Dar es Salaam. Tanzanians have been urged to remain vigilant and take precautionary measures following the outbreak of the coronavirus attack in China since late December last year.
There is as yet no reported case of a coronavirus attack in Tanzania, touch wood. But the pneumonia-like disease has already claimed at least 25 lives in China, and affected hundreds of people in that country and several other countries like Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Macau. There have also been two reported cases in the United States, specifically in Seattle in the Washington State and Illinois.
The coronavirus has been code-named ‘2019-nCoV.’
People in different countries have been urged to observe proper hygienic lifestyles, including thoroughly washing hands regularly with soap and clean water; avoiding crowded places; covering mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and avoiding close contact with people showing signs of respiratory problems.
The government yesterday said Tanzania was at risk of a coronavirus outbreak as a result of regular interactions between Tanzanians and Asians in general - and Chinese in particular.
An official statement issued by the Health ministry’s Communications head Gerald Chami required that the public must report to a nearby health centre any suspected case of the virus.
“The ministry warns the public on this - specifically: those who have plans to travel to, as well as those who receive visitors from, the affected countries,” Mr Chami stressed.
The number of tourist arrivals in Tanzania from China has been increasing in recent years, having risen from 13,760 tourists in 2012 to 21,246 tourists in 2014, according to the Tanzania Tourist Board managing director Devota Mdachi.
With the direct air-link to China through Air Tanzania flights set to start next month, the number of Chinese tourists is expected to rise even higher.
Identifying persons with the disease
Persons who have contracted the virus develop high fever, a general feeling of being unwell, coughing, runny nose, headache and a sore throat.
The virus can also cause shortness of breath and pneumonia, an infection that inflames the air sacs in the lungs, cause them to fill up with pus of other fluid(s).
It has also been reported that elderly persons tend to be easily affected by the virus than younger people - mostly with preexisting conditions.
What is coronavirus?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as the ‘Middle East Respiratory Syndrome’ (MERS) and the ‘Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
SARS killed an estimated 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.
The first ‘2019-nCoV’ case was reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) in Wuhan, China, on December 31, 2019.
As of January 24, 2020 - Chinese officials told mass media organs - at least 25 people had died, all in Hubei Province, of which Wuhan is the capital. That is also where most of the 830 or so reported cases are.
The exact source of the virus is yet to be confirmed. But, it is said to have been traced back to animals, mainly bats and snakes, with transmission of same being possible through direct contact between humans and animals.
The Chinese vice minister for the National Health Commission, Li Bin, stated recently that there is a possibility for the virus to mutate. This would possibly make it harder to treat - and, hence, further spread the malady.
So far, there is no known cure for the disease.
Measures taken by Health ministry
The ministry of Health under Ummy Mwalimu as minister said they will continuously monitor the outbreak of the virus in health centers nationwide, as well as strengthen airport checks for passengers travelling from China and other affected countries. The ministry is also taking samples from the areas being monitored, as well as from suspected carriers, for testing at the national laboratory facility.
Other measures that are being taken are spreading awareness to the general public, including especially health workers at entry points across the country.
The ministry is also preparing quarantine areas for any and all infected people as a occasion might arise.
Is this a global emergency?
WHO is yet to decide whether to declare the disease a global emergency or not. According to their recent statement, the organization’s emergency committee will take some days to thoroughly study the situation before reaching a decision. “Several (committee) members consider that it is still too early to declare a ‘PHEIC’ - given its restrictive and binary nature,” the WHO statement reads in part.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters that the decision to hold off on issuing the declaration used for the gravest epidemics should not be taken as a sign that the body does not think the situation is serious.
“This is an emergency in China. But, it has not yet become a global health emergency,” he said.
WHO also said it expected that the coronavirus ‘2019-nCoV’ infection can spread across and to any other country. Therefore, it warns that world countries should “prepare for containment, early detection and case management of the disease.”