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Year : 2020  |  Volume : 18  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 75-76

Coronavirus disease 2019: The 6th public health emergency of international concern

Department of Emergency Medicine, Christian Medical College, Vellore, Tamil Nadu, India

Date of Submission21-Feb-2020
Date of Decision02-Mar-2020
Date of Acceptance06-Mar-2020
Date of Web Publication17-Apr-2020

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Kundavaram Paul Prabhakar Abhilash
Department of Emergency Medicine, Christian Medical College, Vellore - 632 004, Tamil Nadu
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/cmi.cmi_18_20

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How to cite this article:
Abhilash KP. Coronavirus disease 2019: The 6th public health emergency of international concern. Curr Med Issues 2020;18:75-6

How to cite this URL:
Abhilash KP. Coronavirus disease 2019: The 6th public health emergency of international concern. Curr Med Issues [serial online] 2020 [cited 2022 Aug 15];18:75-6. Available from: https://www.cmijournal.org/text.asp?2020/18/2/75/282777

On January 30, 2020, the International Health Regulations (IHR) Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) as the sixth outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) since the IHR were outlined in 2005.[1] All countries are legally bound to respond to a PHEIC declaration by mobilizing resources and by being prepared to contain the spread of the disease. Global trade and tourism inevitably take a hit, but the long-term benefits far outweigh the short-term loss. The modern world that is highly intertwined and interconnected with the ease of global travel in the 21st century faced six deadly viral outbreaks in the past 15 years. The previous five declarations were the H1N1/Swine flu pandemic (2009), the polio declaration (2014), the Ebola virus outbreak in Western Africa (2014), the Zika virus epidemic (2015–2016), and the Kivu Ebola epidemic (2018–2020).

The current epidemic of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is caused by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Corona Virus 2 (SARS CoV-2), previously called 2019-nCoV. The outbreak started in the 2nd week of December 2019 in Wuhan, the sprawling capital city of Central China's Hubei province. Its origin has been linked to a large illegal seafood and live animal market in downtown Wuhan where vendors and buyers handle fish, animal carcasses and a variety of wild animals such as bats, bamboo rats, civets, baby crocodiles, and hedgehogs to name a few. This strongly suggests an animal to the human origin and initial spread. Like its cousins in the past, the SARS-CoV and the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), the current SARS CoV-2, too probably originated from its natural animal reservoir, bats.[2]

With the SARS CoV-2 on a deadly rampage for more than 4, mortality continues to rise in China and in many other countries across the world, especially Italy, Spain, France, United Kingdom, Iran and the United States of America.[3] At the time of writing this article, the SARS CoV-2 claimed more than 1,20,000 lives and sickened more than 2 million but had not spread its tentacles to some countries in Africa and many small islands across the world. For comparison, SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV claimed a total of 774 and 856 lives, respectively during their notorious reign. The impact on human life and economy COVID-19 might have if and when it reaches these poor and vulnerable nations with fragile health systems and impoverished economies is unimaginable. Although criticized for the delay in sharing details of the initial outbreak and for publicly reprimanding early whistleblowers, China has taken unprecedented steps in its efforts to limit the spread of the outbreak. The virtual lockdown imposed in Wuhan and cities in Hubei province is the first such instance in the modern history of a heavily populated area being locked down. Within 2 months, the entire world went into a state of an unprecedented lock down, a terrifying scenario reminiscent of the World war II days. China completed the herculean task of building two massive hospitals in as many weeks at Leishenshan and Huoshenshan with consummate ease. However, in a bid to control the spread of the disease, the travel ban imposed against the recommendation of the WHO by many countries across the world had a devastating impact on tourism, airline, and cruise ship industries. This is the inevitable negative impact of declaring an outbreak as a PHEIC. The COVID-19 “infodemic” of misleading news sensationalizing facts has already severely tarred the economies and reputations of many countries, and the global economy is currently precariously placed.

Nevertheless, PHEIC could be a force for good in mobilizing global resources and alerting communities with the ultimate goal of damage limitation and minimizing the spread of an infection. PHEIC was not in place when the 20th century faced its deadliest catastrophe, the Spanish flu of 1918, which eventually claimed more lives than World War I or the 4-year reign of the “Black death” between 1347 and 1351 AD.[4],[5] At the moment, COVID-19 is spreading at an unprecedented pace and may perhaps end up as the most devastating and widespread infection to hit the human race, partly because of the highly interconnected 21st century World. Bill Gates described the SARS CoV-2 as a “once in a century” pathogen and I pray wish he is right for the next 100 years. However, the emergence of deadlier new viral infections and outbreaks in the near future is inevitable, but the question remains: With the lessons learnt thus far, can we hope to be adequately prepared to efficiently nip the next outbreak in its bud?

  References Top

WHO Statement. Statement on the Meeting of the International Health Regulations (2005) Emergency Committee for Ebola Virus Disease in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on: 18 October, 2019. Available from: http://www.who.int. [Last retrieved on 2019 Oct 21].  Back to cited text no. 1
Lu R, Zhao X, Li J, Niu P, Yang B, Wu H, et al. Genomic characterisation and epidemiology of 2019 novel coronavirus: Implications for virus origins and receptor binding. Lancet 2020;395:565-74.  Back to cited text no. 2
Chen N, Zhou M, Dong X, Qu J, Gong F, Han Y, et al. Epidemiological and clinical characteristics of 99 cases of 2019 novel coronavirus pneumonia in Wuhan, China: A descriptive study. Lancet 2020;395:507-13.  Back to cited text no. 3
Johnson NP, Mueller J. Updating the accounts: Global mortality of the 1918-1919 “Spanish” influenza pandemic. Bull Hist Med 2002;76:105-15.  Back to cited text no. 4
Dewitte SN. Age patterns of mortality during the black death in London, A.D. 1349-1350. J Archaeol Sci 2010;37:3394-400.  Back to cited text no. 5


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