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Asymptomatic cases raise fears of 2nd wave: Indians in Wuhan

By K J M Varma
April 28, 2020 16:18 IST
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A few gutsy Indians who stayed put in Wuhan are back at work after a strict 76-day lockdown, but are still worried about the possibility of a second wave of attack by the vicious coronavirus, going by the growing number of asymptomatic cases in the country.

IMAGE: A woman wearing a face mask rides a shared bicycle past people lining up to enter a supermarket in Wuhan. Photograph: Reuters

Wuhan, the central Chinese city at the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic, made global headlines on Sunday as the last COVID-19 patient was discharged, marking an important milestone in the city's fight against the invisible enemy, while India and several other countries are still under strict lockdown to curb the spread of the disease that has claimed over 210,000 lives worldwide.

With 50,333 confirmed cases and 3,869 deaths, Wuhan bore the brunt of the highly-infectious virus which first emerged there in December last year and spread like wildfire in the city of 11 million people before turning into a global pandemic, virtually bringing the world to a grinding halt.

Wuhan, which became famous in India for the historic first informal summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2018, is a major international educational centre and industrial hub with some of China's famous scientific research centres and laboratories, attracting students from India and abroad.

 

After the virus outbreak, over 600 Indian students and professionals were evacuated in February by the Indian government to ensure their safety but few Indians chose to stay put and opted to brave the crisis through for professional and personal reasons.

Some of them spoke candidly on the present situation in Wuhan but on the condition of anonymity when contacted them to find out their impressions as the city limped back to normalcy after facing the worst public health crisis in modern history.

"Yes, the lockdown was lifted on April 8 and more and more people ventured out but only for work and to buy the essentials. Most of the people stayed at home due to fear of asymptomatic cases," an Indian researcher said.

China's National Health Commission, which issues a daily COVID-19 update, has said that no new cases or deaths have been reported in Wuhan for the past several days.

On Monday, 40 new asymptomatic cases, including three from abroad, were reported in China. So far 997 asymptomatic cases, including 130 from abroad, were still under medical observation, the NHC said on Tuesday.

Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital, had 599 asymptomatic cases under medical observation by Monday.

After the virus outbreak abated, China closed the 16 temporary hospitals in the worst-hit city and withdrew over 42,000 medical personnel from other provinces in Wuhan though asymptomatic cases continue to be reported.

Asymptomatic cases refer to people who tested positive for the coronavirus but develop no symptoms such as fever, cough or sore throat. They pose a risk of spreading the infection to others.

"As a result of the asymptomatic cases, there is unease and apprehension among people as you don't know about the people you meet both at work and in the city,” another Indian said, adding that there is a fear of a second wave of COID-19 infections in the city.

As a result, most of the people continue to stay back at home after work, he added.

Though the lockdown has been lifted, local officials continue to ask people to stay indoors, saying the global situation of the coronavirus is still critical. Thousands of people, who were held up in Wuhan, left after the lockdown but the city is still dealing with the carriers of the virus, he said.

Situation has improved a lot but people maintain social distancing and follow self-isolation, another Indian researcher said.

The Indians said Wuhan health authorities are stepping up testing. They were using nucleic acid tests to determine COVID-19 infections, especially the asymptomatic cases.

There is also apprehension about recurrence of the virus among those who recovered, another Indian said.

The Wuhan-based Indians also say that most of them are concerned that the virus is spreading in India. “In January, February and March, my family was worried about me, now I am worried about them and continuously monitoring the spread of the virus back home”, he said.

An Indian scientist with virology background said that like in Wuhan, the lockdown broke the chain of the coronavirus in India, containing the infection.

"Barring a few states the peak seems to be over in India and the credit goes to the lockdown in the country though it appears to be chaotic at times”, he said.

About the controversy over the origins of the virus, another Indian researcher said the world should focus first to bring the virus under control and later address such issues.

The novel coronavirus is believed to have originated in a wet market in Wuhan and first emerged in December before spreading quickly worldwide.

The US has demanded a probe whether the virus broke out from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. China says issues like the origin of the coronavirus should be left to science and medical professionals.

A total of 4,633 people died in China due to the coronavirus.

As of Monday, the overall confirmed cases in China reached 82,836, including 648 patients who were still being treated and 77,555 people discharged from hospitals.

The novel coronavirus has killed more than 210,000 people worldwide and infected over 3 million others, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

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K J M Varma
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