Is India at Risk of a Coronavirus Outbreak?

More than 200 people across India are suspected to have contracted the contagious new virus, while the Health Ministry makes efforts to contain the spread.
Shamani Joshi
Mumbai, IN
Is India at risk of being affected by the coronavirus
In this handout photograph taken and released by the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) on January 21, 2020, a man (L) uses a thermographic camera to screen the head of people at Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport in Kolkata, following the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare's advisory to screen passengers arriving in India from China and Hong Kong regarding the novel coronavirus (nCoV) issue. Asian countries on January 21 ramped up measures to block the spread of a new virus as the death toll in China rose to six and the number of cases jumped to almost 300, raising concerns in the middle of a major holiday travel rush. Photo: Handout / Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) / AFP

Ever since the very first case of the deadly Coronavirus was uncovered in China’s Wuhan province in December 2019, a panic of epidemic proportions has spread globally. Even as the world struggles to contain the mysterious novel coronavirus (nCoV) that has reared its ugly head, more than 1,320 cases of infection have been reported globally. As many as 23 cases have been detected in countries including the US, Japan, Nepal, South Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, Australia and France, with the deadly virus killing at least 81 people so far.


With symptoms similar to diseases like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), coronaviruses are a family of viruses with varying symptoms including fever, cough, weakness, breathing difficulties and even extreme ones like pneumonia and kidney failure that lead to death. This has unleashed a sombre energy over China’s iconic Lunar New Year celebrations, with many parts of the country keeping its citizens on lockdown to contain the virus. Scientists are speculating that this disease that is confirmed to spread from animal to human to human originates from bats or snakes. However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is yet to declare the spread of the Coronavirus as a global health emergency. Meanwhile, China has already begun construction of a 1,000 bed hospital to keep patients in isolation, while in the US, medical robots are being deployed to treat those suffering from the disease. However, no vaccine or treatment for this novel virus has been found yet.


Illustration by Prianka Jain

Closer to home, more than 200 Indians are suspected to have this disease and have been kept in isolated surveillance in states like Kerala and Maharashtra. About 179 people are estimated to be under observation at home while seven others are being surveilled in various hospitals, a senior health official of the Kerala government told PTI. Similar cases have cropped up in Rajasthan and Bihar as well, with people—especially medical students coming from China—having shown symptoms but having tested negative for the infection. Any individual showing symptoms has been urged to report it to their nearest health facility, while blood samples are being tested at the National Institute of Virology in Pune. Interestingly, many Indians are googling the virus, but instead of typing coronavirus, their search results include inputs like ‘corona beer virus’, with many confusing the risky medical emergency with the beer brand.


To control any influx of the infection, seven airports—New Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Kochi—have been designated and asked to thermally screen passengers entering India. Since January 19, around 1,789 passengers have been screened at Mumbai airport, with two of the three passengers that were identified testing negative for the virus, while the test results of the third passenger are yet to be revealed.

In its efforts to contain the outbreak, India’s Health Ministry has released a helpline number and issued appeals to all travellers coming from China on or before January 1, 2020 to call on the 24x7 National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) call centre number (+91-11-23978046) if they show symptoms like breathing difficulty, cough or fever. The Ministry has also issued travel advisories and precautions people can take like covering their mouths, making sure the meat they eat is properly cooked, immediately reporting to a medical centre at even the slightest sign of the disease, wearing masks, and avoiding close contact with people.

Meanwhile, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan reviewed the preparedness of the country in a meeting on January 25 and stated through a tweet that he had assured support to the Uttarakhand government for screening at the Nepal border where one case has been confirmed.

Similarly, Union Minister for External Affairs S Jaishankar stated on January 26, that the Indian Embassy in Beijing was “constantly checking the health and well being” of Indians in China. The embassy in Beijing stated that it was in contact with Indian citizens, especially students, in Hubei Province where Wuhan is located. The embassy launched helpline numbers on which Indians in China could contact them on.

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