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Indian Express Explained 22nd March, 2020

1. Understanding ‘community spread’ of coronavirus— what is it, what does it entail?

  • The government is yet to confirm community transmission of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), but experts feel that an announcement is now only a question of when, not if.
  • The World Health Organisation (WHO) says community transmission “is evidenced by the inability to relate confirmed cases through chains of transmission for a large number of cases, or by increasing positive tests through sentinel samples (routine systematic testing of respiratory samples from established laboratories)”.
  • In the simplest terms, community spread is when you do not know the source of the infection — you are unable to trace it back to someone who has travelled in an affected area overseas, or got it through contact with someone who is infected.
  • Community spread implies that the virus is now circulating in the community, and can infect people with no history — either of travel to affected areas, or of contact with the infected person.
  • In a situation of community transmission, it is theoretically possible for every person regardless of where they are from or whether they have been in contact, to spread the infection.
  • There have been a few cases in which the contact tracing has not been conclusive. Those cases serve as evidence that the infection could have reached the stage of community spread
  • It is also important to remember that testing in India has progressed slowly. A lot of experts believe that the reason India has not shown many cases is simply that the country has not tested enough people.
  • When can it be said that the virus is definitely in the stage of community spread?
    • There have to be several cases of untraced infection source to conclude definitively that the outbreak has moved to the next level.
    • As of Sunday afternoon, the government’s position remains that the outbreak is still in Stage II, that it is being transmitted locally.
  • Local transmission means that the source of the infection is from within a particular area and the trajectory the virus has taken from one person to the next is clearly established.

2. Why WHO is warning against politicising the pandemic?

  • Social stigma can drive people to hide the illness to avoid discrimination, prevent them from seeking health care immediately, and discourage them from adopting healthy behaviours, the document explains.
  • Over the past few days, US President Donald Trump has referred to the novel coronavirus as the “Chinese Virus”
  • US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also repeatedly called the coronavirus the “Wuhan virus”
  • WHO defines social stigma in the context of health as “the negative association between a person or group of people who share certain characteristics and a specific disease.
  • In an outbreak, this may mean people are labelled, stereotyped, discriminated against, treated separately, and/or experience loss of status because of a perceived link with a disease.
  • The WHO recommends against:
    –attaching a location or ethnicity to the disease, e.g. calling it the “Wuhan Virus”, “Chinese Virus” or “Asian Virus”
    –referring to people with the disease as “COVID-19 cases” or “victims”;
    –using the words “infecting others” or “spreading the virus”.
  • The guide warns against an “infodemic” of misinformation and rumours, which it says is “spreading more quickly than the current outbreak of the new coronavirus (COVID-19).”
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