Despite the fact that the threat of the novel coronavirus that has been rampant in China, is real and it is evolving quickly across the globe, the public should not panic.
The assurance was given by Dr Sabin Nsanzimana, the Director-General of Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), during an in interview with The New Times.
Nsanzimana noted that this new virus which first broke out in Wuhan, in China's Hubei Province, affects mainly the elderly, people with underlying diseases, and children.
"Others too can transmit the virus but may not get ill and get complications. The public should not panic; the disease can be cleared naturally from more than 85 percent of infected individuals," he said.
"Of every 100 people exposed to the virus only 25 percent would develop symptoms which is much lower compared to other viruses we have seen before."
With hundreds of people in more than 10 countries, mostly in Asia, diagnosed with the virus, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said it is working with a network of specialists in the continued effort to thwart a possible spread.
The outbreak caused by 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) was first identified in Wuhan, China at the end of last year.
In Rwanda, the government last week issued a safety advisory for institutions in the travel industry in Rwanda concerning the safety of passengers travelling to other countries, especially where cases of the deadly new Coronavirus are reported.
The latest situation update - published Sunday by the WHO - indicates that assessment of the risk of this event has not changed since the last one conducted on January 22: very high in China, high at the regional and global level.
Over 2000 cases
The WHO situation update indicates that on Sunday, the number of reported confirmed cases of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) had increased by 694 cases since the last situation report published Saturday.
A total of 2,014 confirmed cases have been reported globally.
Of these, 1,985 cases were reported from China, including Hong Kong (5 confirmed cases), Macau (2 confirmed cases) and Taipei (3 confirmed cases).
And 29 confirmed cases were reported outside of China in 10 countries - France (3), Japan (3), USA (2), Australia(4), Vietnam(2), Singapore(4), Malaysia(3), Thailand(5), Nepal(1), and South Korea(2).
Of these 29 exported cases, it is noted that 26 had a travel history from Wuhan City, China.
Among the three cases identified in countries outside of China: one case in Australia had direct contact with a confirmed case from Wuhan while in China.
For the case in Australia reported Sunday; travel history is not yet known.
One case in Viet Nam had no travel history but was in contact with a confirmed case (his father with travel history to Wuhan), resulting from human to human transmission within a family.
Of the 1,975 confirmed cases (excluding Hong Kong, Macau and Taipei), 324 cases were reported as severely.
The WHO says 56 deaths have been reported to date (52 in Hubei province and four from outside Hubei).
Human transmission real
Nsanzimana also told The New Times that the 2019 novel coronavirus is the newest virus among more than 200 that affect humans. It is believed, he said, that every year, two new viruses are discovered.
He added: "The novel coronavirus recently confirmed in China, in December 2019, may have originated from animals and now human to human transmission is real and evolving quickly across the globe."
Asked about the chances it could come to east Africa, Nsanzimana said "the chances are high" especially considering that connection flights are just hours from China and other affected countries.
What the public should pay attention to
According to the WHO, common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
Standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs.
Nsanzimana said the public needs to know the clinical symptoms of the novel coronavirus - fever, cough, running nose, difficulty breathing, pneumonia and lung infiltrates which can be detected with chest x-ray.
He said the public need to alert public health authorities whenever one of these signs is present for travellers or their contacts from affected regions such as China.
"Protective measures are similar to flu-like prevention yet we don't do well and people continue to infect each-other," he noted.
Therefore, he said, there should be daily practices as recommended.
The six daily practices, according to him, are:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Avoid unnecessary handshaking if you present clinical signs of the flu-like syndrome.