaspora through the lens of social justice,...